Triage fundamentally is about delivering the greatest benefit in a crisis situation where resources are limited. If you’ve watched reruns of M.A.S.H., then you’ve observed an interpretation of US Army medical triage at work in a TV drama set in the Korean Conflict of the 1950s.

Triage demands quick and decisive action. But remember, if the context were different, the approach would be different!

Triage is crisis management in action NOT an approach for a regular daily routine. The right tool for the right challenge! While the consequences of a cluttered desk, disorganized files, and a confused mind are not on par with mounting medical casualties in a war zone, perpetual chaos leads to procrastination, stress, diminished joy and productivity, and often workload paralysis.

If you are experiencing negative fallout from chaos, try this one-hour, three-step Chaos Triage Method to restore calm, focus, and confidence so you can move forward and create momentum.

PREPARATION STEP: Sit—relax your muscles (especially notice shoulders, face, arms, legs, abdomen, & ankles)—take a few slow, deep breaths. All designed to activate your parasympathetic nervous system so you can relax enough to focus.  

First StepBrainstorm: Begin by clearing your head.

  • Set a timer for 15 minutes (+ or – 5 minutes depending on your time). The time limit helps you maintain focus on the task and honors your limited time.
  • Start the timer and begin a thought dump. Write down all the thoughts circulating in your mind. Write as much as you can with the goal of calming your mind. Trust that if you put it on this paper you can be confident it won’t be forgotten. When time is up, stop. Even if you are not finished, hopefully, you feel somewhat calmer.

Second StepPrioritize: Make sense of the thought dump (10 minutes max—remember triage is about quick and decisive!)

  • Review the thought dump list you just created. Star/circle/highlight (whatever works for you) actionable items.
  • Rank the starred/circled/highlighted action items with an A, B, or C. (Remember this is triage ranking only. On a later post, I’ll emphasize that this approach to prioritizing can be very counterproductive. Context matters—this is triage context where urgency is more highly valued.) 

“A” ITEMS:  MUST be done today

“B” ITEMS:  MUST be done this week

“C” ITEMS:  Important in the long run but can be ignored this week

  • Decide if any action items that did not fit the A, B, or C criteria can be completely eliminated. If so simply strike out these action items. If not, assign them as a “D.”

Third StepAct!!  For the next 30 minutes begin taking action on the items you ranked as “A.”

  • Choose ONE action item from the “A”s that you can complete or take one small step toward completing.
  • If you complete this chosen action item in less than 30 minutes, plan how you will complete the remaining “A”s-MUST DO TODAY action items. 

If you follow these three steps, your chaos will not miraculously disappear, but you will be taking an important first step toward taming the chaos. Most importantly, you will be equipping yourself with the focus and motivation needed to proceed as you intuitively know you should. I’m confident you will start by hanging on to this triage list you created. 


Photo by Olenka Kotyk on Unsplash