Coaching Tools 101: The Action Priority Matrix - Achieve More!

Action Priority Matrix Grid and Happy Coach Jumping

Learn about this Coaching Tool to Achieve More with the Time you Have:

I love the Action Priority Matrix - it's one of my favourite productivity tools - and I think you'll love it too!

These days we're all managing multiple, competing demands on our time. So how would you like a simple new concept to help you focus your efforts and achieve more with the time you have?

At its essence, this tool will help you identify the activities that give you the biggest results for the least effort, and let go of activities that drain you!

So, without further ado, here's a really practical tool for your coaching toolbox for both you and your clients - to identify and focus on the tasks that give you the most 'bang for your buck'.

The Action Priority Matrix Tool Grid with Labels

1) Who Is The Action Priority Matrix For?

The Action Priority Matrix is a great productivity tool for the toolboxes of leadership, executive, career and small business coaches. It's also great to use with anyone is stressed, overwhelmed and needs help getting things done.

And finally, it's particularly helpful for the small business owner and entrepreneur - which of course includes coaches!

2) How Does The Action Priority Matrix Work?

  • The Action Priority Matrix uses a simple 4 square grid to categorize your tasks or activities according to:
    1. The amount of EFFORT involved in completing it
    2. The positive IMPACT once completed
  • Using these 2 criteria, importantly it gives you a framework to identify highly productive "Quick Wins", minimise the impact of "Filler Tasks" and try to avoid "Hard Slogs".

3) How to use The Action Priority Matrix with Clients:

  1. First decide whether you're going to assess tasks for the upcoming day, week or month.
  2. Ask your client to make a list of about 10 of the tasks they consider most important or pressing. You could also ask them to write each tasks on a small sticky note.
  3. Give your client an Action-Priority Matrix Form OR ask them to DRAW a square and divide it into quadrants, labelled with IMPACT Low to High on the vertical axis, and EFFORT Low to High on the horizontal axis (see image).
  4. Next ask your client to consider the EFFORT each task will take, the positive IMPACT it will have, and then to write or place each task in the appropriate quadrant.
  5. REVIEW: Now coach your client around the results, and look for learnings:
    • Where do most of your client's tasks sit? How do they feel about that?
    • What percentage of their time do they usually spend in each quadrant?
    • Which tasks have a hard deadline? And which quadrant are they in?
    • How might they like to spend their time differently?
    • What actions could they take to:
      • Complete more "Quick Wins"?
      • Manage time spent on "Big Projects" more effectively?
      • Reduce time spent on "Filler Tasks"?
      • Let go of "Hard Slogs" altogether?

4) A More Detailed Look at the 4 Quadrants of the Action Priority Matrix

Below we take a more detailed look at the individual quadrants, offering coaching tips and ideas to make the most of this Action Priority Matrix tool.

Client Completing Quick Wins at Desk

Quadrant 1: "Quick Wins" (LOW Effort, HIGH Impact tasks)

In  business, time is most 'productively' spent to get the biggest results for as little effort as possible. "Quick Wins" are just that - BIG impact for not much effort.

It's important not to lessen the importance of "Big Projects" - the activities which take a lot of effort or time, but that also yield big results. But consider how much more we could achieve if we sometimes focused first on our "Quick Wins". Not only would we get more done, but we feel good when we achieve - and this might spur us on to do more, and apply ourselves to bigger projects.

So use the Action Priority Matrix to consider how your client could identify more "Quick Wins". If your client was to focus FIRST (daily or weekly) on completing a "Quick Win"- what difference might this make to their overall productivity?

Action Priority Matrix - Quadrant 1 - Coaching Tip:

Spend 5 mins brainstorming "Quick Wins" every week. Then:

  • Find a way to do as many as you can (without compromising the bigger picture)
  • If you can, identify one to complete daily or weekly!

Sometimes a task feels HIGH effort, but it can really be completed quite quickly. So, although it may be emotionally or energetically big, it doesn't actually take much time to complete. For example, a task you've been putting off like a difficult phonecall, booking a meeting/appointment.

Ask your clients, "What tasks feel or seem HIGH effort, but can actually be completed quickly?"

Watch out for: Don't get sucked into doing "Quick Wins" - and avoiding work on bigger goals and projects.

Quadrant 2: "Big Projects" (HIGH Effort, HIGH Impact tasks)

This quadrant is where most of us should be spending a large part of our time. It maps onto the "Goals and Planning" quadrant on The Urgent Important Matrix (tasks which are Non-urgent AND Important). Some ideas to consider for yourself or your clients:

  • Block out time to do "Big Projects"
  • Plan, prepare and clarify required outputs
  • Agree goals, dates and break down big tasks into smaller chunks - creating smaller, lower effort tasks
  • Identify tasks on your list that are interdependent, for example tasks that need to be finished before you start the next one. Mark these tasks as a priority.

It's satisfying and uplifting to complete things, and sometimes if we spend too much time on "Big Projects", it can be disheartening. This is where a "Quick Win" or even a "Filler Task" can be useful. A "Filler Task" - usually the lowest effort tasks - can provide a good break from intense working.

Action Priority Matrix - Quadrant 2 - Coaching Tip:

Suggest your client sets aside larger chunks of uninterrupted time to really focus and be productive on these high effort, but high impact activities. If your client struggles to create clear, uninterrupted time, you could suggest they keep an interruptions log, to learn where their interruptions come from - and make a plan to do something about it.

Watch out for: Sometimes high effort tasks can become time wasters. This usually happens when tasks feel daunting; we avoid getting started on big tasks, or distract ourselves while doing them. So ensure big tasks are broken down into easily do-able chunks (think 30-90 minutes).

Quadrant 3: "Filler Tasks" (LOW Effort, LOW Impact tasks)

The name of this quadrant gives away where these tasks best fit into our schedules. These LOW effort, LOW Impact tasks often include things like filing, record and book-keeping and most email. These are often necessary tasks that need doing, but may not have a bottom-line benefit. An important question to ask is:

  • Is this low impact task really necessary?

Action Priority Matrix - Quadrant 3 - Coaching Tip:

If this "Filler Task" is a necessary activity, use it to:

    • Make use of 15-30 minute gaps between meetings
    • Give you a break from bigger, more intense tasks
    • Give yourself a boost by completing something!
  • Stay productive when you're feeling tired or low energy

Watch out for: Sometimes "Filler Tasks" literally fill up our days. Email is probably the best example of this; no sooner have we emptied our inbox than new emails have popped in. A good time to complete regular "Filler Tasks" is just before you have a place to be eg. lunch, a meeting, going home. You can also set a timer to stay focused and work on these tasks in set time "chunks".

Quadrant 4: Hard Slogs (HIGH Effort, LOW Impact tasks)

If a task takes a LOT of effort, but doesn't add much benefit, try first asking, "How can this task be avoided altogether?"

There are many ways to avoid a task including:

  • Simply not doing it (let whoever needs to know first!)
  • Lowering your standards in order to let go of this task - do you really need to iron your sheets or underwear for example?

If this task must get done ask, you could:

  • Delegate it. Ask, "Who else might enjoy this task, could do it faster or could you delegate to who would benefit from the experience?"
  • Pay someone to do it
  • Do a swap with someone (you do something for them, they do this for you)
  • Get creative! What OTHER ways are there to approach this task?
  • Offer yourself an enticing reward for when it's done...

Action Priority Matrix - Quadrant 4 - Coaching Tip:

If you or your client HAS to do this task, find a way to:

  • Break this high effort task up into smaller, manageable tasks
  • Take regular short breaks!
  • Consider how to bring fun to it (eg. add music)
  • Get super-focused (eg. work from home)
  • And finally, you may have to do it THIS time, but do you have to do it NEXT time? How could you set expectations with yourself or others that it won't happen or someone else will do it next?

What about taxes? Of course some "Hard Slogs" like doing our taxes may seem high effort and low impact, but if you don't complete the task you'd be in trouble! Your taxes may not quite fit the "Big Project" category, but if you do a little bit regularly, over time it can be treated as a "Filler Task" and the "Hard Slog" avoided...

Watch out for: Sometimes "Hard Slog" tasks really drain us. So, if you can't avoid or delegate this task, break it into smaller, more attractive actions. Or perhaps you can delegate a part of it, or get someone to do it with you?


"We realize our dilemma goes deeper than shortage of time; it is basically a problem of priorities. We confess, we have left undone those things that we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done."  Charles E. Hummel

Action Priority Matrix Coaching Worksheet Page 1

The Action Priority Matrix Tool

The essence of this powerful Action Priority Matrix tool is to maximise your productivity:

  1. Recognize your "Big Projects" and schedule chunks of time to work on them.
  2. Get in the habit of identifying "Quick Wins" - and even prioritise them.
  3. Minimise, and if you can, avoid "Hard Slogs" altogether.
  4. Minimise your "Filler Tasks", finding better ways to complete necessary tasks so they don't take over your day or week.

Get your brandable Action Priority Matrix Tool here >>

Your Call to Action:

If you do nothing else after learning the concepts in this Action Priority Matrix tool, I challenge you to spend just 5 minutes a week brainstorming your "Quick Wins". Then, make these a priority when planning your time and I guarantee you'll get more done!

If you liked this article all about the Action Priority Matrix Tool, you may also like:Is there a question about The Action Priority Matrix you'd like answered? Simply comment below!

Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Image of Happy Coach Jumping in Blue Suit by Alliance Images via Shutterstock

Image of Action Priority Matrix Grid by Emma-Louise Elsey at The Coaching Tools Company

Image of Happy Coach in blue shirt at desk by Daxiao Productions via Shutterstock

Image of Happy Coach sitting on desk with cup of tea by imtmphoto via Shutterstock

Image of Happy Coach at desk in big office by Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock

Image of Coach drowning in paperwork by Noamd_Soul via Shutterstock


  1. Felita

    I really appreciate all the valuable tools you share. Thank you and God bless.


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