The Time/Utility Matrix for Prioritizing what to Learn

Time Management
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Anneke Zwart
Student (University), Netherlands

The Time/Utility Matrix for Prioritizing what to Learn

Today's world has plenty of learning opportunities available. Although learning is essential, the presence of so many learning options also makes it difficult to choose the right and most relevant material. Even more if we realize that we spend only a very small percentage of working time on knowledge development.

To help identify and select the right learning tools/materials/opportunities, Marc Zao-Sanders provides a useful tool for prioritizing the skills and knowledge to be learned and for deciding when you should do so. It is really a time management approach applied to learning and is called: Time-Utility Analysis. The model can be used on a personal basis, but also across teams, departments or entire organizations.

So, how does time-utility analysis work?
A time-utility analysis is similar to a cost-benefit analysis, where Cost vs. Benefits are replaced by Time vs. Utility. Time will be the time to learn the specific skill or information (displayed on the vertical axis); Utility represents the likelihood of using the desired skill (displayed on the horizontal axis). This results in four quadrants in a 2 x 2 matrix.
The following quadrants and learning advices are then the outcome:
  1. SCHEDULE THE TIME TO LEARN THE SKILL: Where both time and utility of learning the skill are high.
  2. DECIDE WHETHER YOU NEED TO LEARN IT: These are cases in which it costs a lot of time to learn the skill, while the utility is low. For this reason, it is important to think and probably reconsider the need to actually learn this specific skill.
  3. LEARN IT RIGHT AWAY: This represent the cases in which the utility of learning the skill is high, whereas the time to learn it is low.
  4. LEARN IT AS CHANCES ARISE: This is the outcome in case of low utility but also low time needed to learn the skill.
When Time-Utility analysis is used, you need to combine the analysis with your own opinions and experience. Imposing your own opinions and experience helps you to further narrow down the extensive list of learning opportunities.
I think in a time in which time for learning and knowledge development at work is so scarce, the tool described above is useful to prioritize learning needs.

You can use this approach just for yourself, or across a team, department, even your entire company. Since nowadays you don't have much time to learn, you should learn to make the most of the time you have available.
Source: Zao-Sanders, M. (2017) "A 2x2 Matrix to Help You Prioritize the Skills to Learn Right Now", HBR September 2017


Oshun, Grace Okaima
Lecturer, Nigeria

On Nr. 2. Avoid Missed Opportunity

I have a problem with No. 2 which is, "Decide whether you need to learn it". That is because of my b... Sign up

Arunas Beksta
management consultant and trainer, Lithuania

Advice versus Explanation

I see this matrix as tool explaining one aspect of making choices. Note that this tool is not provi... Sign up

Steven Cooke, Philippines

Time Management for Planning Education

Interesting application of the Time Management matrix for planning education. I was hoping for a mo... Sign up

Student (University), China

What if we Consider Two Things

You use this matrix to describe the situation what we should do when we have time. Obviously the bes... Sign up

Prof Putr
Strategy Consultant, United States

Covey's Time Management Grid or the Eisenhower Box

While the 2x2 is sometimes called the "Harvard 2x2" because of its frequent use in classes and cases... Sign up

Business Consultant, India

Develop an Attitude for Learning

The first question is how to develop an attitude, urge for learning? If you have such urge, then thi... Sign up

Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

So Much to Learn, But Limited Time Available

The "Time/Utility Matrix for Prioritizing What to Learn" is one tool you can use to cope with the ch... Sign up

Business Consultant, Malaysia

Practicing Time Management

Given the 2x2 Zao Sanders Matrix (and other similar ones) how does one apply this on a daily basis? ... Sign up

Paramathmuni srinivas Kumar

Time Management Applied to Learning

It is an interesting topic. If we consider a focused period of work for say 1 hour (since generally... Sign up

KOEHL Maryse
Professor, France

Law of Illich

According to the Law of Pareto: 20% of the allocated time to a task generates 80% of the obtained re... Sign up

Steven Cooke, Philippines

Time Management for Planning Education

The idea of a matrix for decision-making is very useful. However, simplified to an extreme a tool l... Sign up

Steven Cooke, Philippines

Time Constraints

@KOEHL Maryse: I agree that is the reason for a "time management process! We will never have enough ... Sign up

Maurice Hogarth
Consultant, United Kingdom

Prioritising Learning

@HARWINDAR SINGH: I'm not sure I would consider allocating learning time as a "gift" although I like... Sign up

Roy F Rudolph
CEO, United States

How to Choose Between Educations Options

This seems like a great tool for use when one has to sort and choose from a set of education opportu... Sign up

Maurice Hogarth
Consultant, United Kingdom

Scheduling Time for Learning Priorities

I am tending to go along with the point (@Oshun, Grace Okaima) that "decide whether you need to lear... Sign up


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