How to manage my time, effort, and focus with an impact matrix

Most of us are familiar with the phrase “there is nothing certain but death and taxes”. While that is absolutely true for most places around the world, I believe it requires a 21st century update that reads as follows:

“There is nothing certain but death, taxes, and change.”

Change is a universal constant as most scientists (and people counting white hair on their head) would certainly agree with. We have all felt the effects of a quickened pace of change over the past 10 years, and the race is on for individuals and organizations to find strategies to excel in this environment. Add to that the information overload we deal with on a daily basis, and very quickly we realize that something must be done; a desired solution that is sustainable and can be easily updated semi-annually or quarterly.

A simple strategy, I believe, is an Impact Effort Matrix. It can be effective at the individual, team, and organization levels; and helps to ensure that all efforts are aligned towards generating the highest impact – whatever your key performance indicators are. It works by helping you prioritize all your daily/weekly/monthly tasks based on the current situation. As changes arise, the relevant tasks in your impact matrix can be revisited and updated to help with course-correction. The matrix also allows you to make room for ongoing learning, so you are better equipped to manage change and your outcomes.

In my role, I use a modified version of this matrix that doesn’t employ speed, defocus, and resources as discussed in the link above, but you can certainly use those for yourself and/or your organization.

Furthermore, I highly recommend sharing your completed matrix with your manager and team (especially if you are part of a multi-faceted team). This allows for your manager to ensure your priorities and actions are aligned with theirs as well as the organization at large (because who doesn’t want a better chance at a bonus?). Additionally, this helps your team reduce duplicated effort and become better collaborators. Sounds too good to be true? Let’s dig in.

Impact Effort Matrix - Ryan D'Mello
Impact Effort Matrix

The impact matrix consists of 4 quadrants – each based on priorities and … wait for it … the level of their impact. The version I use is labelled as follows (counter-clockwise from top left):

High Priority, High Impact

These are the highest value actions of your job. This consists of the things you know you were hired for, the things that only you can do in your position that makes you indispensable (so far). These items can be gleaned off of your job description, or a quick conversation with your manager. Here’s what it might look like for different roles:

  • Sales – new business acquisition; gain larger share of wallet from existing customers; reduce consideration time by improving qualification and matching product value with customer’s need.
  • Marketing – establish and maintain thought leadership; generate high quality sales leads with lower consideration times; enhance sales and marketing collateral.
  • Operations – reduce churn by exceeding client goals or providing added value; increase efficiency by using better project management tools; improve quality of deliverables.
High Priority, High Impact - Impact Effort Matrix - Ryan D'Mello
High Priority, High Impact – Impact Effort Matrix

While the examples I have provided here are quite generic, really boil down to specific tasks that are important given your current situation. As you grow in your role, or as the world around you changes, these tasks will change to reflect that.

Feel free to add numbers or percentages to this as you see fit. Aim to spend 70% or more of your time / day on these items.

High Priority, Low Impact

While necessary parts of your job, these are the items you would look to minimize your time spent on or outsource to a secondary resource. As your role expands over time, many more items tend to build up in this quadrant. Recognize them as potential time-sinks and seek to spend less time here. Examples include:

  • Meetings and conference calls without an agenda; expense reports; repetitive mundane tasks that can be automated; status emails you are cc’d on, etc.
  • Another item that usually comes up here is for tasks that have already been outsourced. The outsourcee may come to you for signoff on any action taken. Consider empowering them with broader guidelines and additional information so they can rely on you less, and still operate within existing requirements and policies.
High Priority, Low Impact - Impact Effort Matrix - Ryan D'Mello
High Priority, Low Impact – Impact Effort Matrix

Aim to spend 10% of your time / day on these items.

Low Priority, Low Impact

The least valuable part of your job. Period. These are things you want to spend the absolute least amount of focus on or cut out entirely. Examples include:

  • Gossip (surprise, surprise); 90% of web browsing (procrastination); general emails; distracting music; internal politics; personal messages, conversations; and especially, “what did you do this weekend?”.
Low Priority, Low Impact - Impact Effort Matrix - Ryan D'Mello
Low Priority, Low Impact – Impact Effort Matrix

Aim to spend less than 5% of your time / day here. You know what you need to cut out, so I’ll spend the least time on this. See what I did there?

Low Priority, High Impact

My favourite part of this impact matrix. This quadrant houses your actions that can yield high ROI in the near future. You’ll want these items to eventually have a direct impact on your High Priority, High Impact quadrant. Stretch your mind and think big for this list of tasks, because this is where you’ll grow your skill set, expand your future focused knowledge, and continue being indispensable in a world of change. Examples include:

  • Sales – grow to become the subject matter expert of a suite of products / services; become a recognized contributor at industry events thereby opening up multiple referral channels; join a personal development program to improve sales and interpersonal skills.
  • Marketing – discover and deploy relevant marketing tools to optimize lead nurturing; take leading role in producing market trend analysis; create proprietary products or services to strengthen strategic positioning against competition.
  • Operations – devise self-serve dashboards and tools to simplify a customer’s access to information; strengthen vendor partnerships to earn cost efficiencies; raise customer satisfaction scores by X%.
Low Priority, High Impact - Impact Effort Matrix - Ryan D'Mello
Low Priority, High Impact – Impact Effort Matrix

Aim to spend 15% of your time / day here. Taking small daily bites out of big ideas and goals will help ensure your continued progress, and maintain your strong value within your team/organization.

As you can see, an Impact Matrix can help to clearly outline your activities based on your current situation. Print out a few copies of this and pin them up at your desk, home office, and carry one around in your briefcase. As changes come down the pipe – from the perspective of your job or the organization – revisit your impact matrix and update it to match the new situation. Validate it with your manager, and if applicable, your team.

Let me know your thoughts on this solution, and what alternatives you may have come across to prepare yourself in a world of change.

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