I discovered the priority matrix at a difficult time in my work. I was swamped. Despite working long hours, my list of tasks mounted up. Colleagues encouraged me to offload work, but I struggled to see who could help. I believed everything needed to be done immediately, and by me.
Recently, on a virtual cuppa I heard almost the exact same story from members of the community. It reminded me that there is a helpful tool which helped me navigate my task nightmare and establish priorities. I hope it might help you too.
Enter the priority matrix
Easy to use and low tech, the matrix can be applied to any task list that we have. It helps us divide up our tasks and decide how to tackle them.
Take a sheet of paper and sketch out the grid below.
Our grid is divided into four sections which we'll get into in a moment. First a quick note on the difference between important and urgent.
Important vs urgent
The difference between these two is subtle, but crucial for success with this tool. Importance refers to priority and attention whereas urgency refers to timeliness.
So section by section let's run through the classification.
Important and urgent - do now
Generally this is for tasks that must be done immediately and really need your attention. No one else can do these tasks and they cannot wait.
This could be something important like ordering medication, or completing a form that must be returned by an imminent date.
Important but not urgent - schedule
This box is about getting ahead with our tasks and having an idea of what needs to be done in the future. If it is not urgent, it doesn't need to be completed immediately. So if sd have something that needs to be done in three weeks, but we are worried about forgetting it, pop it in this box. Then schedule some time or set a reminder for a point in the future.
Not important and urgent - delegate
This is where the matrix gets to be it's most useful. My top tip here is not to think of tasks we can delegate - instead focus on the headings. Not important and urgent tasks are items which don't need our particular attention but definitely need doing.
This could be the washing, or cleaning, or going shopping. Could we find someone to help with these? If we are in a position to, could we pay someone to help? Would these being taken care of mean that we might be able to focus on the important tasks, that only we can do?
Not important and not urgent - don't do!
Potentially my favourite category of task. Normally reserved for that thing that has been on our to do list for ages. If we haven't done it yet, do we need to? Or do we feel that we should?
Pen and paper may be the easiest way to work out our priority matrix but if we want to add some technology to help with reminders, we could try one of the following:
1. Smart speakers
Great for creating lists and setting reminders using voice commands. More information can be found in our article on digital skills for carers.
2. A smartphone
Most smartphones have an in built personal assistant. Apple has Siri, Google has 'ok Google', Samsung has bixby. They can perform a range of tasks like setting alarms, creating reminders or taking notes.
3. To-Do App
A great program that works on all devices and using an internet browser too. We can create multiple lists (maybe one for each of the priority classifications on the matrix). Lists can be shared with people so we can collaborate. Very easy to use, find out more.
Have a go and let us know
Take a moment and a brew and have a go for yourself. You can't really get it wrong and we hope you find a few things out about your task list that help.
Let us know how you get on by dropping us an email.