Day 13 – Triage Your Action Items with Skill

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Your Outcome:  Learn how to deal with a barrage of incoming action items and demands on your time.
Welcome to day 13 of 30 Days of Getting Results.  In day 12, we learned how to use Productivity Personas to analyze and improve our results in any situation.  Today, we learn how to “triage” an overflowing plate of action items and tasks.
Triage is a Healthy Process of Sorting, Sifting, and Selecting
“Triage” is a process of sorting, sifting and selecting what to work on.   You might have heard about doctors “triaging” their incoming patients in emergency settings.  When I first joined Microsoft, “Triage” was a common practice our team used to deal with our incoming issues.  It helped us sort our backlogs and queues of issues into more meaningful buckets.  We couldn’t just do everything at once and we couldn’t keep up with our flow of incoming requests.  Triaging helped us more effectively make the most of our time, energy, and resources we had on hand at the moment against our incoming actions.
Triage in Practice
I’ve used triage successfully to deal with everything from dealing with email, to dealing with a flood of incoming tasks, to dealing with aging backlogs of action items, both at the personal, and the team level.   When I lead a distributed team, I use email triage as an ad hoc and lightweight way to get the team’s eyeballs quickly focused on an issue.  I’ve also used triage to clear my email inbox and to keep my email at zero inbox for years, and I’ve shown many others, including teams around Microsoft, to do the same (and we have a lot of email at Microsoft.)  I affectionately call this approach, The Zen of Zero Mail.
For things that you need to act on, prioritize, or get off your plate, “triage” is a healthy process of sorting and selecting in a mindful way.
Do It, Queue It, Schedule It, or Delegate It
You can triage an incoming action item to either do it, queue it, schedule it, or delegate it:
  • Do It – Do it if now is the time: it’s the next best thing for you to do; now is the most opportunistic time; or it will cost you more pain, time or effort to do it later.
  • Queue It – Queue it, by adding it to your queue if it’s something you need to get done, but now is not the right time.   A queue is simply a list of action items.
  • Schedule It – Schedule it by adding it to your calendar if you need a block of time to get the work done.  Only add things to your calendar if you truly need a reminder or if you really need to block off a chunk of time to work on it.  Remember that if you schedule it, it will happen, but if you don’t, it won’t.  If it’s really important, then make time for it.  If it’s just something to do “later,” and it won’t really happen, then justlet it go with skill.
  • Delegate It – Delegate it if it’s something that should be done by somebody else and it makes sense to do so, and you have that option.  When you delegate, try to match it to another person’s learning opportunity or passion.  (There’s a difference between delegating and dumping.)
3 Steps to Triaging Your Action Items
Here are three steps for triaging your stack of action items:
  1. Consolidate your action items.  Dealing with them in a batch really shows the benefit of this approach, because you can quickly whack your stack down to size.
  2. Triage each item.  For each item, determine what the best plan of attack is: Do It, Queue It, Schedule It, or Delegate It.
  3. Repeat the process.  Repeat the process until you have a manageable set of actions and you feel that things are appropriately in the right places, either in your list of actions, your queue, or your schedule, or off your plate.  If you end up spending too much time triaging, and not enough time doing, then establish a timebox or time limit to pace yourself and to know when to stop.
Really what you’re doing is setting the stage for your success.  By having a time for things, and having them on your calendar or in your queue, you can focus on what you have in front of you with more confidence, clarity, and conviction, knowing that you’re making the most of what you’ve got.  You can also more effectively prioritize with MUST, SHOULD, and COULD.
Questions to Help Guide You
Here are some questions I find useful as a checkpoint:
  1. What do you want to accomplish?
  2. Does it matter?
  3. How important is it?
  4. What’s the impact?
  5. What’s the next best thing to do?
You can always check your actions against the bigger picture and what you want to accomplish:  This is just a starting point and you’ll want to create and test your own questions to see what works for you.
Putting It All Together
Let’s take a quick step back and do a rundown of what you’ve learned so far during 30 Days of Getting Results and how this fits in:
  1. You can use The Rule of 3 to avoid getting overwhelmed.
  2. You’re the author of your life and you can write your story forward, one moment or one day at a time
  3. You can use three stories to drive your day and and light up your day by connecting to your values (Daily Outcomes).
  4. On Mondays, you can use three stories to drive your week (Monday Vision).
  5. On Fridays, you can use Friday Reflection to celebrate your wins and find your personal success patterns.
  6. You can map out what’s important in your life using Hot Spots to create a meaningful map.
  7. You can let things slough off with skill … no more straws breaking the camel’s back .
  8. You can create space in your life to renew and recharge by setting up boundaries and buffers.
  9. You can dump your brain to free up your mind.
  10. You can prioritize more effectively by using MUST, SHOULD, and COULD.
  11. You can feel strong all week long by spending more time in your strengths and less time in your weaknesses.
  12. You can establish glide-paths to simplify your day and make your routines friction free.
  13. You can analyze and be more productive in any scenario using productivity personas.
By adding triaging to your belt, you now have a simple mental model for dealing with incoming action itemsmore effectively.
Agile Results is a simple system for meaningful results that you can use to support you for the rest of your life, no matter what you do.  The beauty is not just that it’s simple or that it’s proven …  it’s that each day you get a new chance at bat – a fresh start.  Each day you wake up is another chance to ask the question,“What are three things you want for today?” … and so you write your story forward, one day at a time.
Today’s Assignment
  1. When an incoming action item comes your way, triage it and decide whether to Do ItQueue It,Schedule It, or Delegate It.
  2. Triage one of your stacks of things to do to whack it down to size.