CCT Decision Matrix

Ram Naresh Meena   07-06-19

“I have so many tasks and I think, all are very important and all are high priority. What should I do? Which one I should do first?”

In our growing career, often we have this situation that we have many tasks on a daily basis. Some tasks are from one area and some are from different areas. Our doing these tasks in an efficient manner often becomes more crucial when one has to take different decisions every day, every moment and many people’s time and effort depends on that decision.

To do these in the most efficient manner, is the biggest challenge a young manager faces. One has to decide which task to do first or which task has more priority over others. Sometimes, this decision making itself becomes so complicated that this itself becomes another task in the list. Laughs.

This is a problem all of us know because sometime in our career, each one of us has faced this. Especially this problem is very common with young managers, more so when we are in the middle management level.

On one hand we think we are working hard and we are putting so much effort to complete all our tasks, our boss thinks we are not efficient enough. This top down pressure further aggravates the problem.

I believe it’s not at all easy to decide which task to do first when everything seems priority. It’s like deciding priority out of priorities. So, how to decide which task to take on first and then which one and then which one ???

There are countless self-help books out there, that try to teach us, how to efficiently plan our tasks and try to tackle them in which order and so on. Honestly, I believe none of them are very helpful. As no one can teach anyone how to decide priority out of priorities, because it is something which is, in the end, an individual’s own judgment. But what we can certainly do is we can try to understand the three big factors which are inherent characteristics of any task. If we can understand these three key factors, then may be we can also eventually teach ourselves, how to decide our own priorities.

So, let’s check what these factors are. Hold on, there is a disclaimer before we go any further. We have to always remember, we are trying to understand to decide priority out of priorities, means everything in the list is important, it’s just that which one we have to take on first.

Complexity: Try to understand which task is complex and which task is simple.  We often tend to leave a task un-attended due to its complexity. If a task is complex, you cannot estimate exactly how much time is needed to complete it. But if other tasks are simple it might be a good idea to estimate time for them.

Rule No. 1:  If simple tasks are many but less time consuming, finish them first and then come back to complex one, so that you can have better concentration. Because the list has been reduced drastically, it becomes a physiological motivation to complete complex task and increases productivity.

Thomas is a Project Manager in a software development firm. He has techno-commercial responsibilities and has below list of tasks on a particular day:

Explainer Example:

  1. Reply to HR to confirm one of associates probation completion
  2. Reply to Training head to confirm list of trainees
  3. To attend one of Engineer’s request to help solve a technical issue in an upcoming software delivery
  4. To check the weekly status of 2 ongoing projects
  5. Write to Admin to confirm travel date for Dan

In above example it would be best to take up tasks, 1, 2 & 5 first, because these tasks we can complete relatively quickly. Once we have done that, our list is a much smaller list only of 2 tasks; task 3 and 4. Now we should take up task 3 because, this is little time consuming but lesser complex than the task 4 where we surely need to put lot of attention and might have to spend unplanned amount of time.

Rule No. 2:  If simple tasks are many but more time consuming, it will be a good idea to first take on the complex one so that there is no pressure of complexity. Let us modify Thomas’ task list a bit to understand this,

Explainer Example:

  1. Conduct probation completion interview for an associate
  2. Make a list of recommended candidates for training
  3. To attend one of Engineer’s request to help solve a technical issue in an upcoming software delivery
  4. To check the weekly status of 2 ongoing projects
  5. Review with Dan, his travel plans and then confirm to Admin

Now here we have 4 tasks (Tasks 1, 2, 4 & 5)  that are relatively simple, but each will need considerable amount of time. So it would be better to tackle complex task first (task no. 3). Once it is out of the way, then we are more relaxed in the mind and then can come back to simpler tasks, where we have fairly good idea, how it will get completed.

Summary: Prioritze your complex  tasks looking at the time needed to do the simpler tasks.

Criticality: It is a common misconception that each complex task is also a critical task. Somehow by way of habit, we keep treating each complex task as critical.

Rule No. 3:  Not every complex task is critical.

We can check the criticality of a task by checking it against our timeline. It would be easy for us to decide priority of a task if its deadline is known. And then we can easily work backwards to know when to start it.

But what if,  the timeline is not clear or not known. How can we then prioritize it?

Rule No. 4:  Try to check a tasks criticality by asking the below 2 simple questions,

  • Does it impact anyone else’s work?
  • Is any other task dependent on this task?

Explainer Example:

Once again let us modify Thomas’ list to understand this.

  1. Reply to HR to confirm one of associates probation completion
  2. Meeting/ Discussion with Training head to finalize training topics, so that potential candidates can be selected
  3. Delivery is today and the Engineer has requested to help solve a technical issue
  4. To check the weekly status of 2 ongoing projects
  5. Approve travel budget to Admin for Dan’s business trip, so that Admin can go ahead and book the tickets

In above example notice that task no. 3 has a delivery which is due day and it is a complex one, so this automatically becomes top Critical and also the top most priority and should be handled 1st.

Task no. 5 has no clear timeline but it is evident that if it is delayed, ticket prices will rise and also Admin person’s next action is dependent on it, so Task no. 5 becomes the 2nd priority in the list.

Task no. 2 will be 3rd in the priority list, as it is a predecessor for the Recruitment task.

Tasks 1 & 4 can be taken last as they doesn’t seem critical, since there is no timeline attached to it.

Summary: Determine criticality of tasks based on timeline and dependence on other tasks.

Of course, I personally use these simple 4 rules, on a a daily basis. I hope you too can decide and prioritze your tasks using these rules. Just in case, you get stuck or feel these rules are not giving you a clear set of priorities, please do not hesitate to contact me. I can help you work through these.