The Easiest Way to Make Better Decisions – The Priority Matrix

July 19, 2020 ​- 13 Comments

Decision making is a key skill for any entrepreneur. Decisions you make ripple forward into the future. A decision you make today can be the difference between success 5 years from now or having to dig yourself out of a deep hole 5 years from now.

In this post, we'll look at one of the simplest (yet highly effective) tools to make better decisions immediately.

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Add a Dimension

The first mistake most people make when it comes down to a decision is that they don't have a plan to begin with. Most of us simply aren't deliberate in our decision making, most of the time.

Now, if you're deciding between pizza places to order from, that's not a big deal. But if you're making a decision for your business, it is a big deal.

What we usually do is weigh up different options against each other and vaguely try to determine which one is "better". Maybe we even write them down and try to rank them.

When you try to rank a set of ideas, you're basically comparing them along a single dimension. Along one scale that goes from "bad" to "good".

The simplest way to literally level up your decision making is to add a second dimension. And that's exactly what we do with a decision matrix (or priority matrix - same thing).

How to Use a Decision Matrix

Here's an example of what a decision matrix can look like:

Here are the simple instructions for how to create your own:

  1. Create 2 axes and label them with the 2 dimensions you want to compare your choices on (e.g. "cost" vs. "time").
  2. For each idea or option, create a new "card" and place it on your decision matrix.
  3. Optional recommendation: arrange your axes in such a way that the best options end up in the top right corner and the worst ones in the bottom left. This makes the most intuitive sense, I've found.

Tools for Creating Decision Matrices

You can easily create these matrices using free tools only. For one thing, you can use pen and paper to sketch it out. However, I'd recommend using sticky notes for your ideas, so you can re-arrange them. Of course, this can also be done on a whiteboard.

As for digital tools, my favorite one to use is draw.io which is a free diagramming tool. I also use this to map out marketing funnels.

The tool I used in the video is Google Drawings. This is also free to use and it's a tad simpler than draw.io.

If you want to go all out, Miro is a tool with a (limited) free plan that can be used for this as well as other kinds of visual decision making and planning.

What decisions will you make, using this system? I've used decision matrices countless times and I've recommended them for specific uses in my productivity course as well as in Course Craft and in Audience from Scratch.

Do you know other decision making tools that you use frequently? Other tools you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.


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  • Today was decision day, so this couldn’t have come at a better time. Melaugh to the rescue!

    How do you feel about sharing the Google drawing so we can make a copy? ;-)

    • Haha, nice! I’m glad to know this came at the right time.
      Copy the Google Drawing… it’s literally faster to make your own than to copy one. I mean, you see me make one from scratch in this video. Blink and you’ll miss it. ;)

  • Awesome video Shane! This is the first time I come across the idea of a decision matrix and I quite like the concept. Seems like a great tool to quickly compare different ideas against one another :).

  • Joan Altres says:

    I make these decisions in my head, but haphazardly and I’ll forget some things. This was a very useful tutorial and something I’ll start to apply immediately. Thanks!

  • I’ll try this out to prioritize my daily/weekly tasks. One axis will be:
    Does this bring in money/clients? (not sure yet whether to use probability, volume…)
    The other axis might be:
    Is something bad going to happen if I do not do this next?
    Take for instance tax declarations, which obviously do not bring in any money, but under no circumstances you can miss deadlines)
    Or making my mum sad… or alienating friends

    • Interesting! I wouldn’t have thought of that, but I’m curious to know if this arrangement worked for you to find better priorities.

  • I have seen and used similar concepts before but the diagram with the numerous Thrive Themes ideas along just two axes was very cool indeed.

    Is there a workable system for using more than two pairs of opposites? I can personally relate to the “lawyer dilemma” you mentioned, but for me there would have been at least three axes: lousy pay/good pay, hate/love and quick path to first job/many years of study.

    Also I find when there are more parameters a weighting system in something like Excel can determine the winning idea or option well. So here something like pay 30%/passion 45%/time 25%.

    I think there may be some value in using several two-axis diagrams in series but haven’t tried it in practice yet. Always looking for ways to find the most elegant solution and a lot of those tend to appear on ActiveGrowth!

    • Hi Alexander,
      You can sort ideas along as many dimensions as you wish, but 2 dimensions are the easiest for visually arranging and sorting them. You can also do it in 3 dimensions, but you’ll have to use some 3D design tool for that. There are free ones (like MS Paint 3D). You can also try arranging ideas in a threedimensional space using an AR application on your smartphone. However, I think that the extra work and inconvenience of doing this is probably not worth it.
      You can also add further dimensions, but you have to do that in a spreadsheet and you can’t visualize anything (reasonably) beyond 3 dimensions. But you can score stuff on many dimensions and then tally up the scores.
      Final suggestion: do a 2D decision matrix, then take all the ideas from the top right quadrant and place them in a second decision matrix that uses 2 different dimensions.

      • Thanks for your explanation Shane and yes I intuitively felt that 2D matrices used in series would be the most beneficial solution for problems with more than 2 dimensions. I will definitely try that first next time a non-obvious decision comes up as opposed to my usual spreadsheet method.
        As for 3D constructs I’m not sure whether I have the spatial firepower in my brain to grapple with those. In IQ tests I’m always grateful when I’m done rotating cubes and able to get to complete number sequences instead! :)

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