Triage: When You Have Too Much Stuff To Do

Triage. The term comes from the French verb ‘trier‘, “to separate, sift or select.” In the medical field, there are two types of triage:

  • Simple, for accidents and mass casualties, used to see who needs immediate medical attention and transport to the hospital soonest.
  • Advanced, which is ” used to divert scarce resources away from patients with little chance of survival in order to increase the chances of survival of others who are more likely to survive.”

Triage is used to determine the order and priority of emergency treatment, transport, and-or the transport destination for the patient. In the hardest cases, triage decides who gets prioritized based on their chances of survival.

You already prep for triage when you sort your prioritizes for the day. You commit to triage when you attend to them to get the best results. Triage in this context is commitment to success in action.

In our everyday work, the term triage can be used to describe the “the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success.”

If you’ve ever watched any battlefield scenes where soldiers scream for a medic, you already have an idea of how the pressure in those dire circumstances forced the evolution of a medical process meant to save people. You can apply the principles of this process to your own battlefields. You assess the field, check the quality and availability of the resources at your disposal, your window of opportunity, and your own personal resources.

  • What needs to be done?
  • What do you need to get it done?
  • How much time do you have?
  • How much energy do you have?

This is going off on a slight tangent, but trust me, we’re going somewhere with it. Now, one definition of compensation is:

“That which constitutes, or is regarded as, an equivalent; that which makes good the lack or variation of something else; that which compensates for loss or privation; amends; remuneration; recompense.”

The term ‘compensation’ is also used in place of the words ‘salary’ or ‘wages’. Do you see where we’re going with this?


Whether you’re being paid for your labor and efforts by a company, or for the exchanges of products and services you offer, it’s still an exchange. To get the best out of that deal, you also have to imagine and plan for getting the best results in return for your time and work, and consistently look out for yourself by minimizing loss.

  • Ask yourself, “What is my purpose here?”
  • Look at the day you have planned out and ask yourself again, “What isn’t important?” When you’ve identified those things, brush them off, let them go.
  • Attend to the essential.
  • Align the needful to your priorities. Assess which ones are your responsibility and fall within your purview. If you can’t change it, help it or affect it, it’s out of your scope and area of responsibility. Why tie yourself up over things that you can’t change and aren’t even yours?

Remember the Serenity prayer? The best known version is this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.


Here’s a slightly different version:

“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”

This version puts courage ahead of serenity, and is particularly apt when applied toward creating –take note, we’re using active voice here — the life you want.

One aspect of triage is accepting the things you can’t change, yes, but still keep going. It takes courage to keep going in the face of all everything that’s out there now…serenity can keep you calm, but isn’t enough to spark change by itself.


On your own, here’s a tip to keep in mind when you’re working: Know your goals, but let your purpose drive you.

It isn’t enough to do things every day, what are you doing them for? Before you sit down in front of your computer, or at your desk or cubicle, know what you want to accomplish that day, and what tasks and actions must be completed for that to happen.

Otherwise, without a clear sense of your purpose you’re filling in time instead of slowly making an actual difference with your life. Practice triage, stop trying yourself into knots over the un-ticked entries on your To-Do list. When you know you’ve got the big stuff covered, you can let the little stuff go.

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