When I was in sales I made one mistake over and over again. I would complete tasks in order of immediacy rather than in order of importance. If a prospect emailed me asking for information, I would email them back instantly thinking I had done a job well done. But I never took the time to determine the value of each opportunity and therefore would often be spinning my wheels with people who couldn’t help me achieve my sales quota.
Years later, as I started my own business, I found myself falling into the same trap. I’d prioritize what needed immediate attention over more strategic initiatives that would lead to greater impact (and profits) in the long run.
If you find yourself struggling to prioritize what truly matters in your business or in your life, I have an idea for you.
A couple of years ago, after growing tired of my own bad habits, I created what I now call “The Priority Matrix.” This simple spreadsheet (as outlined below) has helped me separate the essential tasks from the nonessential. It has also helped me eliminate tasks altogether that, when examined more closely, had no value at all.
The Priority Matrix
This matrix is broken down into four main parts:
- Priority 1 – Tasks that will have the biggest impact
- Priority 2 – Tasks that will have a marginal impact
- Low Priority – Tasks to either push off or never do at all
- No Priority – Things to definitely NOT do
Let’s look at each section individually. You can also view the complete spreadsheet here.
For Priority 1 tasks, you can allocate up to a maximum of THREE items. Don’t go over three as this will dilute their importance. You should list the three projects or tasks that will create the biggest impact in you life or business. If you’re having trouble deciding, think of it this way – which tasks, if completed will create a positive lasting change?
Then under each item, you should fill in the due date of the overall project and the next steps in terms of what has to be completed and by what date.
Be ruthless with Priority 1 items. These should really all be “game changer” activities, not little things that have no strategic importance.
For Priority 2 tasks, you’ll want to follow the same process as above but with the less essential items. These might be things you need to get done but will have little impact in the long run.
Low priority items can be thought of as maintenance or admin work. These are the little things that pop up in our day-to-day lives that might need to get done but can probably wait.
With each item in this quadrant, ask yourself this: “Can this NOT be done at all? If it has to be done, can it wait?” This will help you eliminate or push off these tasks which will save you more time for the Priority 1 and Priority 2 items above.
It may seem counterintuitive to create a list of items that have no priority, but we do this so that we can call out the things that are complete time wasters. This way, if you catch yourself doing them by accident, you will be reminded to drop what you’re doing and get back to what’s essential.
Now, the question becomes, how do we implement this?
It’s simple. Set a reminder for each Monday morning (before you open your email) to review and reprioritize this list. Then re-review your matrix each morning before you start your day to make sure you’re working on what’s essential.
Prioritizing isn’t just about choosing what to do first. It’s also about deciding what to do at all.