We would all be more effective in our jobs if we spent more time doing the most important things. Have you ever seen a Priority Matrix? This tool can help you quickly prioritize your tasks and become more effective.
Convert your Checklist
Checklists are still one of the most basic and best ways to accomplish your tasks and not overlook small requests. The problem with checklists is that they don’t prioritize one task over another.
You can use the number system on a checklist to prioritize tasks. This is a simple exercise where you place a number next to the task from 1 to N. This is great if you never add anything to your checklist throughout the day, but if you do add something, now you have to fit that task in somewhere.
The Priority Matrix is different. As you are adding an item to your list, you ask yourself two questions before writing it down. The first question is “How IMPORTANT is this task?” Is it busy work or is it a mission critical task? The second question is “How URGENT is this task?” Does it need to be done right away because of a deadline, or can it wait for other urgent tasks to be completed first?
You then place it on the Priority Matrix.
Execute with the Priority Matrix
Mission Critical/Can’t Wait
These tasks are vital tasks that need to be done right away. If the task is mission critical and urgent, then likely you are up against a deadline or the building is on fire. DO THESE TASKS FIRST! You may find when you use the tool over time, most of your mission critical tasks will not fall in this category, but if they do, start here.
Not Too Important/Can’t Wait
Here the task is not mission critical, but it is urgent. These tasks need to be done quickly, but should be done after the mission critical tasks. These tasks can be used as development tasks for your team if you are able to delegate.
No Time Pressure/Not Too Important
Many of the tasks for the average day can fall into this category. This is busy work and where most of us feel like we work hard but accomplish nothing. These tasks should be done at some point but are also not very important. Consider the consequence if they were never done? Would that be a problem? Typically, the answer is yes or the task would have never made it to the list in the first place. Just know these tasks should be done after everything else. If you let them build up, however, they will probably enter the urgent category soon.
Mission Critical/No Time Pressure
I chose to talk about this category last because it is the most important section. This category separates high performers from average performers. This work is the hardest work. This is the mission critical work without the time pressure of a deadline.
Here you wrestle with procrastination daily. These tasks (usually projects) tend to be where companies derive the most benefit long term, but there isn’t a hard deadline. Tasks or projects can drag on for months and months without progress because working through the tough roadblocks is hard. It also requires planning where many professionals lack skills and discipline.
Accomplish more in this quadrant
Here are two tips that will help you succeed in this quadrant.
Plan Backwards – Don’t start at the beginning. Start at the end and work backwards when planning the milestones. What is the last major that needs to happen before launch day? It is Task “Z”. What is the milestone that needs to come just before Task “Z”. Repeat this process until you get to Task “A”.
Make artificial deadlines – Giving these tasks artificial deadlines will keep your projects moving and make you look like a hero. They will give you the sense of urgency you need to stay vigilant. Be sure to take them seriously. Just because they are artificial doesn’t mean they don’t matter. If you constantly push them back, they are useless. If you want to take this one step further, publicly communicate these deadlines to your leadership team and then hit them!
You can download a Printable PDF of our Priority Matrix by following this link. Hope it helps!