Work Smarter – Not Harder

Learn to Prioritize with 5 Simple Questions

As an entrepreneur you sometimes have to make many decisions very quickly – and more often than not it feels like the emergencies are following one after the other. So who best to learn from than the emergency room? Read on, keep your wits and get your life back by using my Entrepreneurial Efficiency Saver Index.

Set your priorities right

Life as an entrepreneur is fun and very fulfilling. But it can be very exhausting. There are times when it all gets to you: the demands, tasks and questions that never cease to arrive. I know. I’ve been there myself. But then I remember the E.R. and how it saved my life – but not the way you think!

Last year, just before went live and life got crazy, a friend of mine told me about a system called Emergency Severity Index (ESI) that doctors and nurses use in the emergency room to stay sane. Because in the E.R., people have to deal with, well, obviously, emergencies on a daily basis. As emergencies tend to, they are unexpected and unforeseeable. And they all seem to be very, very urgent. So how should they be dealt with? Doctors and nurses deal with this intense workplace situation every day – with a simple scale of 5 steps.

Triage at the E.R.

As soon as an emergency arrives, they assess its urgency by looking at the patient’s symptoms and then set their priorities. According to the Emergency Severity Index (ESI), there are five levels of emergencies.

  • Level 1: Immediate. Life-saving intervention required without delay.
  • Level 2: Emergent. High risk of deterioration, or signs of a time-critical problem.
  • Level 3: Urgent. Stable, with multiple types of resources needed to investigate or treat.
  • Level 4: Less Urgent. Stable, with only one type of resource anticipated.
  • Level 5: Nonurgent. Stable, with no resources anticipated.

According to the medical model of triage, I have come up with my own method for business triage, which I will call Entrepreneurial Efficiency Saver Index. Read on to learn more!

The Entrepreneurial Efficiency Saver Index

Whenever a new task, demand or question comes in, I refer to my own hacked version of the Emergency Severity Index and ask myself the following 5 questions.

1. Is it a matter of life and death?

Will my business seriously suffer if I don’t react to a message right now, this second? Usually it doesn’t. Better stay focused on the task you’ve been working on and let the message sit in your mailbox until you’re ready.

2. If I don’t deal with this very soon, will my business deteriorate?

Put it another way: What are the risks of NOT dealing with this task very soon? Will my team or my clients seriously suffer if I don’t work on it within the next half hour? Whatever the answer here: go on to question number 3.

3. Who will need to get involved to deal with it?

Who and what do I need to investigate the problem or complete the task? This is a crucial question and the number one mistake entrepreneurs make: we don’t delegate****. Either because we don’t trust anyone else to do it right, or because we know everyone else is busy as is. Whatever the motif: You’re likely to be wrong. Let’s get back to the E.R. for a second: A heart surgeon would never even think about doing the work of the anesthetist or even do an x-ray. Now think of your business again: who really is the right person to deal with this problem? If it is not one but several persons, you need start organizing soon – because the more people involved, the earlier you should start talking to them. If it’s just you and yourself, go on to question number 4.

4. How much time will I need to complete the task?

Time is your most precious resource and you should treat it with respect. Try and assess a time frame for each task. And always keep in mind: things usually take longer than you think. Be generous – you won’t regret it.

5. What is the latest deadline for the task?

When does the task become a matter of life and death? Please, don’t let it get that far. Don’t create unnecessary level 1 emergencies. But it is important to know when you should have really dealt with it at the latest. And then move the deadline a bit closer to now to give it a buffer zone. Because, remember, everything takes longer than you think. Really. It does.

And then: Communicate your priorities!

At the E.R., you don’t want to be a level 3 emergency - waiting times are horrendous**.** Obviously, no one actually wants to be Level 1 either. But the usual waiting times in the E.R. are not what you’d like your clients or your team to experience. As an entrepreneur, you’ll have to do better – because, unlike in the E.R., your clientele might just be able to walk away and find help elsewhere. So, the very first thing I do after assessing a task with the EESI is the following: I tell my clients and team members what they should expect. Who will get involved, how long it might take and what deadline I assigned to the task.

Using the EESI, my life doesn’t feel like an E.R. anymore. Instead of dealing with emergencies on a daily basis, I can separate the real emergencies from the fake ones. Instead, I make my deadlines and still stay sane and relaxed. Because that’s what happens when you work smarter.

Yours Faithfully,


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