When everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. If everything is important, then nothing is important.
Medicine responds to this potential dilemma with the concept of triage, which prioritizes patients so as to do the most good for the greatest number when resources are not great enough, to treat everyone when resources are insufficient for immediate treatment.
The word derives from the French verb trier, to sort, sift, or select. Usually used in times of war or natural disaster, triage separates casualties into groups: 1. the dead or the very severely wounded who are beyond help or who need so much help as to take resources that could save multiple other lives, 2. the severely wounded who have a good chance of survival with immediate aid or transportation, 3. the moderately injured whose aid can be delayed without significantly worsening their condition, and 4. those with minor injuries who will survive without aid.
I like to review the concept of medical triage because it puts any challenges I face in proper perspective.
To properly prioritize, we must first go to the mountaintop and review our true values, orient to our true north, align ourselves with the fundamental principles with which we desire to live our lives. It is only then that our actions will reflect our values. Otherwise, we can easily become “pinballs” in the game of life, simply reacting to the latest and greatest and most urgent outside forces acting upon us, whacking us off our balance or from our intended path.
It is when we reconnect, recommit to the values, principles, and people that are most important to us, to our passion and purpose, that we find the courage and determination to say no to the urgent but ultimately less important forces acting on us, and say a fervent and heartfelt yes to the things and people that truly matter.
— Big rocks first. Schedule the important things first, then work other things around them.
— Given limited resources of time, energy, and money, every yes is a no. Be aware of what you are saying no to before you say yes.
— Every action teaches the belief system that motivates it. What did you teach today?
— Show me your credit card bill and your Day Timer, calendar, and PDA and I’ll show you your value system. What story do yours tell?
“Action expresses priorities.” — Mahatma Gandhi
“Success is only another form of failure if we forget what our priorities should be.” — Harry Lloyd
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.” — Stephen R. Covey
This is a classic from the NSC Blog archive, originally posted October 2, 2008.