Try These Military-Grade To-Do List Tactics!

Effectively prioritizing the tasks and activities on your To-Do List is a key component of efficient time management.

In other posts, I have explored the Eisenhower Box and the ABCDE Method, but lately, I discovered an interesting method called the CARVER System, that is used in the military. Since the military is known for its efficiency, I wondered if there was anything to learn that could be applied to civilian life and in particular, time management.

Read on to find out!

What is the CARVER System?

The CARVER System, aka the CARVER Matrix or CARVER analysis, is a tool used by the US military to ensure that they are attacking the right targets. CARVER is an acronym for the six attributes used to assess and evaluate those targets – Criticality, Accessibility, Recuperability, Vulnerability, Effect and Recognizability.

[C] Criticality is the value of the target to the opponent’s operations and is the primary consideration in targeting. A target is deemed as critical when its compromise or destruction has a highly significant impact in the overall organization.

[A] Accessibility gauges how easy the target is to reach. Are the resources needed to do it readily available? What are the defences? Is insider assistance required?

[R] Recuperability is measured in time, e.g. how long will it take to replace, repair, or bypass the destruction of or damage to the target? In other words, how long will it take for the system to recuperate from it?

[V] Vulnerability concerns the knowledge and resources required to attack the target and assesses how well defended or exposed it may be.

[E] Effect is a measure of the possible military, political, economic, psychological, and sociological impacts at the target and beyond.

[R] Recognizability refers to the degree to which a target can be recognized by an operational element. This includes factors such as weather, light, distance and season and also the size and complexity of the target.

Each attribute is assessed for each target and assigned a value based on a scale of 1-10 and the sum of the values represent the relative desirability of each potential target. The potential targets can then be ranked and this with the highest totals will be attacked first. You can find more details about the assessment criteria in Appendix D of the “Special Operations Forces Intelligence and Electronic Warfare Operations Manual”.

So after evaluating each target, you may end up with a Matrix, like this example, which indicates that the Power Supply is the favoured target.

CARVER Matrix illustration / Time Hack Hero

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “I came here looking for some insights into time management – what on Earth am I reading right now?”

Bear with me – we’re nearly there . . .

Within the military context, this system is used with the intention of maximizing the damage that can be done to the opposition’s infrastructure through the most efficient use of resources available.

But the same framework can be revamped a little for civilian life to produce a really useful tool that has a number of both business and life-related applications, including the prioritizing our life goals and the daily tasks on our To-Do List. And, as mentioned above, task prioritization is a key component of efficient time management.

(See, I got there in the end!)

For these purposes, the “civilianized” CARVER acronym looks like this:


This gauges the importance of a particular task.

How important is it to you?

What are the consequences of not doing it?

Will doing it take you a step closer to your goal?

Does it have to be done immediately or can it wait until tomorrow or next week?

Important and urgent tasks get a higher value. The low criticality tasks are those that are nice to do but not important or urgent and could perhaps even be delegated to someone else.

Quick question: How important is it?

Suggested ranking criteria:

1 = Unimportant and not urgent
2 = Urgent but not important
3 = Unsure
4 = Important but not urgent
5 = Extremely important and urgent


Is the task achievable or is it beyond your ability and/or the resources you have available currently?

For example, a home improvement project might not be very accessible due to your job demanding long hours and most of your weekends, but asking for a pay rise might be.

Quick question: Am I in a position to get it done now and do I have the means to do it?

Suggested ranking criteria:

1 = Difficult to achieve and requires more resources/knowledge
2 = Easy to achieve but requires more resources/knowledge
3 = Unsure
4 = Difficult to achieve but ready to start
5 = Easily achievable and ready to start


Recuperability has been switched out for ‘Return’ here since it is more relevant to personal tasks, goals and productivity.

What kind of return is expected on the completion of a task? Will it move you a step closer to your business, personal fitness or life goal?

For example, putting time into an activity related to a side hustle might bring significant returns in the future, whereas spending time on video gaming is less likely to contribute anything meaningful. The higher the return, the higher the rank will be.

Quick question: Do I get anything of value from it?

Suggested ranking criteria:

1 = Negligible return
2 = Small return
3 = Average return
4 = Good return
5 = Big returns


Is the task critical and easily done with the available resources?

How complex is it and how long is it likely to take?

Tasks that can be completed in less than a day or two are ranked higher than those that take longer.

Quick question: Will it take long?

Suggested ranking criteria:

1 = Can take months or possibly years
2 = Can be completed in a month
3 = Can be completed in a week
4 = Can be completed in a day
5 = Can be completed in an hour or less


This is similar to ‘Return’, but considers the wider impact of completing your tasks.

What will be the overall effect on your company or on the people around you?

Will it improve the lives and well-being of others?

Could it open up new opportunities?

Quick question: Can others benefit from it (directly or indirectly)?

Suggested ranking criteria:

1 = No benefit to others
2 = Small benefit to others
3 = Unsure
4 = Some benefit others
5 = Will benefit others greatly


Is the task clear and are you certain on exactly what it entails?

How easy is it to identify the steps required to complete the task or project?

Have you attempted this kind of task before, or will you be working it out as you go along?

Vague tasks with unclear steps will rank lower than those that are much clearer.

Quick question: Do I know how to complete it?

Suggested ranking criteria:

1 = No clue how to start
2 = Vague at best
3 = Unsure
4 = Relatively clear with some unknowns
5 = Very clear

You can then create a CARVER matrix for your tasks or project like the one below. I have used a ranking scale of 1 to 5, but you can make up your own and use a scale of 1-10, as used in the military.

CARVER Matrix – “Civilian application” / Time Hack Hero

As you can see in this example, the tax return is due now. The consequences of not doing it are high and I’m in a position to do it, so it out-ranks the other tasks I have listed so that one takes priority.

This type of prioritization is probably more suitable for breaking down tasks that make up bigger projects, but hopefully, you can see how it can work for your To-Do list as well.

Time Hack Hero Takeaway

Prioritizing the tasks on your To-Do list is a crucial part of managing your time well and using the CARVER Matrix can certainly help with that.

It is a similar concept to both the Eisenhower Box and the ABCDE Method and can be applied to tasks and goals relating to work, study or your personal interests and pursuits.

It is easy to implement and although it could be viewed as a quite subjective view of your task priorities, the ranking criteria I have suggested will hopefully help make a more concrete and objective assessment.

More reading

How To Write A To-Do List – Properly!

How To Break Project Down Into Tasks

The Power Of Microbreaks

How To Get More Out Of Mondays

[Featured image credit: Pixabay]

Leave a Comment