How to be ruthless in your prioritisation & why it's a critical skill

The strategic way to determine what to keep doing, what to pause & what to stop altogether to avoid burnout.

5 min. read 8 February, 2022
How to be ruthless in your prioritisation & why it's a critical skill

Video: Steph, our Co-CEO, quickly talks us through the steps of ruthlessly prioritising

The ’to do’ list paradox

Look, I made that up - there’s no such thing as the ’to do’ list paradox. But you know that feeling when your ’to do’ list gets so long that you don’t even know where to begin? If you’re like me, you just kind of freeze up and the anxiety takes over - then absolutely nothing gets done. Not ideal.

Plot twist - that was actually the old me! After working with Beamible (who are pretty freaking good at practicing what they preach) I learned about ruthless prioritisation and how 10 - 20 minutes of it can set you up for success. And for those who suffer from anxiety, it can also provide some relief in that department.

Even people who thrive under pressure could do with a few minutes of clarity around WHY they’re actually under pressure, and why the list of work has gotten so long.

  • Is the work you’re doing important to the overall business goals, or was it a reactive task someone threw your way on a whim?
  • Is the work you’re doing really something that has to be done now?
  • Is the meeting you sit through every week something you could do fortnightly? Or even monthly? Or is it even providing you value at all?

These are all important questions we need to stop and ask ourselves from time to time or we risk a ’to do’ list of tasks that take up time, but provide little value.

Here’s the difference between prioritisation and ruthless prioritisation, and how you can start making it a habit to relieve anxiety and reduce the risk of burning out.

Getting set up

The easiest way to do it is through Beamible. I’m not just saying that because I work for Beamible - the platform is actually built for things like ruthless prioritisation. (You can grab a 14 day free trial here).

With or without the platform, you’ll need to take a step back and make a list of your weekly activities. An ‘activity’ in this context will be a bundle of work, so something like ‘client meetings’ or ‘prospecting calls’ if you were a BDM. It might be something like ‘strategy planning’ or ‘replying to social comments’ if you were in Marketing. This is a great resource for getting that first list of activities right, or if you’re using Beamible there are templates built in to get you started.

Of course, the first time you do this will take more time but it will take less and less time as time goes on. That was a mouthful but you get what I’m saying. (If you want help, our team can do an hour session with you to get you started).

Put an approximate number of hours that you spend on each activity next to it. Don’t worry if this isn’t exact - the idea is to understand time spent on one activity relative to another. By the end of this exercise, you should have a list of your weekly activities that roughly resembles your job description.

Tagging or categorising your activities

Now that you have your list of activities and approximately how much time you’re spending on each, let’s gather some insights!

If you’re using Beamible, this is where the tagging feature comes in handy. Assign tags to each of your activities. You can create your own tags or use the ones that are pre-populated.

You’ll tag activities with things like ‘de-energising’ vs ’energising’ to determine how much of your work you enjoy.

You’ll tag things like ‘high importance’ vs ’low importance’ to highlight activities that don’t relate to overall business goals or that might deserve lower priority.

You’ll tag your meetings to understand just how much time you spend in them.

You can tag things like ‘deep thinking’ vs ‘administrative’ work to see what’s sucking up all of your brain juice (note: we recommend a balance otherwise you’ll burn out, even if you aren’t working more than your contracted hours!).

If you’re using Beamible, you can start to filter and see where you’re spending most of your time. If you’re not, you can just take a look at your list and try to identify patterns.

Keep, pause, remove

Here’s where the magic happens. This is the difference between being ruthless vs simply prioritising.

Wait. Before we move forward, you have to promise to accept there ARE things that can be stopped without bringing a business to a halt…

Okay, now we’re ready. Start to look at the way you’ve tagged or categorised your work. What trends or patterns do you see? What surprises you? Where are you spending most of your time (or not enough of it?)

Usually when we prioritise, we’re just talking about what we can shift around. When ruthlessly prioritising, we’re doing that but we’re also talking about what we can stop doing temporarily or altogether as well. That’s right, eliminating things from the list!

Feels good just to say it, doesn’t it?

What have you flagged as ’low importance’?

If it’s possible to still meet your business goals without these activities it might be time to stop doing them altogether. If they still need to be done, then it’s a good idea to pause until your workload eases up.

What have you flagged as ‘de-energising’?

Honestly, this is most effective when you have a full team view because it’s likely there’s someone on your team who enjoys that work or is highly skilled at it. Swapping the work or re-allocating it could make both of your roles more enjoyable.

Since it’s just you this time, let’s keep going. Go through the same process of asking yourself whether this activity aligns with your business goals. If it’s critical, keep doing it or find someone else who can. If it’s not mission critical, pause or stop doing it. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Because it is - just say no.

Is there a chunk of work that’s taking up a large part of your week?

What is that work? Is it mission critical, and more importantly, is it critical to YOUR role? If it’s not mission critical, follow the same path that we’ve already mentioned. If it’s not critical to YOUR role but it is critical to the business - for example, a BDM doing collateral - then this might be your opportunity to build a business case for a support role!

It’s likely to be more cost effective for the business to pay a specialist in that task and let you focus on your core work. Plus, you’re probably offloading something that you don’t enjoy. Bonus!

How much time do you spend in meetings?

Can you reduce the time spent in or the frequency of those meetings and claw back some time? Are there any meetings you can remove yourself from and collect insights from a colleague later? Sometimes all it takes is someone starting that conversation. Be the change!

I’ll leave you on your own to go through the rest now that you have the right frame of mind.

Ongoing upkeep

This is the most difficult but most important part. If you’re able to set aside 10 - 20 minutes at the start of each month to ruthlessly prioritise your activities and tasks, you’ll get into a groove and it will become second nature.

You’ll also find new ways to pick apart your role. For example, you might decide that you’re spending too much time on meetings like Netwealth’s MD, Matt Heine. How can you reduce that time?

Including your team

The great thing about Beamible is that it’s for team-based role design. That means getting a look at your role within a team view and gathering insights.

As mentioned before, re-allocating work to other team members with a different skill set or bandwidth is easy to do when you have visibility into how a team is functioning. You’re also able to see with the click of a button where your time is spent best, whether it be at home or in the office.

If your manager and/or executive level management gets involved, even better. They can start to see organisation-wide patterns and identify risks, then take action. It will also empower the organisation with ‘permission’ to decide which pieces of work are going to make the biggest impact.

Before you know it, your entire organisation will be more productive, more fulfilled and more likely to stick around. That’s pretty important in the current talent shortage, but that’s a topic for another day!

For the full list of benefits, visit our website.

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