The Worry Matrix: How to Decide What’s Worth Worrying About

The Worry Matrix


The Worry Matrix is a handy, printable tool that will help you decide what’s worth worrying about, and what isn’t.

In my previous posts — Clearing Mental Clutter and Why Worry? Take Action! — I covered the following concepts:

  • Worrying is just a form of mental clutter.
  • Worrying is like praying for something you don’t want.
  • The key to less worrying is more action!


The Worry Matrix will help you decide what's worth worrying about, and what isn't. Share on X

Two simple questions

And now, here are two simple questions that will help you decide whether or not something is worth worrying about:

  1. How likely is it to happen?
  2. Is it inside, or outside, your control?

Here it is in chart form….

The Worry MatrixClick here to download full-sized PDF.

The Worry Matrix is based on the Eisenhower Decision Matrix (Urgent/Not Urgent & Important/Not Important), as featured in Steven Covey’s book First Things First, which I use all the time (the matrix) with my Time Management clients.

What are the chances?

So, as you can see from the chart, the more likely something is to happen, and the more you can prepare for it, the less you need to worry about it.

Conversely, the less likely it is to happen, and the less there is that you can do to prepare for it, the less point there is in worrying about it.

Make sense?

Try it yourself

If you are worried about a spectrum of related possibilities — your health, for example — try creating a health-specific Worry Matrix: Which diseases, health conditions, and accidents are most likely to befall you? Which can be prevented, or improved, with a healthy lifestyle, safety awareness, and routine medical checkups? Which are so unlikely, and out of your control, as to be not worth worrying about? Take action on the things that make sense, and you will find yourself worrying less….which will be good for your health!

Take courage and have faith

Meanwhile, take courage, prepare for emergencies, and have a little faith in yourself to be able to handle whatever comes.

So….what do you worry about? Is it worth it?

Does The Worry Matrix help to reduce your anxiety?

What other examples can you think of?

Please share with us in the comments below!

Copyright 2016-2020 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Seana Turner on February 20, 2016 at 8:11 am

    Yes, it makes total sense. It helps cull our anxieties down by focusing on those where we have the power to take calming action. Wonderful! Will share out….

    • Hazel Thornton on February 20, 2016 at 12:42 pm

      Thanks, Seana! I’m sure there are professional psychological ways to explain why it is calming to take action on things we have control over. I’m just speaking from experience.

  2. Jamie Steele on February 20, 2016 at 9:17 am

    I worry about how my child gets along at school. He is in 3rd grade now and there is not as much communication for the school or my child. I lessen the worry asking questions in different ways to start a conversation. I also will email the teacher occasionally to see how my son is behaving and being treated. Being informed helps me to worry less.

    • Hazel Thornton on February 20, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      You are pro-actively seeking information in order to worry less. Great example, thanks!

  3. Sabrina Quairoli on February 20, 2016 at 9:25 am

    It makes sense to me, Hazel. I worry about will my kids be able to take care of themselves when they are adults. Yes, it is out of my control obviously. So, to help me feel like I can do something about it, I make sure that my kids see that I take care of myself and my family. It helps. Great post, Hazel.

    • Hazel Thornton on February 20, 2016 at 12:45 pm

      Thanks, Sabrina. Every single day you are teaching them the skills they need to be successful adults!

  4. Linda Samuels on February 20, 2016 at 9:29 am

    Love your worry matrix and those two KEY questions. Some of us worry more than others. Worry almost becomes a go-to way of navigating life. Especially for those that tend to worry a lot, I can see this matrix being particularly useful. But even for those that worry less (like me), those two questions are gold. Thank you, Hazel.

    • Hazel Thornton on February 20, 2016 at 12:46 pm

      I’m glad you like it, Linda! I do believe that worry becomes habit for some folks. See the Five Minute Rule I just made up for Liana, below.

  5. Liana George on February 20, 2016 at 9:46 am

    Love your matrix and hope others will too! I’m a worrier and my husband isn’t, so lately when I’m worrying about something he’s been quoting from the movie, Bridge of Spies, “Will it help? Will it make a difference?” I want to slap him when he says that, but sadly he’s right as my worrying likely won’t make a difference with the situation. Thanks for sharing and I’ll be sure to print out your chart and share it with my hubby 🙂

    • Hazel Thornton on February 20, 2016 at 12:38 pm

      That reminds me, I need to see Bridge of Spies! I think, just as with other kinds of feeling bad, such as self-pity, that worrying is OK to indulge in for a short amount of time. Like 5 minutes out of a day. Then we need to get on with things. Take action. Be grateful. Stuff like that. So tell you husband I said “Five Minute Rule” (which I just now made up), OK? 😉

  6. Janet Barclay on February 20, 2016 at 10:10 am

    I’ve shared this with someone who worries about everything. I hope it helps!

    • Hazel Thornton on February 20, 2016 at 12:30 pm

      I hope it does, too! Tell her about the 5 Minute Rule I just made up for Liana. 🙂

  7. Sarah Soboleski on February 20, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    Your post reminds me of the saying: Worry does not take away tomorrow’s troubles; it takes away today’s peace. Definitely sharing!

    • Hazel Thornton on February 27, 2016 at 6:27 pm


  8. Jerry on March 1, 2016 at 11:40 am

    I am fan of Covey’s work including his matrix. Thank you for the copy of your excellent adaptation. While I am excellent worrier it never hurts to review the principles to become even better at it.

    A review of the basics for any system never hurts as we tend to put them aside and can then find ourselves worrying over things that are outside of our control and unlikely to happen. Thanks again for the refresher. Have a most excellent day.

    • Hazel Thornton on March 4, 2016 at 7:52 pm

      Good to see you here, Jerry! I’m glad you liked the matrix. 🙂

  9. Julie Bestry on March 9, 2020 at 3:26 pm

    I’m a fan of the Eisenhower matrix and how Covey applies it, so I appreciate your approach. If I recall what I learned in psychology (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), the central concept we’re looking at is “locus of control.” Worrying about that which we can’t control, what is outside of that locus, especially if it’s unlikely, is unnecessary. There’s no need to “borrow trouble.”

    I like your rubric. On the face of it, it gives the reader a course of
    action. IF something is likely and IF I can do something about it, then I
    should do X, Y, and Z. But I think we have to acknowledge that our control over our worries are mitigated by the ability to prepare because we have the privilege and the funds to do so. The problem, unfortunately, is that for so many people, because of health, finances, systemic bias, and other issues, most of the “likely” bad things are outside of their control.

    I don’t worry about my plane crashing because once I decide to get on a
    plane, it’s 100% out of my control, and I am not burdened by societal or internal
    expectations that I can/should do something to prevent it, because there
    are none. (I mean, I guess I could take flying lessons, but I’m not sure that would give me — or anyone else — much confidence!) My big worries are things with a high statistical likelihood of happening, generally outside my locus of control but within the/my expectation that I should/can act to change them — not problems that can be solved by throwing money at them (acquiring supplies, saving for retirement, paying a lawyer to draft a will) but the more systemic problems (gun violence, racism, fascism) where voting, donating, even running for office fails to mitigate worry.

    That said, applying this matrix will help us control our overall worry, and possibly free up more mental resources for conquering those other, more mystifying, concerns. Thanks for giving us so much to think about.

    • Hazel Thornton on March 9, 2020 at 4:30 pm

      Hi Julie!

      Your point is well-taken. Sadly, I can’t solve all the world’s problems in a chart or a blog post. I can only give a few examples and hope to help a few readers. And my readers do tend to be priveleged, relative to the world at large.

      Also, though, in MANY cases “voting, donating, even running for office” DOES help with worry! At least a little bit. Doing SOMETHING is — very generally speaking — better than doing NOTHING… no? Maybe I’m just projecting.

      Perhaps I should add a paragraph, like I have in other posts, that if these suggestions (and all the ones contained in the other posts to which I have provided internal links) don’t help to ameliorate worry — not just reading them, but doing them — it may be benficial to seek help from a friend, neighbor, family member, counselor, clergy, or professional organizer. (The options I actually list depend on the post.)

      “Locus of control” is exactly right! I’m not sure how much one’s locus of control can be changed, especially if one has grown up in an oppresssive environment. But it seems to me that those with a strong external locus of control could benefit from being reminded of their own power sometimes. And those with a strong internal locus of control would benefit from asking for help more often than they do.

      You will like this aspect of my forthcoming new book: It offers HOW TO ideas for different levels of interest, and wherewithal (time, money, and energy). Which is how I work with clients, too.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  10. Ronni on March 9, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    Worrying! This is something anyone of us can relate to. Your matrix put it into such sound perspective.
    I know there are things we can control and there are things we can’t. I have a dear friend who always says, “ It is what it is “ when there is something she has no control over.
    Being organized helps us to prepare, which can bring comfort and take the sting out of worrying.

    • Hazel Thornton on March 9, 2020 at 5:19 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Ronni. The last line says it all!

  11. Janet Schiesl on March 9, 2020 at 3:50 pm

    We all need this right now. I will be showing this to friends and family this week. I agree, no sense in worrying about something that you can’t change. This could work in so many instances.

    • Hazel Thornton on March 9, 2020 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks, Janet! As I said in one of my other posts, “Worrying is like praying for something you don’t want.”

  12. Nancy Haworth on March 10, 2020 at 7:04 am

    This worry matrix certainly puts things into perspective. You are right that worrying is a form of mental clutter, and with current events, I know many people are worried. Thank you for this matrix, I will be sharing it with my clients and followers!

  13. Deb Lee on March 10, 2020 at 5:44 pm

    Love your matrix, Hazel, and I smiled at “Martians invade Earth.” Perspective is everything, right? Don’t worry. Plan! (And, don’t worry that that plan won’t work.)

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