Action Priority Matrix

What is the Action Priority Matrix?

An Action Priority Matrix (APM) is a simple diagram that classifies activities based on the amount of effort required and the impact expected. It is a tool for choosing what activities get more of your attention or little to none of it.

We all have many things to do with limited time and/or other resources to execute them. This raises a need to prioritize to make the most of what you have available.

The Action Priority Matrix helps to identify the activities that are more important so that you can order them properly. It is a wonderful, though basic, productivity tool that can help to maximize effectiveness.

Categorization of Activities in the Action Priority Matrix

The framework consists of four quadrants. You form these by first drawing the X and Y axes of a graph. Draw a horizontal line from around the midpoint of the Y-axis and a vertical one from the midpoint of the X-axis. The intersecting lines create four boxes, into which you add activities on the bases of effort and impact.

This diagram measures Impact along the Y-axis and Effort on the X-axis. Starting from the top, activities in the resulting quadrants have the following qualities:

High Impact, Low Effort – These are activities or projects that are deserving of the most attention. Known as “Quick Wins,” they require little effort while giving great returns.

High Impact, High Effort – These are major projects that deliver probably the greatest returns. However, they take a lot of time and other resources to pull off.

Low Impact, Low Effort – Known as “Fill-ins,” these are initiatives you may work on if you have more time on your hand. You can give them to others to handle or ignore them altogether if have better things to do instead.

Low Impact, High Effort – You should try as much as you can to avoid these activities or projects. They are “Thankless Tasks” that do not justify the work that goes into them.

Putting the Matrix to Work

There are four major steps to follow when looking to use the Action Priority Matrix for your work. They are as follows:

  • List all the initiatives that you wish to execute using a whiteboard or a suitable web-based tool.
  • Score each of the initiatives on the basis of impact and effort, say, on a scale of 0-10 (low to high) as most people do.
  • Using the score assigned to each, plot the initiatives on a graph to create your matrix.
  • Discuss with your team members the priority of initiatives, determining what to work on, what to delegate, and what to get rid of.

It is important that you pay careful attention to the lines forming the quadrants. Without that, you might confuse an item in one category for another in a different category. Several other tools are based on a somewhat similar idea as the Action Priority Matrix, with modifications. An example is the Impact Feasibility Matrix, which replaces “Effort” with “Feasibility.”

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