How to Set Priorities for Your Business, Even When Everything Seems Important: The “Thriller, Filler & Spiller” Method pt. 1

 
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Have you ever just wanted to hit the refresh button & start over? 

No, I’m not talking about shutting down your business. I’m talking about starting over with a clean slate, so that you can see what matters most both in the long-term and short-term.

It happens to me when I know I have strayed too far from the vision for my business by getting bogged down on daily matters. This nagging feeling of “Ugh, I need to regroup!” starts to run in the background. The struggle is real. 

At that point, my brain is fried from daily tasks, and my vision is blurred.  I know to block out some time to step away from those tasks and cut off all communication, so that I can reassess my entire business.

If you have ever felt the same way, you are at the right place because what I am about to share here isn’t one of those stuffy “annual strategy planning processes” you find online, which are all based on the idea of starting from a target revenue number first.

Frankly, I don’t believe in this method. Starting from a revenue goal can completely derail your business, as you will put too much emphasis on hitting the target number and less emphasis on achieving your ultimate business vision.

It is not even sustainable, as it does not prepare you for potential incidents, wherein some of the strategies you rely on to hit that number suddenly stop working. By the time you realize you need another strategy to compensate for the loss, it is usually too late. From that point on, it will take minimally 3 times longer to get back to where it was.

Another widely known (and used) prioritization method is 4 Quadrant Method, which was devised by the legendary, Steven Covey. By only looking at the quadrants, it does not tell much in terms of what criteria one must go by deciding exactly WHAT IS:

Urgent & Important

Not Urgent, but Important

Urgent & Not Important

Not Urgent & Not Important

 

On the contrary, the “Thriller, Filler & Spiller” method is fluid, yet clear.  OK, I know the name is weird. But, everything I come up with is weird. By now, you are already aware of that, and I trust you are here to get the insights you can’t get anywhere else. In this case, I know I won’t let you down.

This will be a 3-part series, and this post will cover the concept just to be sure you get the "what" & "why" parts down pat.

The second part, you guessed it, will be all about the "how's."  There will be plenty of examples to help you implement this method, and that's not all. I'll expand the concept to be repurposed for other uses.

The third part covers how to achieve "Zen" and double down on what works in your business. Because the title for this post was getting too long, I had to omit the word “Zen.” The title should have been, The “Thriller, Filler & Spiller – Ultimately, Zen” Method. 

Anyways, be sure to check them out (after you read this, of course!)

 

What the Heck is Thriller, Filler & Spiller?

This expression, or concept, originates from, wait for it... the world of gardening & flower arrangement.  I know this can throw you off quite a bit. But, stay with me as it'll all start to make sense.

This is a classic flower & plant arrangement technique to make your vases and/or pots look amazing without trying too hard.

Take a look at this photo. Thrillers normally go on top or right smack in the middle. This is the focal point, and its job is to dazzle. This is the star role in a movie, i.e. the Ryan Reynolds, Jennifer Lawrence, or Michael B. Jordan of the world.

 
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Then, Filler will serve the purpose of making the entire arrangement look full, while ensuring Thriller to stand out. This means filler can neither be too showy, nor too bland at the same time. Just to keep going with the Hollywood analogy, this would be the supporting actor.

Lastly, Spiller will cover the bottom to anchor the whole arrangement.  It makes the entire arrangement look stable, bigger & quietly dramatic in length. This is more like SFX, music, or cinematic landscapes that run in the background to enhance the overall experience.

Simple, right?

The question now is, "What do I do with this concept?"

No worries, we are about to get to that.


Definition of Thriller, Filler & Spiller in Business

Let's start by clarifying how the concept gets translated into a business setting.

Thriller: The Most Prominent Business Activities.

The activities under this category must contribute in one of these ways:

 

1. Stabilize or scale predictable revenue generation.

2. Streamline processes to increase efficiency and lower the cost of operations.

3. Build & nurture your team to strengthen your internal business system.

 

For example, investing time and resources in fully taking care of returning customers is one of them. This is the area where you, as the head of the business, must get really hands-on. You should be the one to lead these activities and not completely offload them onto your team (or outsource.)  You can certainly delegate some of the leg work involved, but you should be the one to oversee the process.

These are the lifelines of a business. Naturally, they belong to thriller - the show stopper.

Often this is where your ability to make sound decisions gets tested. These are the activities that can make or break a business, and it is paramount that your focus is mainly on these. 

 

Filler: Continuous Business Activities That Reward You Handsomely by Being Consistent.

Don't label Filler as "unimportant tasks."  

Filler contains meaty, robust, continuous business activities, such as increasing the number of prospects by offering values via free content, advertising to stay on top of their mind, PR activities that increase visibility, staying on top of risk management (contract/legal review, putting necessary insurance policies in place, etc.), and scheduled financial reviews.

These activities may not be flashy and may not immediately lead to additional revenue.  However, these will save you loads of headaches and time when something doesn’t go right with the Thriller activities. 

For example, a deal you were working on (one of the Thriller activities) falls through.  But then, someone you have never heard of reaches out to you out of nowhere by saying he or she has been following you on social media & recently signed up for your email list.  Now, he or she is ready to work with you and your team.  This can potentially fill the void caused by the deal that fell apart.

You can reap the benefit only if you are consistent with these activities over time. No number of hacks can help you catch up on lost time. Funnily enough, only when you are saved by these type of random leads, can you finally say, “Phew, I thought these blog posts/podcasts/weekly FB lives were going nowhere. Who knew it would save my butt!”

Because these activities require you to be consistent, this is the area where you can partially incorporate tools and technologies. Needless to say, you can also delegate these out to others, because, unlike Thriller activities, the stakes are low, so long as people who are in charge of these activities are being consistent and maintaining the kind of quality you want.  

 

Spiller: The Unknown Territory 

The purpose of Spiller is to reach and cover a wider area that falls outside of obvious and important business activities. 

As I explained earlier, Spiller’s role is to enhance the overall look or experience in the world of flower arrangement. In business, the activities that fall under this category are things we can live without. In other words, these things are “nice-to-have” things.

When I use this method to regroup my business, I put all possible experiments, as well as things I would be interested in exploring, under this category.  At the end of the day, it’s a bonus if I get around to any of these at all. These activities do not make or break a business right away.

So, why do I bother to keep this category?

The simplest answer would be “redundancy.”  The tricky part of running a business is that, most of the time, we don’t know the full effect of anything we do until much later, with the exception of a few activities that generate immediate results, if done right. These are very few and vary depending on the business.

For this reason, if you have the capacity, time, and resources (money and labor), it pays to continuously explore alternative avenues to sustain a business, just in case there’s a sudden change that can negatively impact your business.

Naturally, if you don’t get Thriller and Filler under control, it is less likely that you will have the capacity to worry about Spiller.  On the flip side, if you tend to spend a lot of time experimenting on new things, you know that you must shift your focus more on Thriller first, then Filler.

 
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The Order of Importance & Why the Thriller, Filler & Spiller Method is Effective

This probably is a no brainer by now, but just to recap: Thriller is the most important component, then comes filler, then spiller.

If we draw a diagram of the Thriller, Filler & Spiller concept, it would look a lot like a pyramid. To take it one step further, if you flip it upside down, then it will start to look a lot like a “sales funnel.”  The fundamental concept is the same, but I use my Thriller, Filler & Spiller method for all areas of my business (not just for the purpose of lead generation and/or customer journey.)

The process of categorizing all of my business activities in 3 groups helps me prioritize them.  As a result, it clears up what I need to focus on even when I am under an enormous amount of time pressure, occasionally caused by setbacks, deadlines, and unexpected personal dealings. 

Also, it has given me a sense of safety, knowing there is a place I can always go back to regroup my thoughts, which ultimately helps me avoid getting into decision fatigue, as well as avoid redundant thinking. 

On the flip side, if I ever find a pocket of time that frees up, I know immediately to take a look at Spiller to see if I can do some research on the items listed to continuously make progress in that area. Ideally, I should look at Filler first to ensure it is all running smoothly, then I explore the area of Spiller.

I will be honest, it doesn’t always happen in the ideal order, but I am carefully observing my behavior to stay on the right path.

Lastly, items you list under each category can move among these 3 groups over time.  At times, I may be experiencing the urge to hit the refresh button, but it’s because the current Thriller, Filler & Spiller no longer serves my business well.  This is just another way to look at the situation. 

In this case, you don’t really need to worry about rearranging everything. You can simply move a few things around without feeling like you are messing up everything else. This is what I meant by the method being “fluid” in the beginning of this post.

In a nutshell, here are the 4 main benefits of using this method:

 

1.     It’s a simple way to prioritize & avoid decision fatigue.

2.     It acts as a go-to framework easy enough to stick with.

3.     It tells you what to do when your time is freed up unexpectedly.

4.     It allows you to move items around without worrying about ruining the entire structure.

 

Time & Effort

Now that you have a good idea of what it is, let’s dig a little more to gain a deeper understanding of this method. Let’s slice it in 2 different ways. Shall we?

So, the first variables are time and effort.  Here is how the pyramid looks:

 

Thriller: 50% - 80%

Filler: 10% - 30%

Spiller: 10% to 20%

 

Simply put, from the time & effort perspective, you should be spending a ton of it on Thriller.  Often, many get confused because they are unable to separate time & effort from reach (a number of people you get involved). 

 

Reach or the Number of People Involved in Each Category

When you look at this method from the perspective of, “How many people, other than me, are involved in each category?” the percentages are reversed.  So, it would look something like this.

 

Thriller: 5% - 20%

Filler: Up to 30%

Spiller: Up to 50%

 

Just to clarify, “reach” in this context means how wide and how cold these people are.  Here are some examples:

In Thriller, you are likely to be working with the key management team or high value targets.  For this reason, the % is the lowest out of all 3. The lower, the better, as dealing with fewer people in this category will help you avoid, once again, decision fatigue. Subsequently, it helps you to stay laser-focused to get the maximum results.

In Filler, you are likely to be working with more people, including vendors & suppliers, outsourced service providers, lawyer / accountant / insurance agents, non-management team, etc. Also, if you have an email list, this should be under Filler. They may not make the cut to be your high value targets, but they are “warmed up / next in line” folks you want to nurture over time. 

In Spiller, it gets wider and colder. You would be experimenting with business activities that enable you to reach a cold audience, new service providers, new platforms, or media outlet you haven’t reached out to, etc.  Most of the time, it would be hard to even estimate how many people you are reaching in a meaningful way, as any analytics should be taken with a grain of salt. 

 

 

The Purpose of Each Category at a Glance

To wrap up this part 1 of “How to Set Priorities for Your Business Even When Everything Seems Important: The “Thriller, Filler & Spiller” Method,” here is a quick recap on what kind of purpose each category serves:

 

Thriller: Simplification & Specialization

 

Filler: Diversification & Continuation

 

Spiller: Exploration & Experimentation

 

Next time, when you catch yourself going down the rabbit hole over the internet & researching something obsessively, you know you are doing something that belongs to Spiller. The question is: “Should I be doing this right now?”  Your answer might be yes, or it might be no. This helps you take back control of your priorities throughout the week or month or year.

In part 2 of the series, you will see some examples for the sole purpose of getting you started with your own Thriller, Filler & Spiller mapping.  So, stay tuned!