That Ticking Clock: Managing Your Time.

Time is the most valuable resource of all. It’s scarce, limited, and constantly running away from us. Anyone who has ever worked in a fast-paced, task-oriented environment knows this all too well.

Some thrive under the pressure. Some crack like the shell of a clam under the onslaught of a devious sea otter. The key difference – the make it or break it issue – lies in how you manage your time.

First, consider the following: battlefield triage. From Wikipedia:

Triage is the process of determining the priority of patients’ treatments based on the severity of their condition. This rations patient treatment efficiently when resources are insufficient for all to be treated immediately. The term comes from the French verb trier, meaning to separate, sift or select. Triage may result in determining the order and priority of emergency treatment, the order and priority of emergency transport, or the transport destination for the patient.

This system was pioneered by French surgeons on the battlefields of the First World War. The problem was this: even though the doctors were scurrying like mad from patient to patient, the mortality rate was still outrageously high. The more intuitive doctors realized the problem was not in sub-par care (for the time), but in their own methodology. They only had so much to spare in time and resources, and not all wounded patients were wounded equally.

They began to ask themselves three questions. First – “If we don’t treat him, will he probably survive?” If the answer was “yes”, that soldier’s care dropped to the lowest priority. If the answer was “no”, then onto the second question – “If we treat him, will he probably die anyway?” If “yes”, the poor guy was given morphine and made comfortable. If “no”, then onto the last question, the most important: “If we do our best, can we save him; and if we do nothing, will he probably die?” For those whom the answer was yes, they were moved to the front of the line. These were guys for whom the scarce medical supplies – and more importantly, time – could be used to the most value.

In my daily life as an on-site IT Support technician, it’s not uncommon to find myself barraged with so many issues that it feels like battlefield medicine. The IT problems pour in from all sides, big and small, and each user believes their problem is the most important, which makes sense: to them, it is the most important. But time is scarce. Sometimes there simply isn’t enough time in the day to get to everything.

Sure, we could just tackle each issue as they come. But is that really the best use of our time? Is each problem an equally important use of time?

Remember the triage approach. I think of it this way:

  1. If I don’t work on this problem, will it probably not affect business?
  2. If I dedicate my time to this problem, will I still not be able to solve the problem anyway?
  3. If I dedicate my time to this problem, will I possibly solve the problem? If I don’t, will it probably be a huge detriment to business?

For those of us in the office, this system can be flexible – unlike for those in actual battlefield medicine. But it makes for a great mental triage process when the issues are pouring in and you have to make judgement calls.

Take control of your time. Identify which criteria you can use to judge the importance of issues, and apply it accordingly. You will amaze yourself with what more you can accomplish with your time!

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