How to Prioritize like a Pro

Minerva Work Solutions PLLC

The Action Priority Matrix (Figure 1) is a simple diagramming technique from executive coaching that helps you choose which activities to prioritize (and which ones you should drop when the pressure is greatest) if you want to make the most of your time and opportunities.  It’s useful because most of us have many more activities on our “wish lists” – whether these are bright ideas to pursue, exciting opportunities or interesting possibilities – than we have time available. By choosing activities intelligently, you can make the very most of your time and opportunities.

How to Use the Tool:

The principle behind using the tool is that you score each activity you want to complete on two scales – firstly on the impact the activity will have, and secondly on the effort involved.  By plotting each activity on the Action Priority Matrix using these scores, you can quickly see the projects that give you the greatest returns on your efforts; and adopt the most appropriate approach for that type of activity:

1. Quick Wins (High Impact, Low Effort): These are the most attractive projects, giving you a good return for relatively little effort. Focus on these as much as you can;

2. Major Projects (High Impact, High Effort): While these give good returns, they take a long time to complete – meaning that one “Major Project” can crowd out many “Quick Wins”. If you’re engaging in these, make sure that you complete them quickly and efficiently and that you disengage your effort as soon as you can;

3. Fill Ins (Low Impact, Low Effort): Don’t worry too much about doing these – if you’ve got spare time, do them, but drop them if something better comes along; and

4. Hard Slogs (Low Impact, High Effort): Avoid these. Not only do they give low returns, they crowd out time which would be better used elsewhere.

A good rule of thumb for executive leaders is to make sure eighty percent of your time is spent on quick wins. Major projects should be delegated to high-potential employees as responsibilities (i.e. not tasks). Also, projects more than six months out should be put in an “icebox” list that you review (e.g. once a week/ month). Project can move from the icebox to your priority matrix when they are less than 6 months out, you have extra room/ time among your priorities, or your operating context makes an icebox project due sooner than expected. A final word of caution, don’t exceed more than 8 items per category in the matrix during any six-month period — if you have more than 32 projects in your matrix this is a sign that you need to re-balance your workload into something you can reasonably expect to achieve as a human.

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