In Florida, there is a theme park where mermaids are one of the main attractions. They are dressed in tight, realistic costumes that are not exactly convenient to maneuver around when not in the water. Lunch breaks? Restroom stop? It’s not a 1-person job. In fact, the park has special staff called “Mermaid Wranglers,” whose assignment and priority is to aid these waterfolk. They put the mermaids on carts and wheel them around the theme park wherever they need to go.  

It sounds a little ridiculous, I know. It got me thinking about helping others when they genuinely need it (like the mermaids) versus helping regular able-bodied folk who could and should do it themselves. That’s where ruthless prioritization comes in. It’s about prioritizing what’s important, and who and what actually needs your help and deciding what can – no, NEEDS – to be let go.  

Hello, boundaries and good-bye enabling, in the workplace and in life!  

Of course, when we call it boundaries and enabling, it doesn’t sound so ruthless, does it? It sounds healthy and acceptable! Let me phrase it another way: It’s time to cut some people, projects or duties off and let those wanna-be mermaids fend for themselves.  

My friend, Patty was so caught up in codependency with the firm’s CEO that her own health and well-being took a back seat. The CEO was not a mermaid. The CEO knew she could easily manipulate someone without ruthless priorities. It didn’t happen suddenly. It happened in baby steps. First, it seemed like the CEO was giving Patty extra projects because of her faith in her. Gradually, Patty was so caught up in it that she didn’t realize she wasn’t even doing her job well anymore because she was doing the CEO’s job on top of her own job. The CEO was busy being carted around like a fake mermaid! Meanwhile, Patty was stressed, haggard, tired and angry.  

I see this play out in many of my coaching calls with clients: People carting around non-mermaids when those people could and should be doing some things for themselves. In fact, that’s a great beginning rule of thumb for changing your behavior: Could and should this person be doing XYZ for themselves?  

I get it. You’re afraid a ball is going to drop; something will fall through the cracks. Maybe it needs to? That’s scary, I know. And, I also know, mermaids love to be carted around. So when you start prioritizing yourself, your sanity, your health, your duties – someone is going to push back. (Hey, where did their free ride go?? And by the way, maybe you need to do some self-inventory and make sure YOU aren’t the fake mermaid!) 

How to start… Just like getting into the codependency game didn’t happen overnight – it’s going to take some time to unwind those learned behaviors.  

  1. List your duties. Seriously. Do you know them anymore? What could and should be your job? Now, look at your job description – how does your list compare to what you were hired to do? Make a note of the items that are legitimately your job.  
  1. Ruthless move: Cross off the items that just feel like your job or seem like they are because you’ve picked up someone else’s ball.  
  1. Next, choose 5 of your duties and break them down into monthly, weekly and daily goals. Are you clear on what is important vs. what is urgent? Have you ever completed a SWOT analysis for yourself 
  1. Ruthless move: Which item in your top 5 doesn’t bring real results? Cross it off or move it to a different category (maybe one labeled: “Would be good to do when I have time”)  
  1. Prioritization is not about ROI but ROTI. Return on your TIME invested. Do you even know how much time you spend on your tasks vs. taking care of someone else’s job? In general, you should budget three times as long as a task normally takes to complete. So what kind of time does that leave you to do your job and someone else’s? 
  1. Ruthless move: Look at that top 5 again. Mark each one with the following categories: Important, but not urgent or Urgent, but not important (time for delegation?) or Neither urgent nor important (drop this from your plate as soon as possible). 
  1. The list is getting smaller now, isn’t it? Mark Twain once said, “If you have to eat a live frog, it does not pay to sit and look at it for a very long time!” Now pick which item on your list is the frog (bonus points is seeing that the “frog” is telling a co-worker you are no longer going to be picking up their slack!). Eat the frog first and get it out of the way.  
  1. Ruthless move: Is there anything on your list you feel compelled to do just because you’ve invested so much time in it? Gut check time: Time and history poured into a project do not mean it’s valuable or serves you well any longer.  

Your time, health and mental well-being are your most precious commodities. You do not get them back. Remember Patty? It wasn’t until she finally quit that job, just short of a nervous breakdown that she had time to focus on herself. It turns out she had a pretty big health concern she had been ignoring “for the sake of the company.” That’s not how your life was designed to be! It’s time for some ruthless prioritization – and along the way, you just may find that ruthless prioritization is actually a form of self-care.