Ruthless Productivity

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“This is a ruthless world, and one must be ruthless to cope with it.” — Charlie Chaplin, American actor.

“Human nature is potentially aggressive and destructive and potentially orderly and constructive.” — Margaret Mead, American anthropologist

Ruthless Productivity by Laura Stack #productivityThe word “ruthless” often gets a bad rap in the business world—and well it should, when companies mistreat clients, vendors, or employees. But in two business cases, ruthlessness is acceptable (even essential) within reasonable limits: when striving for a greater market share, and when trying to maximize your personal productivity.

Both flavors of ruthlessness will make you unpopular among some groups—your competitors on the one hand, and certain co-workers on the other. But you don’t work for your competitors or your co-workers. Besides, in both cases, you must be ruthless only in the aggressive sense, not the cruel one.

Kick It Up a Notch

By now, you’ve surely realized the need to block out distractions, slash your task lists to the bone, and otherwise wield your time management skills like a samurai sword. Such skills represent the main ingredients of any productive work/life balance. But spices make a big difference in most recipes, so let’s look at the tasty blend I call PEPPER.

1. P = Purpose. It’s easier to excel when you have good, positive reasons for doing so. Why does success matter to you? Why is achieving a strategic priority important? Providing for your family, building a nest egg for retirement, making a name for yourself, moving your company forward—whatever your productivity reasons are, write them down, tell the story to others, and use the list to inspire you.

2. E = Energy provides the pivot point for your productivity. You can’t get much done if you feel “blah” all the time. Be ruthless about maintaining a proper diet and getting sufficient exercise and sleep. Stay hydrated. Don’t put things into your body you know or suspect are harmful.

3. P = Proactivity. Stop focusing on the “shiny” distractions. Instead, look to the future, planning your tasks weeks or months in advance. This lets you break them into smaller pieces that, over time, can easily accumulate to completion—no matter how large the project.

4. P = Positive ROI. Do only those tasks that provide the highest return on investment for your organization and your role. Ruthlessly delegate or prune away everything else.

5. E = Efficiency. Keep your workplace and data tightly organized, so you spend as little time as possible prepping and locating things such as email (check out if you need help with this). Develop ways to reduce the time you spend on each task, too, and constantly refine all elements of your workflow process, seeking out bottlenecks and continually improving your methods.

6. R = Refusal. Politely say no to co-workers who ask you to take on more tasks. If your leaders overload you, ask them to set priorities for your work, rather than meekly accepting everything as Priority #1. If they disagree on what order you should tackle your list, have them hash it out between themselves.

Keeping the End in Sight

In your quest for maximum productivity, a ruthless approach serves you well. Never proceed in a way that hurts anyone, but don’t slow down just because you’ve bruised someone’s ego by “being unsociable” or “making us look bad” by comparison. Strip away the pretense along with the distraction—you’re at work to work. Constantly hone the edge of your time management skills—and don’t forget to add some PEPPER to give your work life that extra zing.



  1. I like the PEPPER concept as many suggestions are similar to TAPP time management steps. As for #6, asking management for deadlines can help with prioritizing. I would also suggest offering alternatives to co-workers rather than saying NO to taking on additional tasks. You may know someone you can refer them to who likes the type of work they need done or who is looking for a new challenge or opportunity to learn. Or you may know of a quicker way to do the process or a tool that could be recommended. This way you are being a term player by helping without actually having to do the extra work.

  2. Shirley, it often involves finding CREATIVE ways to say NO—without using the word. 🙂 For example:

    Meeting Others Halfway. I realize that it may not always be possible to say no, especially in the workplace. Fortunately, there are ways of saying turning someone down without actually saying “no.” Try a mix of these:

    Negotiate. Don’t assume a deadline. When someone asks you to do something, ask them if they need it now, or if you can get it to them later.

    Communicate. Instead of trying to juggle a dozen tasks all due immediately, ask your boss or coworkers to prioritize them so you’ll know which is of utmost importance.

    Reduce Quality. Often, good enough is good enough. Whoever’s asking for the task may not expect an exceptional level of quality; they may just want it done. So find out exactly what they want.

    Streamline. If they want something huge, ask if they really need it that big. They may be just as happy with a slimmed-down version.

    Eliminate. Rebuild your personal and departmental boundaries so that certain tasks are no longer your ambit. Then look at every task remaining and ask yourself if anyone would notice it if you stopped doing it. If not, stop!

    Get Creative. Take stock of your situation, look closely at your systems and processes, and redesign what you can to make yourself more productive.

    Partial Delivery. If you just can’t do it all but have to turn in something, ask if you can turn it in piecemeal.


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