The Risks and Rewards of Time Management Triage

As of September 22 at 10:30 PM,  Summer 2014 ended and Autumn officially began.  September is a hectic month for many,  as projects that have been in limbo since June,  because completion would require more time and energy than the principals could muster during July and August,  are resumed.  September is when you pick up the thread and work toward a pre-Christmas victory.  It is time for you to evaluate both work responsibilities and social invitations and decide who and what are worth your scarce time and energy.

One must learn to triage,  as emergency room physicians and nurses do,  and give ourselves permission to prioritize and move forward with what has either value or consequences and ignore what and whom are a waste of time or a low-risk write-off.  Following this strategy is not without its own set of consequences and depending on who is tugging at your sleeve,  things can get uncomfortable.  Please,  allow me to rant for a minute.

At various times in my life,  I’ve had the misfortune of interacting with one or more disrespectful,  manipulative,  boundary-crashing and supremely entitled time-sucking vampires who shamelessly and relentlessly took every opportunity to control my time and hence,  my life.  These were personal relationships and thankfully not work relationships,  but the scenario was no less stressful just because a paycheck and professional advancement were not at stake.  I am inclined to believe that women encounter this problem more often than do men.  Sadly,  both women and men will disrespect women on a regular basis.

Be advised that failing to triage one’s time also entails consequences.  The only way to have the time to fulfill important responsibilities and also participate in activities that you enjoy is to neutralize the time-suckers.  It will not be easy.  These folks are determined to get their way and they do not give up without a fight.  Expect wheedling and pestering and be prepared for possible escalation to accusations,  emotional blackmail,  harassment,  lies and guilting.  Whatever you do,  never give in to a campaign for attention and control.

But I am getting melodramatic here.  The situation is not always so heavy.  It’s just that you must recognize that you are not obligated to do everything that you’ve been asked to do,  because it’s impossible.  Your first qualifier is doing what will bring consequences if you ignore it.  Taxes come to mind,  along with deadlines for important work projects.  Activities and special occasions that involve your children and spouse will closely follow in priority and and events that involve your parents,  siblings and close friends will occupy the next tier.

Less pressing work projects,  volunteer commitments,  acquaintances and relatives whom you like are the next level down and anyone after that can take a number.   You may decide to decline or ignore their requests because quite honestly,  they are not sufficiently important to you.  If Uncle Stanley is a mean-spirited idiot who enjoys undermining people,   why would you waste time going to his birthday party?  Do not let your mother guilt you into it.

According to Ed Battista,  executive coach and instructor at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA,  the key to making time management triage work is acknowledging the emotional aspects involved in saying no or ignoring people.  Attempting to assume an intellectual approach may not be useful,  for reasons that I’ve mentioned above.  The time-suckers are masters of arm-twisting and no one wants to be portrayed as cold and callous.

Battista recommends that we must aim to expand our comfort with discomfort.  Difficult emotions and awkward  “scenes”  will no doubt have to be managed in the triage process and that is a by-product of our need to control and allot our time and energy as we see fit.  Among the skills that may be helpful is acquiring the vocabulary to communicate how overwhelmed our current responsibilities make us feel and how the prospect of additional obligations will make us feel.  The line of people demanding attention may be long,  but we must learn to say a kind,  but firm “no” when it makes sense to do so.

Thanks for reading,



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