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

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