During my time in the tech industry one of my favourite sayings has become "Ruthless Prioritisation". As someone who has always loved being organised and multi-tasking, ruthless prioritisation means something slightly different. It's focused less on the act of constantly working across a high volume of seemingly equally important different tasks, and more on being able to hone in on very clear goals, and complete them firmly in order of priority. There's a difference between being organised, and prioritising - and a difference between prioritising, and doing it ruthlessly.
Being ruthless with your prioritising means being able to learn to put aside the things that don't matter in that moment - thus maximising productivity and ensuring you remain constantly focused on the end game. Ruthless prioritisation is hard if you're not used to it, but extremely effective. It also means saying no regularly until you're able to say yes, whether that be by putting aside a project which won't generate as much revenue as another project, not replying to an email immediately, ignoring a non-urgent call, or declining a meeting - which for some people takes a little time to get used to.
It's important to remember this way of working doesn't mean your priorities can't shift - they can and should do as higher priority things arise, but it enables a strong sense of focus and emphasis on task completion. Here are some tips for ruthless prioritisation:
Focus on the end goal - you'll need to make sure you know what this is first. It could be something as simple as "write a blog post" or a large project like "hire a new software developer". Work out what your highest priority goal is in that moment and hone in completely on the pieces of the project you need to complete to accomplish this goal. You want to be focusing your time and efforts on the number one priority first.
Get organised - figure out a way that works for you to keep track of the things you need to do. It could be a list, a calendar, reminders on your phone, or a combination of various things. For me, it's project management tool Trello*. I love Trello, and have it on my laptop and phone. It's a wonderful way to keep track of your to-do list, constantly add to it, move things as you complete them and colour code various areas of your life (think work, personal, mentoring, etc). I've been known to pull my car over to add something to the Trello app on my phone, and my current Trello board contains a rather eclectic mix of items ranging from "buy a whisk" to very detailed project plan of actions for my current start-up consultancy client.
Remove distractions - don't allow things that won't help you achieve the end goal. This might mean going to work somewhere isolated without other people around for a period of time, closing down all unnecessary browser windows on your computer and even stocking up on snacks and water for your desk to avoid the need to break concentration whilst you tick off your task. For the phone addicts amongst us, this might sometimes mean turning your phone off. I tend to put mine on silent and turn it over so I can't see the screen when I'm deep in tasks, which means I'm not going to see notifications pop up and get the urge to immediately look at (and action) them.
Realise things (and people) can wait - if you're used to being constantly available this takes time. Worrying about not getting back to people immediately, or not being able to help when they come to your desk can be hard if you pride yourself on always being there for people when they want you to be. Have a go at letting someone know you're busy with an urgent task but will speak to them later (don't forget to quickly put "contact NAME" in your Trello board so you don't forget!), or try simply putting your phone away for an hour and focusing on something you really want to get done to see if you can do it.
Getting ruthless about your prioritisation takes time, but it helps ensure you're focusing on the highest priority goals - whether that be for yourself, your team or your entire business.
*One of my favourite organisational tools is Trello. I was first introduced to the concept of Trello at a start-up I worked at, whereby agile software development methodology was rolled out across the entire company. For my team, this meant we were able to commandeer a large section of empty white wall space, and stick (super sticky, always super sticky) post-it notes on it to our hearts' content, creating a "live" Trello board which we could walk up to and move things around on. I've now moved onto the app version of it, but still enjoy the thought of plastering my home office walls with post-its.
Sian Havard is Founder at Milkshake Group, a Brisbane, Australia based consultancy which partners with startups wanting world-class talent strategies, and coaches people looking for awesome careers. Find her at www.milkshakegroup.com.