I learned a lot during my years of university --- how to research, challenge, write, reason, and analyze. Looking back though, I don’t think I knew how to prioritize; not effectively, anyway. Usually, I would make a list of the tasks at hand, sorted according to due date and how much work I still had to do on them. It worked alright, but I still felt overwhelmed at times and I didn’t know why. I had my list of priorities --- but why was I rushed? Why was I scrambling? It turns out I had good intentions, but the wrong method. Working at inVision has changed the way I work. I work smarter now because I know how to prioritize.
I was introduced to the “Urgency/Importance Matrix” (also called the “Eisenhower Matrix” and popularized in Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) about a year ago when I first joined inVision. As a team, we used it in our strategy session while discussing the projects we wanted to complete in the coming year. I could see the usefulness in that situation --- with so many initiatives on the go and even more that we wanted to launch, using the matrix to figure out which projects were truly a priority (and which ones weren’t) was an exercise in reality. It turns out that if it was useful in that situation, it was indispensable to me personally.
Fast forward to a month ago. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. I didn’t invent the U/I matrix, but in the midst of my busiest time since I started with inVision, I needed it desperately. When Wendy Ferris (inVision Edge Partner) suggested that I make my own matrix and post it on the wall by my desk to help me get a better handle on the tasks at hand, I decided she was absolutely right.
It’s very easy to use and wow, is it ever effective. Take a large piece of paper and draw a graph --- the vertical access is labelled “Urgency”, and the horizontal access is “Importance”. Split the graph into four equally sized quadrants. For each task or project on the go, write it on a sticky note. Then (and here’s the key) – evaluate each task based on the matrix. Ask yourself: how important is this? And then: How urgent is this? The tasks placed in the lower left quadrant are low priority; the tasks in the upper right are highest priority --- those are the ones that are both important and urgent. You get the idea.
To have a visual of all of the projects that I have on the go is invaluable --- not only to me, but to my teammates! At a glance, everyone knows what I’m working on and how “full” my plate is. When I have something new to work on, it goes up on the matrix. It helps to set expectations and realistic deadlines, and already, I can’t imagine working without it.
At the end of the day, it’s all about working smarter. The U/I matrix isn’t rocket science, but it has changed the way I go about my day. I have truly prioritized my projects (I don’t use a list anymore) and I think I’m more successful because of it. A simple tool, yes; but a huge win for me, my productivity, and the team. Now if only I had learned this a few years ago...