As much as we want to complete everything on our never-ending to-do lists, we also are aware that there are only so many hours in the day — or so much energy to go around. When you’re not sure how to prioritise all the tasks in front of you in order of importance (or what to delegate to someone else), it’s time to create a “decision matrix.” As Amy Drader, a consultant at Growth Partners Consulting suggests, a decision matrix can help you prioritise work “by urgency and level of effort.”
How to use a “decision matrix” to prioritise tasks
A decision matrix can help you narrow a number of choices down to one — particularly, Drader says, when the amount of work tasks in front of you are making you feel paralysed by “overwhelm.”
To construct your matrix, draw a basic graph, labelling the horizontal x axis with “effort” and the vertical y axis with “urgency.” Write “low” at the point where the two lines meet, and write “high” at the top of the y axis and on the right end of the x axis. (Go here for the visual.) This will help you divide your graph into quadrants:
- High urgency, low effort
- High urgency, high effort
- Low urgency, high effort
- Low urgency, low effort
To fill out your decision matrix, list out all of your to-do items; one by one, consider how important it is to get a particular task done right away and how much work it will take to do so. Then, write each task into its corresponding quadrant, according to where they rank in terms of effort and urgency.
High-urgency items get priority
If a task is high-urgency and low-effort, do it now. Don’t think about it, just get it done. If a task is high-urgency and high-effort, estimate how much time it will take to complete, and then block out a dedicated chunk of time to do it. If a task is low-urgency and low-effort, delegate it to someone else. If a task is low-urgency, but high-effort, make a long-term plan for how to accomplish it.
Adding the creation of a decision matrix to your list of things to do may seem counterintuitive — but taking the time to sketch it out is worth it to make sense of what needs to get done right away, what can wait, and what can be delegated to someone else. And as Drader writes, the more you do it, the easier it gets.
“Prioritising is like a muscle,” she says. “The more you flex it, the strong it gets and the easier it becomes.”