FAQ: How Do You Use an Action Priority Matrix?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 8, 2022

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.

When you have multiple tasks to complete, it can be overwhelming, leading you to spend valuable time stressing about what tasks are more important, what tasks you can delegate, and what tasks you can complete quickly. By switching back and forth between tasks, you can lose focus, make mistakes, and spend more time on specific tasks than necessary. An action priority matrix can help you organize your tasks to complete them with an effective plan. In this article, we discuss frequently asked questions about what an action priority matrix is and why it can be helpful.

Read more: How To Develop a Project Priorities Matrix.

What is an action priority matrix?

An action priority matrix is a graphic you can use to determine your project's priority level of actions. It has four squares with intersecting labels that identify features of each box. You assign features to each task, which determines what box the task belongs inside. When deciding what tasks are most important or in what order you should complete them, you can plot them out on your action priority matrix to organize them by feature and priority.

Related: 11 Prioritization Strategies To Help You Arrange Your Tasks

Why might you use an action priority matrix?

Here are some reasons an action priority matrix can be helpful:

Organize your tasks

Setting up an action priority matrix is an excellent opportunity to organize all your tasks in one place. You can include any tasks that you intend to complete or that your colleagues and managers have assigned to you in one place. This can prevent you from forgetting a task and help you manage your progress in one place. You can also use it as a convenient graphic for other team members if you're working on a joint project. You may even use it to present to your manager when asked for status updates on your projects.

Related: Understanding Matrix Management: Definition and How It Works

Examine your priorities

You can assign a priority to each task, helping you determine which tasks you can delegate and which tasks should be on you can work on to complete as soon as possible. You can avoid confusion with your team members and managerial team about deadlines and multi-tasking by clarifying your priorities. By assigning priorities, you can keep the momentum of your project moving forward, as the most important tasks are recognized and addressed.

Read more: How To Develop Strategic Project Priorities for Your Team

Provide perspective

Assigning a priority for each task can help keep each task's importance, relevance, and urgency in perspective. When taking on tasks for a project, some tasks may be more fun or easier to complete, taking up the team's attention. Having your priorities presented can also ensure that the less desirable tasks are prioritized.

Sometimes your workload is affected by the demands of your managers, who have deadlines they want to work within, making some tasks seem more important than they are, but organizing your tasks by priority can help you stay focused on a task affects, helping you consistently improve the status of your project without getting distracted by status updates from your managerial team.

Improve your productivity

Organization can improve your productivity by making the next steps clear to you and your team. Your team can reference the matrix to understand what tasks should be completed and in what order. You can remove downtime created by waiting for assignments, asking for advice and losing momentum between tasks. You can also spend more time working on tasks that you know are productive and contribute to the result of your project over busy work.

Read more: 15 Examples of How To Increase Productivity in the Workplace

What are the four categories in a priority matrix?

A priority matrix has four squares separated by impact and effort. You can organize the squares in a grid, two squares high and two squares wide. The two top are high impact, and the two low squares are low impact. The two left-side squares are low effort, and the two right-side squares are high effort. This creates a matrix of tasks organized by their features. Inside each square, you can manage your tasks like this:

  • Top left square: The top left square is for high impact and low effort tasks, so any tasks you can complete quickly to improve the status of your project efficiently.

  • Top right square: The top right square is for high impact and high effort tasks, so you can include tasks in this square that may take a long time or require a lot of logistics, but that can greatly improve the status of your project.

  • Bottom left square: The bottom left square is for low impact and low effort tasks, so tasks that are more likely to be busywork or small tasks you can complete quickly.

  • Bottom right square: The bottom right square is for low impact and high effort tasks, so tasks that are difficult or time-consuming to complete and won't drastically affect the status of your project.

How to use a priority matrix

You can follow these steps to create your priority matrix:

1. Make a list of tasks

Create a list of every task you need to complete your project. You can ask other members of your team or your managers if they have any suggestions. The more tasks you include in the matrix, the more helpful it is. Include tasks that you don't think are very important, as they may fit the bill of low impact, though your managers or teammates still expect you to complete them. Filling out your list can give a complete picture of your priorities.

2. Rack each item by impact

On a scale of one to ten, rank each task by how much impact it can have on your project, career, or status. These rankings can help you plot the points on your matrix. Any task you rank less than 5 has a low impact, and any task you rank higher than five has a high impact.

3. Rank each item by effort

The impact is only one metric in the action priority matrix, and the other is effort. Next, rank each task on a scale of one to ten by how much effort you think it may take to complete. Think about how long it may take to complete. You can also consider if you may need multiple people to consult on the project or how much logistics or creative energy to solve. If you rank a task higher than five, it's high impact. Tasks you rank lower than five have low impact.

4. Plot the tasks

Draw your matrix with four boxes labeled high impact and low effort, high impact and high effort, low impact and low effort and low impact and high effort. Then, plot each task, with effort increasing along the x-axis and impact increasing along the y-axis. Where you plot each point indicates the priority.

5. Make a plan

Once you've plotted each point, you can make a plan for how you want to complete each task. For example, you can delegate low impact, low effort tasks to assistants or other team members. High impact, low effort tasks you can approach first, gather momentum, and move on to high impact high effort tasks. You can address low-impact tasks after you've completed the higher priority items.

6. Review

As your project or role continues to grow and take on new tasks, you can update your matrix. Review your priorities as you complete tasks, including those you delegate. Somethings the impact may change the closer you get to the project's deadline. Additionally, high effort tasks may become low effort as your skills develop or your office incorporates technology into their processes.

Example of a priority matrix

Here is an example of a priority matrix that you can use to help you construct one:

Sally Henderson is a personal assistant for a travel agent. She needs to priorities her tasks to maintain her productivity. She has made a list of each task her boss has assigned, ranked them by impact and effort and developed the following matrix:;

High impact and low effort

  • Return client calls

  • Book travel for agent

High Impact and high effort

  • Write advertising blog posts for the website

  • Contact potential travel vendors

Low impact and low effort

  • Reorganize travel brochures

  • Update automated email scripts

Low impact and high effort

  • Update travel vendor contacts into a digital database

  • Change passwords to different professional accounts

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