“Don’t fight the problem, decide it.” -George C. Marshall
TASK AT HAND: This week I’m thinking about triage. In medicine, triage is the process of assigning degrees of urgency. In any hospital Emergency Department, you will find a Triage desk that functions to grade the severity of your ailment. Triage decides if your problem is an emergency (must be assessed and resuscitated right away), emergent (needs assessment very soon), urgent (important but can usually wait some amount of time), or nonurgent (can wait). An emergency has the potential to kill or seriously harm your patient and needs to be addressed right now. An emergent condition has the potential to inflict significant morbidity and cannot be delayed any significant amount of time. An urgent state needs to be assessed but usually lacks immediate temporal gravity.
Over the years, I have found that you can apply this same triage process to decision making. One can formulate strategy by triaging decisions and prioritizing subsequent actions. Whether you are taking inventory of personal sentiments, deciding on a strategy for an ambitious project, or developing a new idea, the ability to triage allows you to set priorities, execute strategy, and engage in effective delegation. The goal of decision triage is to emerge from the deluge of questions with a set of priorities aligned with your strategy. Clarity for success by means of deciding how to tackle multiple problems.
I triage decisions using these same emergency principles: an emergency requires an answer or decision right now – no exceptions! I reply to all emergent decisions within 12-24 hours. For urgent decisions, I reassess later. Nonurgent matters tend to be delegated elsewhere. Try this next time you are asked to solve a problem or your input is required. If the issue has immediate consequences, deal with it straightaway. Don’t procrastinate and don’t delay. Is it emergent? If so, you have some time. Relatively urgent? Maybe you can delegate this task or move it down your prioritized to-do list.
In triaging decisions, will almost always find conflict and disagreement because, what to one is an emergency, to another is only urgent. What do you do when this occurs? Make sure you communicate clearly so that trust is built in your assessment skills. Lead by example and never trivialize the conflicts of others. When in doubt, have the best interests of others in mind. Selfish behavior is based out of insecurity. Act selfless and create value for others in your triage. This is a key principle of successful decision making.
“Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.” –Napoleon Bonaparte
As the quote above emphasizes, the ability to decide deserves your judicial attentiveness. Decision making and strategy are topics we revisit frequently here on the Sunday Surgical Scrub and you can think of decision triage at the top of the algorithm. Once you decide on the priority of the decision, you can use the many tools presented here to resolve the crux of your conflict and put forward the best decision.
MEDICINE & MACULA: Check out our new systematic review pertaining to depression and burden among caregivers of patients with visual impairment. While caregiving allows those with vision problems to better adapt, it has been shown to take a toll on the caregiver on various levels, such as invoking depression and burden. Recognition of this is key for awareness, prevention and management.
Thank you International Ophthalmology for publishing our study! Check out the study here.
GRATIS: One last note on the decision triage system above. By frequently using this method of triage for decision making, I have found a wonderful unexpected side effect: I gain perspective by realizing that few things are a true emergency that require destabilization to correct. This calming vantage point will allow you to appreciate that many decisions – whether we like or not – are just not that important. Find those that are, prioritize them, and then successfully attend to them.
My best to you,