Triage (`tree-ozh), from French, “to sort.”
1. A process for sorting injured people into groups based on their need for or likely benefit from immediate medical treatment. Triage is used in hospital emergency rooms, on battlefields, and at disaster sites when limited medical resources must be allocated.
2. A system used to allocate a scarce commodity, such as food, only to those capable of deriving the greatest benefit from it.
3. A process in which things are ranked in terms of importance or priority. (From The American Heritage Dictionary)
Here’s our first piece of wisdom. You might want to write this down and put it on your bathroom mirror:
You can’t do everything.
There’s no way for you to work all the hours to get all the money you need, AND make straight “A”s in school, AND maintain an intimate walk with God, AND pour yourself out in fruitful ministry, AND develop an impressive resume, AND see to the needs of your spouse and family, AND develop a network of friendships to support you AND get the rest, exercise and proper nutrition you need.
It’s just not possible. The time and energy demands for each of these endeavors is much too great for one person. So please give up on this now. It is a pipe dream. If you are a perfectionist, read the last paragraph again.
What we must decide is what to say no to. Since you can’t do everything, there are some things that simply will not get the attention they need. The earlier you reconcile yourself to that raw fact, the better off you’ll be.
Learning to Say Yes, No, and Wait.
Ever been to an emergency room on a Friday night? The waiting area is often crammed with injured, sometimes bleeding, people. Why are they there? Can’t they get any service?
If you are injured and go to an emergency room, your first stop will be to see the triage nurse. He or she will quickly evaluate you and decide how urgent your condition is. This will determine when you receive treatment. If you are about to die, you’ll probably be seen immediately. If your injuries are not life-threatening, however, be prepared to wait. It’s not unusual for some people to wait in the emergency room for 8 hours to be seen, while others are whisked back and are seen in minutes. It’s not a fair system at all.
Compare this to a customer service call center. While you’re on hold, the recorded message tells you that “your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.” Or, compare it to the customer service counter in a department store. There’s a line. The next person in line gets served. It’s fair. Everyone gets treated equally.
The triage nurse is generally not a popular person with people in the waiting room. But it is her job to attend to the most important things first. She is responsible to see that the hospital’s resources are managed so that lives are saved. If emergency rooms were like customer service centers—first-come, first-served—then people would be dying of heart attacks in the waiting room as the doctors give their attention to cuts and scrapes. Triage is an unpopular, but critically important task.
You need to manage your life like an emergency room, not a customer service center. You need to learn to tell people to sit and wait. You need to learn to practice triage with time, tasks and relationships.This will take some toughness and determination. If you are a wuss about this, and say yes to everything, you might as well give up now. You are a sure candidate for burning out. Better to quit while you still have your soul intact.
But if you’re serious about ministry, it’s important that you learn triage early. Because once you’re out of seminary, life in ministry is the same. There are always more people to see and tasks to perform than you have time for. You will practice triage or you will burn out.
Try this idea, borrowed from Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week. For two days, say no to every request you receive, no matter how large or small. (Exceptions for God, spouse and boss permitted…although even the boss needs to be told no occasionally.)
“Can you help me bring in this box?” No.
“Do you have a second?” No.
“We’re having a party and…” No.
What is this, cruelty? No. Saying no is a good habit to develop, because it requires guts.If you’re gutless, start telling people no. Remember: you’re not doing it to be a jerk, you’re doing it so you can say yes to the important things.
Try it. Let me know how it goes.