Use This Priority Matrix to Make Better Decisions

In trying to set proper priorities for my personal and professional life, I first had to establish some criteria. I looked over a few different methods, including some that I’d used before. Eventually I hit upon a priority matrix of my own devising, which smashes together the Eisenhower Matrix and the MoSCoW Method. There’s also a touch of David Allen’s Getting Things Done in the mix. You can use this matrix for making better decisions by filtering things that don’t matter out of your schedule.

The Eisenhower Matrix

This is allegedly the tool the U.S President Dwight D. Eisenhower came up with to prioritize tasks during his administration. He had a board divided with an x/y axis, with two columns and two rows. Things were either urgent or not, and important or not.

  • Urgent and Important – Do it now and get it out of the way. This is akin to David Allen’s actionable items to be done in under 2 minutes, writ a bit larger.
  • Urgent and Not Important – Delegate it to someone else. It must be nice to have staff to be able to do that. Working solo, you schedule it or work it in when you can.
  • Not Urgent but Important – Schedule it. You don’t have to do it right away, but you ought to stick a deadline on it and maintain visibility so it doesn’t get lost.
  • Not Urgent and Not Important – Eliminate it. Allen might argue that some of this might be things you can incubate or file away for later reference.

The MoSCoW Method

MoSCoW is a mnemonic acronym for Must Have, Should Have, Could Have, and Won’t Have. It was developed by someone named Dai Clegg, and is used a lot on project management and product development. While it’s not usually mapped to a matrix, there are two criteria similar to Eisenhower’s. Something is either required or not required, desirable or not desirable. I have some issues with the squishiness of how desirable is defined, but I’ll address that in a moment.

  • Must Have – Anything that needs to be included for whatever reason. It might be important or necessary, or it could be imposed upon you by the boss or the client.
  • Should Have – These are things that are desirable but not required. It can be cut if there aren’t enough resources, but included if possible.
  • Could Have – Also desirable but not required. Should Have improves the product and makes it work better, Could Have are bells and whistles and add-ons.
  • Won’t Have – These are often things there aren’t resources for. It could be a better way to a Must Have that takes more resources, or it might just be shininess.

The Priority Matrix

I took the structure of the Eisenhower Matrix and the intentions of the MoSCoW Method and tweaked the criteria a bit. My two columns are necessary and unnecessary, which echo both Eisenhower’s important and Clegg’s required. My two rows are benefit and cost, which is my way of parsing Clegg’s desirable.

Urgency is intentionally left off. If I’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday morning, that’s not something I need to make a decision about. The priority is already set and scheduled. Expedience can be used to define what’s necessary, if push comes to shove.

  • Necessary and Benefit – Must Have / do it now. These are things that are unavoidable, but they do provide some return on investment. Projects with higher profit potential, self-care routines that leave me healthier, and anything that moves me forward personally or professionally.
  • Necessary and Cost – Should Have / do it ASAP. Cost here is not just in resources, but opportunity; doing this means I can’t do that. It’s necessary, but it’s possible to get away with cutting corners and doing the bare minimum. Things like running errands, doing laundry, and meal prep fall into this box.
  • Unnecessary and Benefit – Could Have / someday/maybe. These are things that would be nice to have and would yield some return, but the resources might not be available at the moment. Something necessary takes priority. It can be revisited at a later time, or added back in if resources become available.
  • Unnecessary and Cost – Won’t Have / eliminate. Literally a waste of time. The project can survive without it and it uses more resources than it gives back. An example of this for me was Facebook. It ate into my day and left me depressed, and what I got back from the connections with people wasn’t worth the drain.

Putting the Priority Matrix to Use

I developed the priority matrix when I realized I had far too much on my plate. All I was doing was working, and it was grinding me down. Something had to give, and I needed to make some difficult decisions quickly. I had to balance making a living with getting more self-care. With this tool I decided what projects needed to continue, what could be rescheduled for another time, and which things could be killed off immediately.

After I knew what projects I was going to keep, it zoomed in closer. I used it to prioritize the tasks within the projects, so that I could assign resources and schedule things. It works nicely with my SMART Goals, and I’ll write more about that next week.

What Do You Think?

Do you have any questions? Ideas you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments below! I’d like to know your thoughts, and hear how you’d use this priority matrix!