3 Benefits of Ruthless Prioritization

I shared in a previous post that “our actions are clear indicators of our priorities” (see The Gap Between Our Priorities and Reality), and today I want to offer you a piece of advice that will force you to prioritize your life in a way you may not have before. I believe every person should practice the exercise of “force ranking” the priorities in their life  at least once a year.

First, let me explain what I mean by force ranking. The general use of this term is within a corporation. The idea is to blatantly compare and rank the performance of employees. This often happens before a layoff and can be a difficult task for some leaders because it means deciding who is most valuable to the organization and who is not. I once heard a businessman say that he would fire everyone in his organization once a year…but only in his mind. Then, he would go through each person one by one to determine whether he would or wouldn’t  rehire them. It’s an interesting method and it can be valuable to keeping an organization healthy if done correctly.

However, in this post I’m referring to intentionally naming, removing, adjusting, and ranking your personal priorities. And not only that, but to prioritize your life with the same ruthlessness of an employer whose business depends on it.

In order to properly force rank your priorities, you will have to get pretty honest with yourself. What matters first, second, and third? What’s most important and what’s least important? Start by making a list of every priority in your life. A good way to come up with this list is by thinking about where you spend your time, money and effort.

Once you have your list, I want you to rank each item in order of importance. Now, I want you to draw a line through everything but the top 5 items on that list. What would your life look like if those top 5 items became your focus? What would you be able to accomplish if those top 5 items were all you focused on?

Time is limited and because of that,  what we have time to focus on will be limited as well. We may have more than 5 priorities, but this exercise will bring clarity to the things we should be investing the majority of our time into.  

Force ranking the most important things in our lives will not only encourage you to focus on what matters most, but it will also serve as a compass along the way to redirect you when the path isn’t quite so clear..

There are three dynamic benefits to force ranking priorities, let’s take a look...

  1. We’ll make better decisions. This practice helps us make better decisions by defining what order of priority we should be making them. Decisions that adversely affect my top priorities now get reevaluated. When anything starts to encroach on our ability to give time, energy or resources towards our top priorities can be quickly spotted and correctly labeled “distraction. Saying “no” becomes MUCH easier when you do it ahead of time.

  2. What to keep and what to cut. Force ranking our priorities clarifies what to keep and what to cut. When we’re deciding between giving more time to priority 1 or 7, we have a pretty clear answer. For instance, say I have “weekly family night” as one of my top 3 priorities and “time with friends” ranked at number 8. I find myself nearing the end of the week and my family night hasn’t happened yet, but I get an invitation to play golf with some of my good friends. What should I do? Both are great.  So, what gets cut? I’d already decided that time with my family outranked time with friends. And although I am aware of the importance of both priorities, in this current scenario, time with my family outranks time with my friends. Decision made. Had I not had a clear list of priorities already written, I may not have been able to properly choose which outranks another.

  3. It serves as an alarm. Finally, creating a list like this acts as a warning alarm for when we’re getting off track. As we evaluate our time, money and effort towards each of our priorities, we can quickly see if an adjustment needs to be made. Also, when we find ourselves over-worked, with too much on the plate, or just wondering where we should focus, we can always go back to the list of priorities. When you’re feeling at the end of your rope, it’s time to figure out what to keep and what to cut. Let this list redirect you to what matters so you can focus on those things.

The act of force ranking your priorities is only as valuable as your willingness to apply it to your time and effort. The list alone won’t help you, but using the list to determine where you spend time, energy and money will help you live the life you want for yourself, instead of the life that you can’t keep up with.

Chris CapehartComment