5 Easy Steps to Control your To-Do List using the Impact-Ease Tool

ImpactEaseTitle5

The Challenge

I don’t know about you, but my to-do list can really scare me. The problem is simple and well known: too much to do and too little time.

People assume that as a proofreader, editor and writer I spend 90% of my time proofreading, editing and writing. But in fact, there are lots of other jobs that need to be done to support my business. The thing is, I really like writing so I have to be careful not to ‘forget’ or endlessly postpone the other things. For those who don’t like writing, the problem may be the reverse, of course, and it’s the writing jobs that can be left until the last minute.

Whether you’re a professional, an entrepreneur, an employee, student or teacher, your daily to-do list is sure to include writing tasks: notes, emails, letters, social media updates, website copy, blogs, reports, project updates, press releases, budget outlines, business plans, and so on. How do you give these tasks the priority they deserve, especially if you’re not particularly fond of writing?

The challenge for all of us is to figure out how to use our time most effectively so that we can make a difference in our field of endeavour. Whether we work individually or in a team, we need a reliable way of prioritising tasks and bringing our to-do lists under control.

This post describes and illustrates an invaluable tool that helps you do just that: the Impact-Ease Tool from Edgeware*.

*Edgeware Creative Entrepreneurship runs creative, innovative and dynamic training and coaching for startups, with a strong focus on the entrepreneur at the heart of the new enterprise. The Edgeware community is growing fast, and courses are available online as well as face to face: www.edgeware.com

A Solution

In 5 easy steps, the Impact-Ease Tool helps me – and can help you – to translate an overwhelming list of jobs into an organised set of actions. Unlike familiar time management approaches, the Edgeware tool asks you to consider two vital factors as you prioritise your tasks. These are:

  • the likely impact of the task in moving you closer to your goals; and
  • the ease with which the task can be accomplished given your current resources.

The Impact-Ease Tool in 5 Easy Steps

Step 1 – list your actions

Rewrite your to-do list as 12-16 numbered actions. My example (see below) has 12, and comes from mid 2013 when I was developing my online business model and setting up my website.

Your actions list may be the result of a quick scribble over a strong flat white, or a summary of all the notes you’ve collected on your phone, in your diary, or on the scraps of paper that litter your desk (and car). Or, your list may be the result of a more systematic task brainstorm and categorisation by your work team.

Write your numbered list into a three-column table like the one below. The column headings are actions, impact and ease.

NB: The tool gets a bit unwieldy with more than 16 actions on the list, so you may need to refine your list before using the tool, or simply use the tool more than once.

Rating

Draw up a three-column table and write a numbered list of tasks in the ‘actions’ column.

Step 2 – rate for ‘impact’

In step 2, you’ll complete the impact column on your table.

For each action on your list, ask yourself, ‘What will be the likely impact on the achievement of my goals if this action is performed right now?’.

For each action, answer the question by allocating an ‘impact rating’. If you have 12 actions on the list – as in my example – your impact rating scale is 1-12 where 12 is allocated to the action(s) you believe will have the highest impact and 1 is allocated to the action(s) you believe will have the lowest impact. So 12=high impact and 1=low impact. (Note that if you have 15 actions on your list, the highest possible impact rating will be 15, and the lowest impact will be 1. With 8 actions, the impact scale is 1-8, and with 4 actions, it’s 1-4.)

As you can see on the diagram, it’s ok to allocate the same rating to more than one action. My ratings show that I believed that 7 out of my 12 actions would have an extremely high impact in establishing my online business. I gave them all a rating of 12. My ratings also show that I didn’t think actions 8 (with an impact rating of 2) or 9 (with an impact rating of 3) would have much direct impact on setting up my business, and that action 6 (with an impact rating of 7) would have a sort of ‘medium’ impact.

At the end of Step 2, each action on your table will have a number in the impact column.

Step 3 – rate for ‘ease’

In Step 3, you’ll complete the ease column on your table.

Go back to the top of your actions list and for each task ask yourself, ‘How easy will it be for me to complete this action?

For each action, answer the question by allocating an ‘ease rating’. If you have 12 actions, the ease rating scale will be 1-12 where 12 is allocated to the action you believe is the easiest for you to do, and 1 is allocated to the action(s) you believe is the hardest for you to do. ‘Ease’ refers to the ‘path of least resources’. In other words, identify the action that is the cheapest, simplest, or most enjoyable for you, or is easiest in some other way. Note that, counter-intuitively, the easiest action in your list gets the highest rating: 12=easy and 1=hard.

At the end of Step 3, each action on your table will have a number in the ease column.

Step 4 – plot a graph

The next step is to translate the table into a visual form that’s much easier to read. The resulting graph shows you at a glance those tasks that will have the greatest impact for the least use of resources.

Here’s how to plot the graph:

Draw a blank template of a square divided into equal quadrants. The horizontal (x) axis measures ease and the vertical (y) axis measures impact. The number of points on each axis corresponds with the number of actions on your list. My list has 12 actions, so my graph has 12 points on each axis.

Place each of your actions on the graph like this:

Graph1Plot

Follow (a), (b) and (c) for each task in your numbered list.

(a) Locate the action on the ‘impact’ axis. You can see that my first action has an impact rating of 12 – see the dotted line (a) on the graph.

(b) Similarly, locate the action on the ‘ease’ axis. You can see that my first action has an ease rating of 5 – see the dotted line (b) on the graph.

(c) Place the action on the graph at the point where lines (a) and (b) intersect. See the number 1 at (c)  on the graph.

Task Priorities

Each task on your table is represented by its number on the graph.

Follow (a), (b) and (c) for each action on your table. The result is a graph where each of your actions is represented by its number.

 

 

 

Step 5 – read the graph

Assuming that your impact and ease ratings were accurate, you can interpret the graph as follows:

  • Actions in the top right quadrant are high-impact and relatively easy to do.
  • Actions in the top left quadrant are high-impact but more difficult to do.
  • Actions in the bottom right quadrant are low-impact and easy.
  • Actions in the bottom left quadrant are low-impact and difficult.

The graph clearly suggests that you prioritise the tasks in your top right quadrant: they are high impact and relatively easy to achieve. Similarly, the tasks in your bottom left quadrant are a low priority, being low-impact and difficult.

In Summary

The Impact-Ease tool translates a daunting to-do list into a picture that clearly shows your priorities. They key is that the prioritisation is not based on your subjective ‘gut feeling’ or a reaction to insistent emails or the endless ringing of the phone. Instead, your task prioritisation is based on careful and conscious decisions about how to move closer to your goals, and how to make the wisest use of your resources.

Does the Impact-Ease Tool make sense for your situation? Which other methods for task prioritisation do you use or can recommend? How do you decide where to put your energies – do you have a longer-term strategic focus, or do you prefer to make decisions daily or weekly? Your comments are most welcome below. And feel free to share this post with friends and colleagues who might benefit from knowing about the Impact-Ease Tool.

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Comments

  1. Came across NotDoList.com a to-do tool that seems to use these principles http://notdolist.com. Early release it looks like

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