How to Prioritise Using the Action Priority Matrix

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The Action Priority Matrix is a simple to use tool to help you to determine which tasks to work on. It helps with prioritisation and is a useful tool to help in effective time management.

Unlike other prioritisation tools, the action priority matrix doesn’t use time or importance to priorities tasks. It means it can be easily used alongside other time management and prioritisation tools.

The Action Priority Matrix

The action priority matric is a 4-box model. The model has 2-axis that generate the boxes. The axis in the action priority matric are:

  1. Effort – how much work do you need to put into the task in order to complete it
  2. Impact – what is the positive return you get from completing the task

The Action Prioirty Matrix

Quick Wins – Low Effort High Impact Tasks

Box 1 in the action priority matrix is quick wins. The key to anyone’s success is being able to complete tasks that take little effort but deliver big rewards. While these should not always be favoured over major projects (high effort and high reward), identifying some quick wins that you can complete each day will give you a great deal of impetus to get your bigger tasks done.

A warning – if you spend too much time working on quick wins, you could find yourself running into trouble if you have been putting off your bigger tasks. This is because another unexpected big task could be just around the corner that has a pressing deadline. This will mean you will need to juggle 2 bigger tasks at the same time.

Aim to get 2 or 3 quick wins done first, then tackle a big project. If you have time, feed in some more quick wins later in the day.

Major Projects – High Effort High Impact Tasks

Box 12 in the action priority matrix is major projects. This is where many of us spend most of our time as these are the day to day tasks that we all need to do and take up a majority of our time.

The key to completing big projects is good planning and scheduling. It can also be useful to break big projects down into smaller tasks. This makes it much easier to schedule them and, you could possibly turn some of these smaller tasks into quick wins.

Major projects can look overwhelming and is probably the type of tasks that many people procrastinate over. They need to be done though and putting them off just makes it worse. Identify what they are, commit a time to do them and get them done.

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Fill-Ins – Low Effort Low Impact Tasks

Box 3 in the action priority matrix is fill-ins. These are tasks that we know we need to get done, but don’t add any real value or deliver much in the way of reward. Because they are easy, many of us find ourselves gravitating towards them, particularly if we are procrastinating over big projects.

The need to be done and the time to do them is based on the name of the tasks themselves – we fill the gaps we have left with these tasks. For example, you have a few moments in between meetings or a bit of time at the end of the day or another task didn’t take quite as long as you thought it would. Rather than wasting this valuable time, this is where you should be taking care of your fill-in tasks.

Thankless Tasks – High Effort Low Impact Tasks

Box 4 in the action priority matrix is thankless tasks. These tasks are those that take a lot of effort but we know do not add value or generate big rewards. For example, these might be meetings that you go to that take up a lot of your time but don’t drive actions or reports that you have to do that just get looked at but don’t influence decision making.

If you have thankless tasks you should try to get rid of them – in other words, don’t do them anymore. Or, work our the specific parts of the tasks that do deliver what is needed and change how the task is done to only work on the important parts.

You need this time to work on your big projects. These tasks can take up a significant amount of your time and should be avoided at all costs.

Using the Action Priority Matrix With Other Tools

You should find that you can use the tool alongside other prioritisation tools to help you to work out exactly what you should be working on. We suggest you use the action priority matric first, then another tool to further prioritise tasks once you have them into one of the 4 boxes above.

Further Learning

You can learn more about the Action Priority Matrix by attending a time management training course. Take a look at our time management training course for more details.

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