Time Management Triage

Periodically in life, your daily schedule may call to mind if not a disaster scene then at least a hospital emergency room and leaves you overwhelmed and exhausted. You know that order should be brought to the swirling chaos, so that you can get the most important things done and also preserve your mental and physical health, but you lack the time and energy to think things through. Well consider this—if your schedule looks like an emergency room lobby, then why not take charge of it like a doctor would?

Doctors are routinely called upon to assess and treat a chaotic jumble of patients. To successfully work through that formidable task, they perform a process called triage, to rank patients according to the urgency of their illnesses and increase the likelihood that all will survive and recover. Prioritizing is the foundation of triage and for that reason, the system may be applied to time management.

Triage as a time management template can give very busy people a tool to prioritize tasks and help them to move forward with what has either value or consequences and ignore what and whom can be regarded as low-risk write-offs.

Adopting triage as your time management system will likely be very helpful but like everything else in life, time management or the lack thereof, brings consequences.

For example, you may have the misfortune of interacting with disrespectful, boundary-crashing individuals who conspire to control your time and as a result, your life. These folks are determined to get their way and they do not give up without a fight.

Nevertheless, assert your right to fulfill important responsibilities and also participate in activities that you enjoy. With time management triage as your guide, neutralize who you consider to be the time-wasters. You may be faced with wheedling and sometimes angry words. No matter, you must never give in to a campaign for attention and control.

Your first qualifier is to work through responsibilities that if ignored will bring consequences. Taxes come to mind, along with deadlines for important work projects. Activities and special occasions that involve your children and spouse will closely follow in priority and events that involve your parents, siblings and close friends will occupy the next tier.

Less pressing work projects, volunteer commitments, acquaintances and relatives whose company you enjoy are the next level down. Anyone after that can take a number. You may decide to decline or ignore their requests because quite honestly, they are not sufficiently important to you. If Uncle Stanley is a mean-spirited idiot who enjoys undermining people, why would you waste time going to his birthday party? Don’t let your mother guilt you into it.

According to Ed Battista, executive coach and instructor at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA, the key to making time management triage work is acknowledging the emotional aspects involved in saying no or ignoring people. Attempting to take an intellectual approach may not be useful, for reasons that I’ve mentioned above. The time-wasters are masters of arm-twisting and no one wants to be portrayed as cold and callous.

Battista recommends that we aim to expand our comfort with discomfort. Difficult emotions and awkward “scenes” may need to be managed in the triage process and that is a by-product of our birthright to control and allot our time and energy as we see fit. Among the skills that may be helpful is acquiring the vocabulary to communicate how overwhelmed your current responsibilities make you feel and how the prospect of additional obligations is unacceptable. The line of people demanding attention may be long, but you must learn to say a kind, but firm “no” when it makes sense to do so.

Thanks for reading,


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