This is the second in a series about prioritization frameworks. You can find the first one HERE.

We often think about prioritization around what needs to be done first, second, third, etc. But that’s only half the picture. A huge part of prioritization is about decided what should be done at all.

Remember, you can’t “do it all”. And neither can I. And so it’s helpful to have some frameworks to help us figure out what to do.

The first framework I want to share is the Impact/Difficulty Matrix.

And if you read last week’s post, then you might be thinking “this looks very similar” to the “Urgent Important Matrix”. And there are some similarities, for sure. But also some big differences. So let’s get into it.

impact difficulty matrix prioritization framework.png
In this matrix, we’re comparing how hard it’s going to be to accomplish something with the impact that thing will ultimately have on your work and/or your life.  You’ll see that on the vertical axis we have impact (which is sort of like importance) and on the horizontal axis, we have difficulty (which is not like urgency at all).  So, this framework is taking other factors into account and is not really worrying about the urgency of an item. This helps us to decide what to do without falling prey to a false sense of urgency.

Let’s talk through each of the boxes starting in the top right and going clockwise:

  • Items that are high impact and high difficulty often refer to your long term projects.  You’re probably going to do them. However, every once in a while the level of difficulty will outweigh the impact and then you’ll want to reconsider if it’s worth it. Or perhaps it’s something personal; it may be very hard to build a habit of daily meditation, but it also might be incredibly impactful for your life so you decide to do it anyway.  If you do decide to do these items, you’ll treat them like the “important but not yet urgent” items from the Eisenhower matrix. These types of projects will likely have many next actions that you will schedule over time in order to complete the project. 
  • Items that are low impact  and high difficulty are rarely worth the time.  They don’t move the needle much, but require lots of time, effort or complexity. Since you can’t do it all, how about chucking (or delegating) these items?
  • Items that are low impact and also low difficulty are your “nice to haves.”  You’ll do these if there’s room after the high impact projects, and perhaps you should consider delegating them as well.
  • And finally, the high impact/low difficulty tasks are your quick wins.  You definitely want to do these things as they aren’t going to take a lot of time or effort, but will make a huge impact. I think templates are the perfect example of a high impact/low difficulty task. It doesn’t take much time to create a checklist or document your process steps, but then you never have to use your precious brainpower on that again; you can just follow the process.

Now, I love frameworks, so let’s talk about another one that’s really helpful. If you’ve got a lot of exciting projects you want to work on and you can’t fit them all in (because, again, you can’t do it all), the ICE framework can help you figure out which projects will have the biggest impact and highest likelihood of success. This is a framework I use a lot when I’m doing quarterly planning for my business. Now, for this framework, remember that we’re not talking about isolated tasks, we’re talking about larger projects and initiatives.

ICE method prioritization framework.png

Here’s how it works:

For each project idea, give it a score from 1 to 5 in the following 3 areas:

Impact: How much of an impact with this project make? (This is the same metric as impact in the Impact/Difficulty framework above, and similar to importance in the Eisenhower matrix)

Confidence: How confident are you that you can pull this off with the resources you have?

Ease: How easy is it going to be for you to implement this?

Once you’ve scored your projects, you can simply add up the scores and sort by the highest number. The projects with higher overall numbers are the likeliest to make the most impact, and are realistically achievable. Projects with lower overall scores likely aren’t right to focus on right now; they’re not going to be the best use of your limited time.

But here’s the interesting part: these scores aren’t static.

Something that might be incredibly difficult right now, might actually be quite easy 6 months from now, either because of skills you’ve learned, or additional resources (human or otherwise) acquired. Time can also change how impactful something might be. Making sure your company had a fax machine, for instance, became way less impactful once email came around. So, every time you review your possible projects, it makes sense to take a look at previous scores and change any that might be to be adjusted based on the passage of time, and new circumstances.

How can you implement this practically?

If you want to get fancy, you can use a spreadsheet with a simple formula to sum the score for you, then sort. Or, if you want to get fancier still, this framework could live in your task system and you could use custom fields for this.

Now, will you need to use these frameworks all the time? No. But they can be incredibly useful tools to have at the ready, whenever you’re trying to decide what projects to pursue.

Stay tuned for next week’s post, which will be about prioritizing within your day.