When you find yourself overwhelmed by unexpected and urgent items at work, you often enter what we call “triage mode.” In medical situations, triage is the assignment of degrees of urgency to a patient’s needs in order to decide which person deserves attention first.
Imagine you’re in an emergency room and new patients keep entering with different injuries. Triage is helpful because it makes sure that the newest request doesn’t take precedence over the most urgent or time-sensitive request. But triage mode at work can also be harmful if we are stuck in a never-ending cycle of addressing emergencies and never make time to complete our regular tasks.
As leaders, we can fall into the trap of forgetting the most important things because of the new emergencies that crop up. We throw everything in the hopper and it starts popping up like popcorn—unexpected, random, urgent, and alarming. How can we survive and thrive in triage mode at work? And how can we break the cycle of endless triage to enter a more sustainable pace of work? Here are some practical tips:
Clearly Define Urgent and Important Tasks
Use a tool like the Eisenhower Matrix to identify the tasks on your plate. Sometimes it is helpful to literally draw out the matrix and write your to-do list items in the appropriate category. The Decision Lab describes it this way:
Activities in the urgent & important category should be done immediately. Activities that are not urgent & important should be scheduled for a later date – but you must ensure to stick to that schedule and not put them off. Those activities in the urgent & not important section should be delegated to someone else. Lastly, activities in the not urgent and not important category should be deleted altogether.
Invest in Coaching to Gain a New Mindset
One-on-one leadership coaching is a great tool to help you change your triage mindset and properly set priorities. We offer coaching for executives and emerging leaders to help increase self-awareness, build confidence, and reach leadership goals.
A coach can identify behaviors and thought patterns that you may not recognize in yourself. They will help you set clear goals for increased leadership and communication skills, including how to handle your triage situations.
Communicate with Key Stakeholders
Sometimes requests appear urgent when they are not. Get into the habit of asking for clarification on expectations and deadlines. Ask for help when you need it. Clearly define outcomes and timeframes with all key stakeholders to help you avoid prioritizing tasks without need.
Many times those key stakeholders are external, but also consider your internal team. You may be comfortable with the triage mode at work and understand why it’s necessary, but have you clearly communicated why it’s important to your team? Are you on the same page? Do you have a plan to help them make it happen? In triage mode, communicate, communicate, communicate.
Reflect On Your Team
In the organization system there are so many initiatives happening at the same time. This creates pressure on the team, without clarity of realistic time frames and outcomes. Consider your workflows, project management systems, tools, and communication pathways. Are they clear and efficient? Do they inspire thoughtful work, or frenzied activity?
Avoid overworking yourself and your team members. Right now, everyone’s looking for great new talent. You cannot burn out the talent you currently have. Boost morale by recognizing the small wins so your team feels like they are moving forward even during a triage mode situation.
Consider Your Options
Just because we’ve always solved problems one way doesn’t mean it’s the best. Maybe it’s time for innovation. Are you willing to do things in a different way? In times of change and chaos, we go back to what’s familiar and comfortable, but that may not be the best way.
Sometimes we need to pause to go faster. In triage mode at work, sometimes we’re moving so quickly that we’re not hearing what others are saying. We’re not properly analyzing the task at hand. In many situations it’s appropriate to slow down, because in the end it will help you go faster.
Utilize the DiSC Framework
The DiSC framework helps you recognize the mindset that comes most naturally to you. But in triage mode, we may need to lean into a different mindset. The one that we use every day may be holding us back or create more angst/tension in this situation.
We encourage you to utilize Everything DiSC® Agile EQ to help identify your emotional intelligence and areas where you can flex. For example, perhaps you are naturally outgoing. In a triage situation, perhaps you need to emphasize demonstrating empathy with others above your outgoing tendencies.
If you’re a leader, at any level, are you empowering your team and giving them the power to lead? Or trying to manage everything, creating more angst for you and for team members? Give your team permission to run with things. Be clear about when they need to check back in. Delegating tasks builds trust and helps you reduce the triage list as you spread out responsibilities.
For leaders who are feeling stuck in triage mode, we can help. Contact our team for more ideas on how to communicate clearly, lead well, and continually move towards a sustainable work pace.
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