I heard on the radio last week that it was the 40th anniversary of the last episode of M*A*S*H (2/28/1983). It reminded me of a recent conversation with a client in which I mentioned a phrase I first heard while watching M*A*S*H as a young kid. (very, very young kid 😂)
First, for those of you not familiar with the show, M*A*S*H was a sit-com (with heartbreaking reality) following the day-to-day life of a mobile army surgical hospital during the Korean War. When mass casualties arrived, they would perform triage.
Merriam-webster.com defines triage as the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors.
How did this word come up while working with a client? She was struggling to unbury herself from all the tasks and projects she needed to accomplish. I was able to share it with her because it is something I do myself from time-to-time. Note: When I, or a client, need to perform triage, I can always trace it back to one cause: we have been out of our office more than in it. For example, I most generally need to perform triage when I have an unexpected absence (like COVID), when preparing for vacation, or simply when I’ve broken my own rule to not schedule more than half my week. It happens. No matter how great you are at organization and time management – even if you teach and coach it for a living – you will have periods when the “casualties” are just too many to tackle at once. That’s when we need to perform triage.
What does triage look like in the office setting? It means going through everything you need to do and grouping those tasks/projects into piles/lists based on the following:
- MUST be done today (this should be a relatively short pile/list)
- Must be done this week
- Can wait until next week
- Can wait until next month
When you do this, suddenly, the overwhelming feeling gets smaller, and the tasks seem more manageable. You can breathe again. Then, set the non-Today piles/lists aside (or staged in your To Do System) and focus on the ones that truly must be done today. If you get through all of them with time to spare, go ahead and get a head start on the other things that need to be done this week. Keep in mind though, you may have to perform triage once or twice throughout this period because as the M*A*S*H surgeons knew so well: while in surgery, the incoming doesn’t stop.