What Is a Prioritisation Matrix? (Plus How to Use Them)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 8 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Individuals and businesses usually have multiple tasks and projects to complete that add value to their goals. Often, they can use prioritisation tools and techniques to help develop a system that can manage and prioritise tasks. Understanding how prioritisation matrices work can help you handle your workload effectively. In this article, we explore what a prioritisation matrix is, what the most commonly used matrices are and how you can use them to manage and prioritise tasks at work.

What is a prioritisation matrix?

A prioritisation matrix is an analysis tool that individuals and businesses employ to prioritise tasks in order to improve productivity and efficiency. A prioritisation matrix calculates and determines:

  • the tasks that are important and urgent

  • the tasks that add value to businesses and individuals

  • the tasks that are more likely to be successful

There are many kinds of prioritisation matrices, but the most commonly used are:

  • the 2x2 matrix and

  • the Six Sigma matrix

Related: 15 Ways to Motivate Yourself at Work and Improve Productivity

What is the 2x2 matrix?

The 2x2 matrix is a simple and commonly used tool to determine which tasks to prioritise. It includes two axes and four quadrants. The horizontal axis represents urgency, while the vertical axis refers to importance. Each of the four quadrants represents:

  • Tasks that are both important and urgent: It's important that you put a lot of effort into making sure that tasks are completed as soon as possible and that they are of a high standard and quality.

  • Tasks that aren't important but urgent: You may wish to complete these tasks as soon as possible in the fastest manner to make sure that they don't take up too much of your time to complete other important tasks.

  • Tasks that are important but not urgent: You may decide a time later in your schedule to complete these tasks. They're important tasks, so make sure you're keeping track of these tasks or consider delegating these tasks to your co-workers.

  • Tasks that aren't important and not urgent: These tasks require very little of your time and effort. You may wish to work on them after you have completed all the other tasks, or you may delete them altogether.

How to use the 2x2 matrix to prioritise tasks

Follow these steps to use the 2x2 matrix to prioritise tasks at work:

1. Make a general list of all your tasks and projects

Before prioritising your tasks, first, make a list of all the tasks and projects that you have in the short and long term. Include all the projects and tasks that you plan to complete in the next one to three months on the short-term task list. Projects and tasks that you're planning to work on during the year can go onto the long-term task list. This can help you have a clear vision of your overall tasks, making it easier for you to identify the ones that are important or urgent.

2. Sort out the tasks according to their urgency

The next step is to sort out the tasks on your list according to their urgency. To do this, first, it's important that you're aware of the deadlines of the tasks on your list. Then, make a chronological list of the tasks according to their deadlines. You can organise it so that the task with the earliest deadline appears first on the list. If you have a task without a clear deadline, you may use your best judgement to decide when you can complete it.

3. Sort out the tasks according to their importance

The next step is to determine the tasks that are important from your list. You can do this by assessing the value each task adds to your company and your professional goals. For instance, if you're a sales manager, preparing for a sales meeting with an important client may be more important than writing a report because the former adds more value to your professional goals and your company.

4. Map out the urgent and important tasks in the 2x2 matrix

After sorting out the tasks based on their urgency and importance, you can draw a 2x2 matrix on a whiteboard or a piece of paper and label the horizontal and vertical axes. Then, you may assign your tasks according to the four quadrants. By the end of it, you can see the tasks with the highest priority on the upper half of the matrix, while the tasks that are of lower priority remain in the lower half of the matrix.

What is the Six Sigma matrix?

The Six Sigma matrix is a more complex but thorough system to decide how to prioritise tasks. Usually, organisations use this system to improve business processes and eliminate waste and gaps in performance and productivity.

The Six Sigma matrix compares multiple datasets that are relevant to your organisation's value and needs. This system uses at least two sets of data for each matrix. Then, you can analyse the using weighted criteria.

How to use the Six Sigma matrix to prioritise tasks

Follow these steps to use the Six Sigma matrix to prioritise tasks at work:

1. Draw your matrix

The Six Sigma matrix includes several rows and columns. You may draw out the matrix on a computer program or on paper. This way, you can visualise your priorities better.

2. Establish your prioritisation criteria or tasks

Based on your goals and needs, you may establish some criteria. Usually, the criteria are the tasks that you're trying to prioritise. Write each criterion or task in each row and column. For instance, your first criterion goes into both the first row and the first column. Your second criterion goes into both the second row and the second column. Continue doing this for the rest of your criteria.

3. Block out the same pairs of criteria

Since each criterion sits under a row and a column, it's important to block out the spaces which contain the same pairs of criteria. This is because they're simply repeated information and don't provide any data on which criterion to prioritise. Blocking out the same pairs of criteria can help you focus by eliminating repetition in the matrix.

4. Assign weights to each criterion

You may assign a weighted score to each criterion to establish its importance. For instance, if a particular criterion is of high importance, you may give it a weight of 5. The least important criterion may have a weight of 1.

5. Compare and assign scoring values to each criterion

The next step is to compare the criterion in each row to the remaining criterion columns. Then, you may assign scoring values to each criterion in the rows according to its relative importance to each criterion in the columns.

For instance, if your first criterion in the first row is a lot more important than the second criterion in the column, you may give it a scoring value of 10. If your second criterion in the second row is not important at all compared to the third criterion in the column, you may give it a scoring value of 0.

6. Calculate and add up the weighted scores

You may calculate the total weighted score of each criterion by multiplying the weight scores and the scoring values that you have set. Afterwards, you may add up the total score of each criterion by adding up the scores in each row. Then, you may calculate the percentage of the total for each row.

7. Compare results and prioritise tasks

After you have the percentage values of each row, you can compare the results. The higher the percentage value is, the more important the task. Essentially, this matrix forms a hierarchy of tasks that need your immediate attention.

Related: A Guide to Work-Life Balance: Definition and Ways To Improve

Benefits of prioritising tasks

Prioritising tasks can offer several benefits to individuals and businesses. Below are some examples:

  • It increases your productivity. Prioritising tasks gives you a better idea of which tasks are important and urgent and makes sure that you spend enough time and effort on them. This can increase your productivity and help you work towards your deadlines.

  • It reduces stress and anxiety. Prioritising tasks allows you to take control of how you divide and spend your time. This can lead to reduced stress at work.

  • It leaves more time for you to do other activities. When you finish your tasks on time, you can reduce overtime hours. Instead, you can choose to spend that saved time doing other activities that you enjoy.

  • It helps advance your career. With increased productivity and less stress, you may impress your supervisors with the quality and quantity of your work. This may help you secure a promotion or receive a pay rise.

Explore more articles