It's OK To Be Ruthless
I’m addicted to goal-setting. I love doing it at the start of each week, with each new year, and before/during every major life change. It’s empowering to envision the outcomes you want to achieve for yourself. It doesn’t matter whether I’m planning long-term goals or coordinating short ones; I find both challenges equally exciting and satisfying. It’s important, though, to realize that planning for the long term and the short term are two completely different things. They may frequently overlap, but they are not the same. I’ve noticed those of us driven to keep striving for more frequently focus on our end-game and often forget the space in-between. I’ve definitely fallen prey (more than once) to overtasking myself with short-term goals that could’ve been spread out better over time.
The key to successfully setting and achieving short-term goals is ruthless prioritization. I see many ambitious and hardworking women struggling with similar challenges because they know that they “must perform twice as well to be thought half as good.” I see plenty of friends trying to plan weddings, work full-time jobs, maintain side-hustles and go back to school simultaneously—all without showing a single ounce of struggle.
It’s true that short-term goals can be very tricky, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to add everything to—and check everything off —your daily, weekly, monthly or semi-annual to-do list. These steps outline the way I ruthlessly prioritize my work and tackle this challenge.
1. Start by listing everything. Some people use sticky notes, some keep a digital notepad and others (like me) keep a traditional list in a hardcopy notebook. However you get everything down in one place, what’s important is that you do. You need to be able to see it all so you can take a step back and focus on the bigger picture.
2. Move items on the list based on their urgency and the order in which they’re due. Knowing project or activity importance and due dates is key to successful ruthless prioritization. It may be tempting to try to “do all the things” and accomplish everything right now, but there aren’t enough hours in the day for the length of your list. In order to accomplish anything (and not be gripped by overwhelming anxiety from analyzing everything on your plate), find a way to put everything in order.
3. Breakdown a complex to-do list items into manageable, bite-sized pieces. To understand realistic timelines and goal expectations, break down some of your more complex short-term goals into even smaller goals. Think about the process of learning a new language; you don’t go from zero to fluent overnight. Each milestone gets you closer to your goal, but without being able to see and track your progress, it’s easy to lose steam and let your momentum fade.
4. Decide how many items you need—not want—to complete today, this week, this month, etc. This is the heart of ruthless prioritization, because this step requires you to think about your short-term goals differently. It’s not about everything on your list; it’s about what needs to be crossed off (high priority), what would be nice to cross off (moderate priority) and what doesn’t need to be considered yet (low priority). Getting this part right will be key to how successful you are at managing all your short-term goals moving forward.
5. Ask whether anything needs to be reprioritized each time you complete a task. Priorities change. Once you learn how to master the art of ruthless prioritization up-front, ruthless reprioritization becomes second-nature. This will help you keep pace when fires flare up on projects, client deadlines get shifted or your personal life inevitably makes things a little bit more complicated. You’re human and your goals should adapt with your changing priorities, not keep you from them.
6. Reward yourself every time you meet or exceed the expectations you set for yourself. You did the thing, now recognize yourself for it! Be proud for meeting or exceeding your goals.. Take yourself out on the town, enjoy a three-day weekend, hit up the spa, brag to your friends, stay in for a Netflix binging session—whatever you do that feels like a celebration, you earned it.
Once you’ve made it to the end of your list (don’t get too comfortable), get ready to start over with the next set of goals that you want to crush. It’s time to rinse and repeat: get back out there, set new goals and don’t be afraid to be ruthless. Once you get into a rhythm with ruthless prioritization, it becomes harder and harder to remember a time when you didn’t set your goals this way. When it comes to goals, I’ve learned it’s OK to want it all, it’s OK to shift your priorities and it’s definitely OK to be ruthless.
Hillary works as a Senior Strategy Consultant at IBM. She found her passion for her new job in the two years she took off work to pursue a full-time, Global MBA degree at George Washington University in Washington DC. She is driven by her constant curiosity and her truest love is for travel and adventure. Having moved to California in early 2019, outside work you can find her planning her next trip, exploring her local beaches, reading a book, or wandering along a new hiking trail.