I came across an article on Inc.com by Justin Bariso, “Sheryl Sandberg Just Gave Some Brilliant Career Advice. Here It Is in 2 Words“, and I took notice immediately when I saw the headline. Her two words were – “Ruthless Prioritization”. Knowing that Sheryl, chief operating officer at Facebook and founder of Leanin.org, is one of the most successful people in the world I wanted to take time to reflect on what it really means to ruthlessly prioritize. I asked myself how I could use these two words as a guide to refine my current process of prioritization.
I use a few different methods to help me decide what’s important in life, what I need to spend more time on and where to focus my energy. I have used these tactics for just over a year as guideposts on how to live my life and continually progress. After hearing the term “Ruthless Prioritization” I came back to my own process and decided that merely having guideposts was not enough. I needed to create a framework to prioritize in a more specific way – a ruthless way.
I want to share with you my framework for prioritization that consists of three methods that I’m currently using and share with you how I use them to prioritize the way I believe Sheryl Sandberg would. Any one of these fundamental methods could be powerful on their own but the three together allow for a more robust picture of what is important thus allowing me to prioritize accurately.
I revisit and go through these exercises in full each quarter and check in on each of them monthly to ensure nothing has changed that would necessitate a re-prioritization.
The Top 20%
The first method I use was borrowed directly from Tim Ferriss. He didn’t have a name for it but for ease of reference I’ve named it The Top 20%. In this exercise I make two different lists – The first list is of the top 20% of activities that I’ve done in the last quarter that have brought me the most satisfaction or enjoyment in life. The second is the top 20% of activities that cause the most stress or anxiety in life over that same time period. I’ve included a part of my The Top 20% from last quarter so you get a feel for what can be included.
(+) The top 20% that caused the most enjoyment and satisfaction in recent past
- Spending time with family
- Cooking and eating healthier food at home
(-) The top 20% that caused the most stress and anxiety in recent past
- Spending excessively on unnecessary things
- Late night snacking
I then take these lists and simply do more of what is on the first list and do less or none of what is on the second list – pretty simple. It’s a very effective tool to qualitatively prioritize what you should be spending your time and energy on and what should be excised from your life.
This is a good start but it doesn’t really get us to ruthless prioritization quite yet. The Top 20% method allows us to determine what is most important but we still need a way to order the top priorities.
The next method is a rating system I like to call Delta Ranking. It allows us to focus on a specific goal by assigning number rankings so you can compare quantitatively. Each quarter I like to select between seven and ten aspects of my life such as fitness, work life, or spending time with family. A few of these can even be from your Top 20 lists. I like to rank these categories from one to ten based on where I want to be and where I believe I currently am. Then I subtract the current ranking from the desired ranking to get the delta.
Now that I have a list of my deltas I do my – Delta Ranking. I select the category with the largest delta and that category becomes my number one focus and goal for the upcoming quarter. I included part of my previous quarter’s rankings and as you can see losing a couple pounds will by number one priority for quarter four.
I also want to point out that it’s not always easy to rank yourself accurately. The need to be self-aware here is essential and if you struggle with that ask a few friends or family members for help. Have them rank each of your selected categories so you know for sure your current rankings are objective. Even if you believe that you’re a self-aware person I’m sure it would be beneficial to get an outsider’s perspective.
The Lead Domino Effect
I use the first two methods to help me determine what is most important so that I can then prioritize those correctly. The third method doesn’t so much help determine what is important but allows me to find the most effective way to prioritize the goals themselves. This method is called The Lead Domino Effect which is fairly popular and a method many people use for different applications. The method is based on finding the one task to be done that makes all or many of the other goals obsolete.
I review the most important goals that can be related in some way. Once I have done that I find the single goal that will cause the other dominoes to fall. Once the lead domino falls I won’t need to do them all individually. For example, if losing weight and eating healthier are on my list of goals I would consider eating healthier first because a consequence of eating healthier is usually losing weight. You want to choose the goal that helps or allows you accomplish the others.
Looking at The Lead Domino Effect from a different perspective it can be stated as finding the one goal that must be done before any others can be accomplished. Last year when I first attempted to strategically achieve a few of my personal goals I wasn’t mentally healthy. As I tried to accomplish those goals I continuously failed and came to the realization that I would never be able to get ahead if I don’t push over that lead domino. After I addressed the leading issue, I was able to focus on my other goals such as writing these articles or being a better partner, both of which I would never have accomplished if I didn’t prioritize the most important task first, my mental health.
This three step framework has been a blessing for me. It’s really changed my life and, at the risk of sounding too Meta, because of people like Sheryl Sandberg that emphasize the importance of prioritization I made the decision to prioritize prioritization in my life.
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