Liberate Yourself (and Your Team) via Ruthless Prioritization

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One of the most important lessons we learn as we grow and develop is to prioritize. To prioritize is to designate or treat something as more important than other things. Some people might think that is not fair—everything is important, just on differing scales. I am here to tell you that life isn’t fair and that all tasks are not created equal. You may be familiar with the concept of Ruthless Prioritization as it was made popular by Sheryl Sandberg and Facebook. The concept of ruthless prioritization is simple: while you or others at your firm may have a plethora of good ideas, they are not all as good as the most important thing you should be doing. Sometimes this means having to make a hard or unpopular choice. This concept may be hard to grasp because at the end of the day, ruthless prioritization is really about saying no. But is it easier said than done? Here are three methods to use in order to ruthlessly prioritize.

1. Analyze your Task List. 
Look for items that can be dumped or delegated. Distinguish items that are waiting on others. If you have those items on your list, take them off. They are no longer your items to handle; they are on someone else’s list. Add them to a follow up list or tickler file but remove them from your task list. This will relieve some pressure if you are feeling overwhelmed.

2. Make a List for Today. 
Now that you have an idea of what needs the most urgent attention, focus on that. Don’t worry about tomorrow just yet. Look at your calendar—how many meetings do you have, phone calls to make; realistically, what can you accomplish today? Write it down. A good rule of thumb is to UNDERESTIMATE how much time you have and OVERESTIMATE how long each task will take. Checking off your entire list feels so much better than moving things to the next day.

3. Use the Trusty 80/20 Rule as it Easily Applies to Ruthless Prioritization. 
Make finishing your 20% work your priority—that which brings the most results. The easiest way to identify this 20% is to ask yourself what you’d work on if you could only do three things today. Be ruthless. Pick three. Then cut that down to two. Finally, choose the ONE thing you’d do if you knew you had to stop working after doing just one task. Which would it be? That is the 20% task. This can be a really tough exercise because we all have so much on our plates, but it’s a great way to realize which of your tasks are the most valuable.

As you practice ruthless prioritization, you'll find it gets easier and hopefully you'll find that it can be quite liberating!