5 Critical Triage Techniques Guaranteed to Skyrocket Your Success

by Alli Polin on August 15, 2017

Most people think that the goal is to move up the invisible ladder they’re climbing until they get to the top. The challenge is that they don’t notice when the rungs change. The footholds that they mastered at the bottom of the ladder are dramatically different from the ones they need to acquire to keep climbing. 

As a new change management consultant, I deepened my knowledge and implemented day in and day out. 

As a new change management manager,  I still implemented but also helped my team be and do their best to implement too. (Not to mention, I became a Work Plan Ninja)

Finally, as a new Vice President, it took me a while to realize that my job was no longer the doing… it was creating the space and clearing the path for others – a skill that many organizational managers never practice or master. 

When the ladder rungs change, it can be tough to find your footing again. However, there is one skill that you need to keep in the forefront as you continue onwards and upwards – triage

I know, triage doesn’t sound like a very sexy skill or one we talk a lot about when it comes to great leadership, entrepreneurship or small business management. 

This weekend, it was a trip to the ER that reminded me just how critical triage is to an effective organization.

For some reason, in my family, most people are healthy and injury free Monday – Friday until about 5:00 PM when the doctor closes. When problems strike, our only choice is the ER along with gazillions of other people. 

This weekend, we stood in line at the triage desk for over 30 minutes with four people in front of us and three behind us. Finally, one of the nurses popped out and asked, “What’s your issue?”

There was a woman with a bad cough, a cyst, severe shortness of breath and concern about heart problems, a likely broken finger, a footy injury and someone who was wearing a towel to catch their puke. 

The nurse pulled the person with the broken finger from the back of the line to bring her in and relieve her pain. Not who I would have grabbed first, but it reminded me of the importance of effective triage. 

Most executives I know are running from meeting to meeting, fielding request after request, and making decision after decision all day long. (The smart ones are also carving out time for 1x1s with their team and white space too). 

When the demands come pouring in for your time and input, how do you triage? First come first served can lead to a waiting room filled with puke and heart attacks while you’re pulling out a lozenge for someone’s cough or taping a finger. 

5 Critical Triage Techniques to Skyrocket Your Success

Diagnose then Defer, Delegate or Deal

Gather some quick and dirty information before you quickly go down one of three paths. 1) You need to deal with this, just not now = Defer 2) This needs to be dealt with sooner than later OR you just don’t have the capacity = Delegate 3) This is an urgent issue, you’re the right person, and it needs your attention now = Deal. 

Don’t Get Stuck on Your To-Do List

Letting your to-do list rule the day is a first come first served technique that prioritizes the known over the unknown. Allow for some movement. Rigid lists may get things done, but not always what needs to get done NOW. 


Prioritize Based on Urgency and Impact, Not Wait Time

Leaders feel bad when some people and actions get deferred over and over. Unfortunately, wait time alone isn’t a reason to move something up the list. If something’s getting deferred time and time again, it’s time to take a look to see if it’s time to delegate or go to the most powerful triage tool in your arsenal – Delete. 

Hello, Team! 

When it’s just you trying to be all and do all, it’s exhausting, overwhelming and impossible. The line at the hospital didn’t move until another nurse showed up to help with the triage. Tap into your trusted team members to make good decisions, defer, delegate, deal and delete too.  



When you do defer, let people know that they, their needs, and plans are not forgotten. I watched people going up to the triage desk once an hour at the hospital to make sure they didn’t slip through the cracks. If only during a lull a nurse would catch someone’s eye and tell them, “We haven’t forgotten about you. Hang in there.” People would wait and know, you matter too. 

How have you used triage to focus on what matters most and not only what’s screaming the loudest?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™ August 15, 2017 at 6:08 am

Bam Bam and Bam Alli. The concept of triage is so vibrant and that is a tangible skill that all can learn in dealing with and leading change.

Truly great post!
I will share this widely.


Alli Polin August 15, 2017 at 6:16 am

Many thanks, Kate! It’s one that people miss when they’re trying to juggle too many things at once. There’s definitely a better way forward.




Gary Gruber August 15, 2017 at 7:14 am

Downright delightful! Triage lightens the load because everything doesn’t carry the same weight or urgency. Having the skill to sort so that appropriate “treatment” is given to everyone comes with training, practice and experience. Your genius is taking an “ordinary” experience and turning it into an “extraordinary” opportunity for learning and growing. Thanks!


Alli Polin August 15, 2017 at 8:37 am

I can remember trying to do it all, being constantly double booked and not making the impact I was there to make. Thank goodness I made a change! I see it a lot with my clients too. Triage helps. Plain and simple.

Also, it keeps life interesting to see leadership lessons everywhere. They’re there for the taking and the learning 🙂

Thanks, Gary!



Joy Guthrie August 15, 2017 at 8:52 am

Triage is a terrific skill to have and nourish. Terrific advice Alli.


Alli Polin August 15, 2017 at 9:16 am

Thanks so much, Joy. Your feedback means a lot to me.



Terri Klass August 15, 2017 at 9:58 am

I love your quick job aid- “The 5 “D’s” of Effective Triage” because the chart is so helpful and yet simple to follow! I have been in situations where so many people were pulling on me that I didn’t know what to do. I actually became paralyzed. Whenever I feel that “pull” stepping back can bring new perspective and empower me to find the answers. Not everything is a tragedy or urgent.

I definitely will share today! Thanks Alli for synthesizing how we can best prioritize in our professional and personal lives!


Alli Polin August 15, 2017 at 10:15 pm

It’s very much in line with your post this week about when we feel things are spinning out of control. When we triage, we realize we don’t have to handle everything – especially not all at once.

Thanks, Terri!



John Bennett August 15, 2017 at 10:37 pm

In an ER, the nature of things make urgency a more frequent encounter for sure. I get that… Impact intertwined with urgency.

I happen to agree with the late Stephen Covey [yes, again …] who suggested that that, when possible, importance be addressed before it’s urgent. Leaders not associated with ER should seek to minimize things becoming urgent while concentrating on importance.


Alli Polin August 16, 2017 at 6:00 am

Fantastic advice, John. The emphasis in the ER is absolutely on urgency. As leaders impact is where we should lead the charge. Appreciate your insight!



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