The Dark Art of Ruthless Prioritization

Do you feel like there’s always more to do but never enough time? You’re not alone! We regularly discuss how precious our time and attention really is, but until we sit down and implement our Productivity Ninja skills and everything we learn in Time Management Training, we will never feel in control. A key element of getting ‘things’ done, is to be able to prioritize but what do you do when everything feels like it’s important? 


Time is finite

Time is a non-renewable resource. One you can’t manage. You can only manage your energy levels. And where you choose to spend your attention. You can’t manage time. You’re not Dr. Strangelove. We all have the same 24 hours to work with, so it’s up to you and your Productivity Ninja skills to make the most of it.

Leaving on Time


Contextual Complexity


Who doesn’t like reading articles and blog posts about people’s productivity journeys? We even feature them on our blog with our ‘How I Stay Productive‘ series.

Before you go beating yourself up for not mediating daily and not ditching coffee for green tea,  take the following into account. These articles are static pieces of work. Often they reflect one person’s specific experience or routine. At a fixed point in time. And perhaps most importantly – they are not you. They aren’t living your life. They may not have kids. They may not work multiple jobs. They may work from home. Perhaps their lives are far less complex than yours.

Context is king. The tactics involved in a soccer match are far more complex than those involved in a four-person volley ball match. You’re unlikely to compare the tactics of the two. Apply the same logic to your own work routine when comparing it to someone else’s and when reading about productivity practices.

And for the record. As productive as I am, I routinely make a complete mess of my day too – just remember, Human not Superhero!


Human Not Superhero


Mastering Ruthlessness 

This is a glass jar. Like all jars it has a finite amount of space inside it. Much like a day has a finite amount of hours. And you have a finite amount of energy. This jar represents both. Both are finite.

Ninja Ruthlessness

This is the same glass jar full of delicious jelly-beans. There are two things that you should know about the jelly beans. There’s a lot of them – an almost infinite amount.

Ninja Ruthlessness

The jelly-beans represent ‘stuff’ – stuff that takes up your day. Big priorities. Small priorities. Brushing your teeth. Walking the dog. Finalizing a product launch. Taking over a company. Dropping your children to school. Cooking the dinner. Answering email. Drinking green tea…you get the idea.
More than likely, there will always be more stuff to do, more jelly-beans to cram into the jar, than will  fit. Always. Potential new tasks are infinite!!!

There’s a disconnect between what you can do and the time and energy you have to do it, verses the  ability of work to generate an infinite number of tasks. If your time and energy is finite and tasks are potentially infinite, what’s the solution?




Let’s assume that your business priorities are as follow:

  1. Anything that creates or serves customers.
  2. Anything that makes money or leads to making money.

Next, list out the three most important tasks that you’ll do today that will take you closer to your organisations priorities.

That’s it. Most other ‘stuff’ is just fluff. Rinse and repeat. Every day. Every week. Every month. Every year.

This advice is much easier to give than to practice. I regularly get blind-sided by ‘the fluff’. Stuff that looks important. But really isn’t. Or isn’t aligned with my top priorities of creating or serving customers. And making money.

Once you’ve defined those important tasks, you can plan ahead for your day and week and repeat this process in your Weekly Review. Once you have identified your priorities and the ‘fluff’, you’ll also have to master saying ‘No’ to really benefit from your Ninja Ruthlessness.

Can’t quite fit the Jelly Beans into your jar? We can help. Check out our Time Management Workshops and get in touch to chat to us about your journey to becoming a Productivity Ninja.


Graham Clarke
Graham is Think Productive’s Productivity Ninja for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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