Ruthlessness, not something that comes naturally to me. Ruthlessness is the characteristic that I struggle with the most. And I work as a Productivity Ninja! I’ve not nailed it, but I’ve had a go. It’s always been a struggle, and I know from talking to delegates in our time management workshops that I’m not the only one. So I figured that it could be helpful if I share with you some of the things that I have done over the years that have helped me flex my tiny little ruthlessness muscle.
I try to focus on what will make the most impact. What will make the most difference to the most people? Or what will make a significant improvement? By asking myself ‘what helps me to move further towards my goal?’ I can get a clearer idea of where my attention should be.
It’s very easy to rush about being ‘busy’ doing stuff, sending emails and going to meetings. But what will people notice, what will make a difference to others? What will bring me closer to my goals? What this looks like in practice is asking myself at the start of the day what will make the most impact. I write that on a post it note, and work on that before I get involved with other stuff. It’s also a way to decide if something makes it onto my to do list in the first place. If the impact isn’t great, I will perhaps make a conscious decision not to do it.
Often the person who benefits from my actions is me. By asking myself why am I doing this, or why would I want to do this, I am clear about the goal. If something doesn’t help me to achieve the goal, then I’ll try to be ruthless and say no.
I often have to tell myself “No, not now”
The person I say “no” to most often is perhaps myself. If it’s something that I consider to be a great idea, but I don’t have the capacity and it doesn’t help me achieve my goals, I’m likely to hold onto the idea in my ‘someday maybe list’. That means I can come back to it later when the time is right. A year ago I did a 5 day coaching course. Doing that course had been on my someday maybe list for about 3 years! For various reasons the time was right. By having it captured on my list, it didn’t come back and interrupt my thoughts. I could take a look at it every few months and decide if now was a good time to pursue that or not. This builds on the impact ideas above, but gives me some tools to help when the person benefiting is me.
I can’t do it all
What if something happened and I had to leave work for the day? What would still need to be done? Another one of the questions I ask myself regularly. This helps identify what really needs to be done, and I try to do these things first.
Reminding myself of what I should be focusing on
At times where work feels complex, or there is risk of me being side tracked I will add up to 3 things into a list and remind myself why I am doing each of them. I write it down. I then put this on my desk. If I find myself working on something else I will question why, and try to get back to those priorities. Reminding myself why I am doing something helps me to focus on that thing.
I tell people what I’m doing or not doing
I am what Gretchin Rubin calls an ‘obliger’ (take the quiz here to find out what your tendency is when it comes to creating habits for yourself). Which means I am most likely to do something if I have told others that I will. So I communicate to clients, colleagues, my family or perhaps even on twitter that I am going to do something and give a deadline. This year I have a list of things I will do in 2018 up on the kitchen wall to give me a daily reminder. It also means that people who come to my home ask about my progress with my list which keeps me accountable (thanks James!).
I still need to get better at saying “No”
I am reasonably good at saying no to meetings, and am able to suggest a phone call instead. I still have a long way to go on this. I am getting better at saying no, but always have to remind myself why I am doing so. That makes it a bit easier sometimes.
I like to be able to say yes to people. Sometimes I’ll agree to do things that don’t fit with my skills and what I enjoy doing because I don’t want to let people down. I need to get better at that. I know that by saying yes I can easily get overloaded and end up not doing anything well. So I know I need to be more ruthless. In fact I might start making a note of when that has gone well, or when I’ve managed to do it. That might make me more willing or likely to look for opportunities to be more ruthless.
I am on Twitter. I set up my tweets weekly. I set myself a time limit to do that. I might take a look at Twitter on the train on the way home from a training course, but I don’t use my times of best energy and focus to do that. I use LinkedIn a lot in my role, to keep updated with what is going on, and to keep in touch with delegates from my courses and following up from networking etc. I set time limits for just reading and browsing what is going on, and don’t do that unless my energy levels are fairly low.
Sometimes I only go into my inbox once a day. Often 3 times but no more. I got into some bad habits with this early in 2018 and have very much got back on the productivity wagon. I communicate to people that I will be dealing with email once a day and ask them to call if it’s urgent via my out of office. People rarely call as a result. Most things can wait.
‘Checking’ my mobile
I knew I needed to be more ruthless about this when my son asked me to put my phone down last summer. If I’m in mummy mode I rarely answer my phone. I find if I am out and about, waiting for trains, travelling to meetings etc I am more tempted to check my phone. I have set myself a challenge to do this less than 10 times a day. Now I’ve told you about it I am more likely to stick to that!
How are you going to be ruthless today?
By Hayley Watts
Hayley is Think Productive’s Productivity Ninja for London and the South East of England.