July 25, 2023

Achieving effectiveness through selectiveness


There’s a mantra from the workaholic recovery world that goes:

I am more effective by being more selective. The more I take my time, the more time I have to take.

These ideas may sound corny and counterintuitive, but I assure you they’re wildly effective. Because at the root of such sentiments is a sense of temporal abundance.

You trust that you have plenty of time to do everything you want to do. You believe you now receive full assistance and cooperation from all persons necessary for realizing your work vision. Time to spare and time to share.

Doctors and nurses know all about this mindset. In the medical world, they call it triaging. The assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds and illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients.

Triage originally derives from the fourteenth century term for picking or culling, but the word gained popularity during the first world war as a way to describe caring for injured soldiers. And the good news about the idea is, you don’t have to work in an emergency room to benefit from the process.

Triaging is, at its basic level, sorting and allocating care to maximize survival. We all do this for ourselves on a daily, if not hourly basis. After all, human beings parse through eleven million bits of data every second to focus on the appropriate order of treatment of tasks.

But while triaging is done automatically in many cases, there’s still a manual component to the process. Choreographing intention and attention is a real skill that pays dividends.

One way I use triaging is at the start of my workday, after I’ve already taken personal time in the early morning to meditate, exercise, journal and whatever other nurturing practices have gotten my mind and body up to operating temperature.

By the time I finally log on and connect with my team, it’s late morning. And there will inevitably be a handful of outstanding items that require my attention.

Now, the people who request my help may not know the level of urgency of the task, and that’s fine. Most of my coworkers respect each other’s bandwidths and boundaries.

But for my own sanity, to prevent me from feeling overwhelmed the moment my day starts, I triage first before diving in. The question I’ve learned to ask myself is:

Do I really have the bandwidth right now to deal with the aftermath of this effectively?

Sometimes the answer is a hard no. If a particular task is not hemorrhaging blood all over the hospital floor and screaming why god why, then I move nonurgent items lower on my list.

Research this issue, brainstorm this idea, review this proposal, strategize on this initiative, and so on.

Let’s save that for later, ignore it for now, or wait long enough until somebody else swoops in and takes care of it in my absence.

Such a reprioritization protects me from getting buried right out of the gate, as many people will often do at the start of their workdays, and prevents me from having to play catch up all day.

But with other tasks, I do have the bandwidth to deal with the aftermath effectively, so the answer is an obvious yes. I will knock out a bunch of those low hanging fruit tasks right away, just to be done with them.

Answer this question, send this document, upload this image, book this meeting, whatever.

These small and early victories aren’t exactly sexy or fulfilling to perform, but the accumulation of them matters. Building momentum in my day gives me energy, plus it relieves my mind of open loops that might cause unnecessary stress if they’re not addressed.

This calms my nerves and frees me up to explore at larger projects that require greater focus and effort.

What’s your triaging process? How do you sort and allocate care to maximize survival?

You may not need to assign your tasks a color, number or degree of urgency to decide the order of treatment. Although if that helps, by all means do it.

The larger goal here reinforcing your sense of temporal abundance. Achieving effectiveness through selectiveness. Proving to yourself that you live by divine appointment with broad margins. And that you are the source of time, not the victim of it.

This kind of perspective around time is a powerful influence on our daily decision making, yet most people are typically unaware of its role.

Again, workaholics in recovery have a beautiful way of looking at it. Support groups recite the mantras, the slower I go, the faster I grow. And even when offered the best, I say no if I need rest.

It’s tempting to get hung up on the fact that the affirmations sound like nursery rhymes, but so what? When did rhyming become the barometer for efficacy?

If the words work, they work. I don’t know about you, but I recite some pretty insane, deluded, corny shit to myself on a daily basis, but it makes my life better.

My mindset of temporal abundance assures I’m full and under scheduled at the same time.

Remember, time is highly relative, malleable and contextualized. Each of us can discover our own version of triaging. At its basic level, this about sorting and allocating care to maximize survival.

When you think of it that way, you’re far less intimidated by a pool of blood on the hospital floor.

Do you know when to do more in less time, and know when to do less in more time?