Time is the only thing we don't get back. Yet, we often waste it by prioritising poorly or doing unimportant things that make us feel productive. In a world where we're constantly making trade-offs with our time, having a clear picture of what we need to do can help.
This is where prioritisation tools like the Eisenhower matrix comes in. But sometimes, it's not that simple. Sometimes tasks are varying levels of important and if we put all of them in our "important" box, it can be overwhelming. The solution? The 3x3 matrix.
The 3x3 matrix is a simple framework that organises tasks by impact and effort. By allowing us to place items on a 'low', 'medium' or 'high' scale, it helps us assess which tasks to prioritise. Originally used by product managers to map which features, workflows and improvements to build, it can be easily adapted to personal management too. Here's what it looks like:
How does it help?
The great thing about the 3x3 is its flexibility. We can use it in multiple contexts: from optimising our personal lives e.g. "Which habits should I focus on cultivating?" to strategising in our professional lives e.g. "Which tasks should we prioritise for this week?".
By using this simple framework:
We can visually assess the tasks we have
We can evaluate how necessary tasks are
We can avoid "productive" procrastination
We can plan how we want to move forward
How does it work?
We identify the tasks we need to do.
These could be: your work week, new projects, new features, workflows, improvements, new team priorities etc.
Every item should be its own point.
We categorise by impact and effort.
Effort: What level of effort do you need to complete this task?
Impact: What level of impact does it have on your user?
Here are some helpful notes on categorising:
Where do I start? Start with tasks that are easy to place. If you're unsure, skip a task and come back to it.
Who's the user? If you're mapping items for your life, the user is you. If you're mapping items for a project, then the user is who your product is for.
What if the effort differs across people in my team? If you're using this in a cross-functional team, the conversation will be more nuanced as it depends who'll be completing the task. In this case, complete this matrix based on who's available e.g. If you have one developer and they're at full capacity then the item will be high effort (even if it's easy).
Assess your matrix, and craft a meaningful plan.
This is where you can figure out how you want to tackle the tasks:
Do you tackle all the low effort items first? Or;
Do you start with the high effort/high impact ones? And;
Do you ditch the high effort/low impact items?
And voila! You're done. Some people prefer to use Post-it notes plus paper or a whiteboard, while others use digital tools like Miro. It's really up to you!
Tying it up
The 3x3 matrix is a visual tool that helps us categorise items by impact and effort. It gives us three levels of impact and effort that effectively create a clear picture of what we need to do. Whether we're planning new side hustles, or how to approach our day: this matrix helps us make better decisions.