You’re sitting at your desk on a Monday morning, looking at your to-do list and trying to figure out which tasks to prioritize for the day/week.
Normally, you’d use the classic Eisenhower Matrix to prioritize tasks according to their importance and urgency. Anything important and urgent, you’ll try to get done first and then you’ll focus on important but not urgent before getting to the urgent but not important.
While the above tool is useful – however, it has two shortfalls:
- Most important/urgent tasks are set to you by others (your boss, family, colleagues, etc). So you’re constantly reacting to the never-ending external demands on your time, leaving little room for activities you care deeply about that may not fit into other’s demands.
- You constantly find yourself in firefighting mode, trying to get rid of urgent tasks and caught in the rat race of life – not having time for those impactful and meaningful projects that truly matter in the long run.
In our busy schedule, when do we have time to prioritize activities beyond the urgent and immediately important? When do we have time to prioritize tasks that align with our deepest intentions or have an impact beyond ourselves?
Introducing The Intention-Impact Matrix
The intention-impact matrix is a conceptual tool we’ve developed at The Productive Muslim Company to help individuals align their tasks and actions with long-term impact and underlying intention. This is particularly aligned with our Barakah Culture approach to productivity.
This tool encourages us to reflect on the deeper reasons for undertaking tasks and their potential impact instead of reacting simply to what’s urgent and important at the moment.
It’s a 2×2 matrix with intentions on the y-axis and impact on the x-axis.
- Intentions can be high or low. Intentions are high when they are spiritually driven, hereafter focused, and sincerely for Allah SWT. Intentions are low when they are worldly-focused and ego-centered (I discuss this hierarchy of intentions in more detail in my book The Barakah Effect, order here).
- Impact can be high or low. Impact is high when it affects others positively or will resonate beyond one’s lifetime. Impact is low when it only impacts yourself or has very short-term consequences.
Here’s a brief explanation of the four quadrants in your Intentions/Impact Matrix:
- High Intention/High Impact: These are activities taken with the highest intentions that have a substantial positive impact on others and/or resonate beyond one’s lifetime. It could involve social work, charitable acts, or significant projects with long-term benefits.
- High Intention/Low Impact: These involve personal practices that are important on an individual level and are done with pure intentions but may not have a broad or lasting impact on others. This includes personal rituals or habits contributing to one’s spiritual, physical, or mental development. e.g., exercise, reading, and private acts of worship like prayer and fasting.
- Low Intention/High Impact: Here, the actions have the potential for a significant positive impact, but the underlying intentions may not be spiritually driven. You might do the action for worldly gain or reputation and fame. If you find actions in this quadrant, it’s a call for you to reevaluate your intention to align potentially impactful actions with higher intentions.
- Low Intention/Low Impact: Activities that fall into this quadrant are neither driven by high intentions nor do they result in significant impact. These are often trivial or time-wasting activities that one should aim to reduce or eliminate, e.g., scrolling through social media or watching non-beneficial videos online.
How do you use this matrix to prioritize your activities?
Take stock of all your projects, tasks, and activities you have in life, and ask yourself where they fit in the above matrix.
You’ll need to ask two important questions about each activity you are engaged in:
- What’s my intention?
- What’s the impact?
- For high intentions/high impact activities – prioritize them and focus on them on a daily/weekly basis.
- For high intentions/low impact activities – maintain what you can from them, but don’t go overboard or at the expense of high intentions/high impact activities.
- For low intentions/high impact activities – upgrade your intentions and make them sincerely for God and not just for worldly gain/ego satisfaction.
- For low intentions/low-impact activities – minimize or eliminate from your life as much as possible.
Compare the above to the Eisenhower matrix which focuses on just urgent/important and you’d realize that the Intention-Impact matrix adds a layer of spirituality and long-term thinking, leading to more Barakah in one’s life.
Practical tips for implementing the Intentions-Impact matrix in your life
- Use our Barakah Journal to set daily/weekly intentions for the day. This will make you constantly think about your “intentions list” vs. “to-do list” each day/week.
- Try to upgrade your intentions on any activity you’re engaged in – you want to constantly connect all that you do (from the mundane to the most profound) with the higher intention of serving Allah SWT. (see discussion on how to elevate intentions in this Barakah Journal workshop video)
- Try having at least one activity in your day in the high intention/high impact quadrant. The activity doesn’t have to be big; it can be helping a friend, visiting a sick person, or caring for an older person.
FAQs about Intentions-Impact Matrix
1. Does low impact mean low value?
No! Low impact does NOT mean low value. It means that its circle of impact is much smaller than the high-impact activities.
Moreover, you NEED some of the ‘low impact’ activities to recharge your spiritual, physical, and mental energy to handle high-impact work.
For example, a low-impact activity may be praying, fasting, or exercising… they are essential activities, and we need to do them. However, we should not use them as ‘excuses’ for not doing the high-impact work.
What’s important with low-impact activities is to keep the intentions for them for Allah’s sake and not let our intentions slide to low ego-centered intentions.
2. Can mundane activities become high-intention activities?
The short answer is yes. We discussed this in detail with Dr. Abdallah Rothman in the video below. We talked about how making coffee or doing doing the laundry can be a high-intention activity. Check it out below (starting around the 30-mins mark):
3. What if my season of life doesn’t allow me to focus on high intentions/high-impact activity?
Sometimes, you go through a season of life where you need to take care of young children or an elderly parent, or you’re going through a tough physical/financial time in your life.
You might feel that you’re ‘missing out’ on doing the high-intention/high-impact work, especially if you’re active in social work.
This is where you need to reframe the situation: You need to reframe your responsibility as your high-intention/high-impact activity during this season of life; so reframe taking care of kids, or your elderly parent, or the health/financial challenge as a spiritual quest that you know if you fulfill with sincerity and Ihsaan, you’ll be getting the reward for doing high impact work.
Remember, the story of the young man who wanted to fight in the cause of Allah with the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and the Prophet (peace be upon him) advised him to serve his parents because his parents needed him at that time.
I hope you find this tool useful and impactful. I’d love to hear your feedback on this matrix and what decisions it helped you make.