Ruthless Prioritization

No, not everything is important.  It just seems like it is.  We feel important when we are busy, when things are “blowing up”, and this constant new cultural way of responding to each item, each stimulus tugging at our attention doesn’t really mean we are busy.  This is not to say we aren’t, I would never suggest that.  But aren’t you just a wee bit sick of hearing everyone use that expression each time you ask them how they are?  I really am.  I refuse to utter those words, because it is obvious, and I consciously choose to make time for the things that are important to me.

So is it possible to get a handle on this?  I believe it starts with awareness.  If you interested at taking a look at your habits and defining what is important you can start to achieve a balance in your life that will be uniquely meaningful.  Caveat:  It is an investment of time and thought on the front end that results in clarity and peace that is fulfilling, even during the most chaotic of times.

In our MSEL classes at the University of San Diego, we discuss the importance of rank-ordering your values.  This is important because, quite often, two (or more) things that are important vie for your attention, and how do you choose between them?  This is true whether you are discussing personal values or business objectives. In his wonderful book co-authored with Ken Blanchard called Helping People Win at Work, Garry Ridge of WD-40 Company lists their company values as follows:

  1. Doing the right thing.
  2. Creating positive, lasting memories in all our relationships
  3. Making it better than it is today
  4. Succeeding as a tribe while excelling as individuals
  5. Owning it and passionately acting on it
  6. Sustaining the WD-40 economy

He has specific reasons for the order they are in.  Unless you have considered the importance of each value or task, it is hard to discern where to put your energy.  If you have done the inner work to decide what level of importance you attach to these conflicting goals, it becomes easy to decide where to focus your energy.

My personal values, rank ordered are:

  1. Personal health:  sleep, food and exercise
  2. Family well-being:  health, quality time, household organization
  3. Job and Career:  bring home some bacon, continued growth

The evolution of these values began while I was reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey.  I LOVE this book and would say that it may have been the most influential book I’ve read while on my journey of self-discovery.  One key point that remains relevant is his Time Management Matrix which distinguishes between the urgent and the important.  The urgent things grab our attention and demand immediate action and can give us a sense of accomplishment and immediate gratification.  The important things often get neglected as they don’t seem urgent, but whole blocks of your life can go by while you put out fires, and then you realize that you haven’t attended to what is really important – what you truly value and what contributes to your high priority goals.

There are many other things that I am trying to accomplish at any given time, but if I don’t attend to these main things first, then I am not living the way I want to live.  I consciously choose personal health as my top value, because I know that if I am not taking care of myself, then I can’t really do a good job in the other areas.

I read an article recently in Time Magazine about Sheryl Sandberg, who is the author of the book Lean In which is generating some wonderfully heated discussion (ok, also some outright attitude) and that has fired up many people on both sides of the gender aisle.  What I love about the conversation is that there is CONVERSATION.  This is a good thing.  It feels like discussions of “women’s concerns” had gone underground for a while (I may have just been really BUSY) and now has erupted again.  I am learning to “lean in” to the discomfort a heated discussion creates for me.  I have become a convert to this idea that heated discussion and conflict are good, especially when everyone plays strong and fair.  It is these discussions that allow ideas to grow and that move us all forward in our thinking and then to action.

Debate and discussion aside, one of the most impactful ideas from this article came from a little sign that Sheryl has in her conference room: “Ruthlessly Prioritize”.  I wrote this phrase on my whiteboard at work immediately and have been circling around this thought since I first read the article.  I suffer from the chronic fear of “not enough time,” and so this has resonated with me deeply.  Because I am in a significant career transition in my life, and because I am a mom, wife, full time employee and grad student, this has necessarily become my mantra.

So, in the spirit of ruthless prioritization and time management, allow yourself to take the time to decide your values in rank order and consciously let the seemingly urgent but not really important stuff fall away.  It is not for the faint of heart, this discipline, but it will create a thoughtful and clear road forward in your personal life and in your work.

Thoughts, ideas and comments always welcome…keep the conversation going!

Book:  Helping People Win at Work by Ken Blanchard and Garry Ridge
Book:  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey
Article:  “Confidence Woman” by Belinda Luscombe Time Magazine, March 18, 2013
MSEL Program Website: