If you study productivity, you will learn about a key concept: Stephen R. Covey’s Time Management Matrix, also called the Eisenhower Matrix. The four quadrants show different possibilities for time use. But what happens if you remove the Urgent Quadrant from the equation? What if you had nothing urgent to worry about?
What would you do if you could choose anything? When I think about criteria for selecting the Most Important Tasks (or MITs) for the day, I’ve struggled with this. Out of all the possibilities, which are the best ones? Gamestorming.com has an online version of a How-Now-Wow matrix. If you are Bill Gates, and have all the money you need or want, making money may not be a factor in your selection of high priority tasks to-do. However, for most of us, it is something that must be considered.
Where is the sweet spot?
The Sweet Spot is when tasks, projects, and ideas have high potential value and require low effort to accomplish.
Download the Sweet Spot Spot Priority Matrix (pdf)
High value items are those with potential for financial value, or positive impact on social contribution or personal goals.
High effort projects may be large or especially difficult, with many obstacles to overcome. The amount of effort can involve time, money, or other resources.
Review tasks on your To Do List and mark them:
- High Value/Low Effort – Start Here!
- High Value/High Effort – break it down
- Low Value/Low Effort – use caution
- Low Value/High Effort – avoid
Here are some criteria for selecting priorities, when nothing is urgent.
Quadrant I $ Value
- Does this move business forward?
- What is the potential financial benefit?
- How big is the appeal?
- How big is the market?
- How big are the margins?
- Is it easy to understand & communicate?
Quadrant II Contribution
- Will it make a social contribution?
- Will it contribute to personal growth?
- How large are the likely benefits?
- Will it allow me to use my strengths?
- Does it fit my goals?
- Does it fit my value statement of what I do and why?
Quadrant III Difficulty
- How big an investment is required?
- Are the resources available?
- Do you have the needed skills?
- How many obstacles are there?
- How big are they?
- How hard to overcome?
Quadrant IV Size
- How big a project/task is it?
- How long will it take?
- Is the time available to do something right now?
- Is the energy available to do something right now?
If the difficulty and size of the task are small, it is more likely to fit the time and energy available. Too many ideas, projects, and tasks equals no focus. This Priority Matrix has helped me to see that some of my ideas for projects include big obstacles and uncertain appeal, so there may be others that would be better to focus on now. Of course, some worthwhile goals do require effort and even pain and sacrifice. Remember the Economy of Goals which means that goals are more likely to be accomplished if the benefits outweigh the resources that are required to obtain it.
When you aren’t sure what to work on next, it’s so easy to just check your email or Facebook, or some other mindless activity. It’s easier to avoid time wasters and default habits when you know what you need to do. However you choose priorities, it’s important to get started. If you’ll please excuse me, there’s something sweet on my list to do now.
Learn more about How to Set Goals and find lots of free printables at the Goal Toolkit.
See also: Impact vs. Effort with The Two Minute Test That’ll Help You Prioritize Your Tasks.
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