“US President Dwight Eisenhower ... reportedly said, ‘What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.’'
One way to prioritise your work is to use a matrix. This page introduces two related matrices - the Eisenhower matrix, which considers urgency and importance; and the Action-Priority matrix which considers effort and impact. They can be extremely useful when you feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks you have to complete.
The Eisenhower Matrix
The prioritization matrix template is then used to list all criteria against the alternatives, attach weights to the criteria, and conduct the prioritization exercise. You may select one of the four formats for your prioritization analysis. In this example, the team has used the prioritization matrix to select an equipment among 5 alternatives.
When dealing with a large workload, it is important to spend time on the important activities, not just the urgent ones. If you find it difficult to decide which category a task falls into, they are defined here:
- Priority Matrix is lightweight project management solution that increases visibility and accountability within teams. Manage more effectively with Priority Matrix.
- Definition: A prioritization matrix is a 2D-visual that shows the relative importance of a set of items based on two weighted criteria. A prioritization matrix indicating value to the user and effort by an organization.
Those that are directly related to achieving your goals. At university these are usually related to assessed assignments. Sometimes these are long-term and are mistakenly given less priority despite their importance.
Those that require immediate attention - often due to pressure from other people and often related to their goals, not yours! Not completing such tasks can have immediate consequences and so they tend to get more attention.
Most tasks are not important AND urgent but fall into one of the other three categories in the Eisenhower matrix below:
Important and urgent
Important but not urgent
Urgent but not important
Not important and not urgent
Once each of your tasks (or stages of a task) is allocated to one of these quadrants (being realistic and honest with yourself), you can deal with them as follows:
Do it first (now!)
Decide when to do it later on.
Allocate time in your diary.
Only do it when above work is done
If it isn't uni work, can you ask someone else to do it?
Ignore it for now
Or ditch it completely if you are really pushed.
The Action-Priority Matrix
These are similar to Eisenhower matrices but the criteria are different. They prioritise using impact and effort required. They are designed to help you spend more time on high-value activities that keep you on track to achieve your most important goals.
How to use the matrix effectively
- Make a list of everything you have to do.
- Give each activity a score for both impact (0=no impact, 10 maximum impact) and effort (0=little to no effort, 10 a major effort)
- Based on this, plot them on the matrix.
- Undertake the tasks as follows:
- Do the quick wins first.
- Focus the rest of your time on major projects.
- If you have any time left (or really need a break from your major project), do any fill in tasks that you haven't been able to delegate.
- Ignore the thankless tasks.
Quick wins (High impact, low effort)
These tasks are the best ones to start with as you will get the most value out of relatively little effort. They are a great way of staying motivated as you get the instant gratification of completing the tasks. Some shorter assessed assignments come into this category as can some sub-tasks for longer assignments.
Weighted Matrix Definition
Major projects (High impact, high effort)
Weighted Evaluation Matrix
Whilst they give great value, major projects also take a lot of time and effort. They should be second in your priorities. Be wary of filling ALL your time with them at the expense of quick wins. Breaking them down into smaller tasks that can be moved into the quick win category can help. Your most highly-weighted assignments will come into this category (they are supposed to require significant effort after all).
Fill ins (low impact, low effort)
These are tasks that require little effort but their outcomes are minimal. They tend to be organisational, housekeeping or preparatory tasks. If possible, delegate them, but if this isn't possible or suitable, then do them after more important tasks have been completed or when you are not as alert (later at night for example).
Priority Matrix Project Management
Thankless tasks (low impact, high effort)
Weighted Priority Matrix Example
These tasks are potentially not worth your time and you should consider dropping them if possible. Think carefully about assigning things to this category though. It may seem like non-assessed assignments would fit in here but these are often preparing you for the actual assessments. Doing them can make what would otherwise be a major project into something more approaching a quick win. Having said that, if you are under real time pressure then working on high-weighted assessments would always be a more appropriate use of your time.