Merge's Blog

Here’s how to prioritize your endless to-do list

In my first strategy in our new series on productivity tools for leaders, I talked about the importance of writing things down.  One of the biggest advantages of making a to-do list is that you can now assess everything that needs to be done in totality, and determine how to prioritize.  And towards the end of the last tip, I promised that I would show you how to prioritize by giving you a simple two-by-two matrix.

Prioritize by using a simple two-by-two matrix

I call this matrix the impact-implementation window.  On a piece of paper, draw a two-by-two grid.  Along the vertical axis, from the bottom to the top, write “low impact” and “high impact”.  Along the horizontal axis, from left to right, write “easy to implement” and “hard to implement”.  You now have four boxes.  Then take everything in your to-do list and record it, as appropriate, in one of the four boxes.

how to prioritize

And then take actions based on which quadrant your to-do item falls in

Things that are high impact and easy to implement are what I call “quick wins”.  These are things that you want to get as done as soon as possible, to give your highest priority to.  And mean why not?  Easy to do, and the results are well worth it, so put them at the top of your list.

Things that are high impact but hard to get done are what I call “strategic projects”.  These are usually well-worth doing, but they require further study and planning.  For these ones, schedule blocks of time in your calendar to deal with them.  These are the things most of us procrastinate on, so it’s important to schedule time for these, else they simply won’t get done.  Well they won’t get done until the deadline gets closer, and then you’ll have to shift to crisis management, which definitely is NOT how to prioritize.

The third box will be the things that are low impact and easy to implement.  I call these low-hanging fruit.  And the trick with these is to use them as fill-ins in your day.  Standing in a line-up, waiting for an appointment, in-between meetings, these are all great times to get these to-dos done.  The real beauty of low-hanging fruit is that it clears off the to-do list, it gives you a feeling of accomplishment.  C’mon, doesn’t it feel REALLY good to cross something off the to-do list?

The final box is things that are low impact and difficult to implement.  Let these ones go.  Drop them off your list, don’t waste your time.

This impact-implementation window is a great tool to show you how to prioritize everything that is on to your to-do list.  Use it consistently and you’ll find that your productivity will increase.

I’ll be back soon with more specific ideas on productivity tools for leaders.  Until then though, I’d love your feedback on this one.

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