Priorities and Triage

When my life gets crazy, which it is right now, it helps me to internalize what is most important and triage around that.

And I’m not just talking about what tasks to do and what not to do.

I’m also talking about prioritizing friends and family, exercise, eating right, communicating, and all the things that at one time or another in my life I have let slide in favor of work.

The triage is visible to people, of course, and saying no can be challenging.

I saw some friends last night and they invited me to a thing they are doing in a couple weeks. They said “would you like to come?” I said “No”. My friend said, “do you mean you can’t?” And I said “I just mean I won’t.” He got a chuckle out of it but when I’m in triage mode, I can be curt. I am working on that but sometimes it is easier to just say no and leave it at that.

This blog remains a priority for me and I continue to be able to post something here every day, generate some conversation, and, at times, unlock something for myself and/or some of you.

If you are feeling swamped like I am right now, it helps to take a second to think about what’s most important, do those things, and say no to everything else.


Comments (Archived):

  1. JimHirshfield

    I’d leave a pithy witty remark, but I have other priorities at the moment. Later.

    1. TeddyBeingTeddy

      “in the paralyzing fog of war, with bombs going off all around, you must relax, prioritize and execute.”-Jocko (SEAL)

      1. PhilipSugar

        Also a SEAL saying. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

  2. Jorge M. Torres

    It came out a while ago, but I still think “Essentialism” by Greg McKeon is the best book on today’s topic. When we have too many priorities, nothing is a priority. I’m going on a real vacation soon so will be saying “No” a lot in the coming days. 🙂

  3. Tom Labus

    At least you have the Raptors trade for Kawhi for diversion.

  4. William Mougayar

    I saw this on Twitter a few days ago, and love it:Make your priorities a priority.

  5. PhilipSugar

    You have to remind yourself two things: Saying no can be polite. If you say yes and then don’t come through that is much worse.Which leads me to my other point which is on a scale from 0 to 5 for every 5 = awesomeness you put down you need to have a 0 = no.

    1. LE

      What is always annoying to me is in the summer when people plan social events and then have this expectation that your normal summer plans (say a place at the shore or a boat) somehow should not matter. That you need to turn up at the event they scheduled. Meanwhile as anyone knows having a vacation spot on the East Coast typically results in way less than a full summer’s usage simply because of the way the weather is. So in 13 weeks you might be lucky to actually get 1/2 of that in ‘good’ weekends (or in the event of boating maybe even less). And people tend to think ‘no big deal you go every week’. Also while they would never expect you to cancel a much less expensive vacation you had paid for they think that a permanent vacation spot goes by some different set of rules.And one other important point about this. I found early on that you are only as good as the last thing you agreed to attend. So if you don’t attend the last event you often will still be viewed negatively. All the other attendances won’t matter. That is often the way people are.I don’t honestly know how someone who has a large network of friends even gets any downtime at all they must be constantly dragged from event to even at a whim.

      1. PhilipSugar

        We think too much alike. It is going to be a perfect weekend, come over to my pool! Well we have had shitty ones 4 weeks in a row, so no I don’t think so. Gosh he must not like me. The biggest thing that has changed is people are What ever happened to come out and hang if you want, don’t if you don’t.

        1. LE

          I will go a step further on this. I have a rule which is what I call ‘the rule of indefinite plans’. When I say I will be somewhere I will be there. For example with my wife (and the girl I dated before that) on the first date I said (to both) ‘we can go out next week and that will happen for sure’ (meaning I will not flake out). Later that helped because my now wife knew she couldn’t flake out on me. She actually told me that ‘I know you mean business and aren’t flaky’. Her parents are/were flaky so she liked that about me.But what I found is that when people setup social events way in advance they will then feel free to cancel them for some reason. But I don’t operate that way. So because of the ‘rule of indefinite plans’ I don’t like to make plans in advance. Because I hold to those plans and others don’t. So I am at a disadvantage.Lastly with boating I used to hate to setup for people to come out on the boat. Because if the weather isn’t perfect I don’t want to go out on the boat. But people want a firm commitment ‘we are coming down’. And then they get disappointed if you don’t show them a good time etc. It is supposed to be relaxation not a charter or a job. Not that I don’t understand the other side but I still don’t like it.I noticed Fred had done a post where he talks about weekends where ‘the family is over’. That is his way of saying (the way I read it) ‘this is the weekend everyone comes over to visit and we get it out of the way’. A good system.When I was younger my parents bought a very small place specifically so nobody would expect to stay there. It was to small. It was the 70’s and when my Mom’s sister heard she thought ‘oh great we can use it!’. Like sure you beat your brains everyday to pay for a vacation place and anyone can use it then. [1][1] Understand that there are other people that are cool with that but I am not one of those unless for whatever reason I offer it.

          1. Teren Botham

            I have been following avc comments more than the posts by Fred for a long time now .LE , I sure can tell you still are missing your ex-girlfriend .

  6. Jim Chappell

    Your triage post rings true when I consider with my conversations with entrepreneurs in that it’s perhaps the most critical thing to FOCUS, which requires making that the priority. And, of course, there are times when that FOCUS is much more intense than others. And, just like in early-stage selling a FAST NO saves everyone.

  7. falicon

    The other key is “delegate”.Tomorrow is coming no matter what…with or without us…it’ll be fine.

  8. Glenn Whitney

    It’s often more effective to say: “I can’t unfortunately.” Or sometimes even bettter: “I’d like to, but I can’t, unfortunately.”

    1. K_Berger

      The message to yourself is different. “I won’t” means I made an active choice to prioritize. “I can’t” implies it is beyond my control.

      1. PhilipSugar

        More importantly it is the honest answer. I am not into transparency. I am into honesty. I have people ask me questions and I say the answer is I am not going to answer. Can I tell you every employees salary? Yes. Will I? No I won’t. (although I pay people as if everyone knows)People know. If it is your top priority can you? Sure, I can fly to Sydney tonight and I have done on that kind of notice. But bottom line I won’t if it is not my top priority.

      2. Glenn Whitney

        Yes. There are many things that I would do if I had an extra 2-3 hours of available time.

  9. Joe Marchese

    To clarify things, I ask people what they are committed to. Often the commitment is undeclared, so much a part of them that they are not even aware of it. Once the commitments become distinct, decisions are (almost) easy.”The only man who is really free is the one who can turn down an invitation to dinner without giving any excuse.” — Jules Renard

  10. Pointsandfigures

    Trimming back allows you to go full force on what you need to accomplish. If people don’t understand, well that’s too bad. I am not thinking this is the Knicks, but the fact the Mets may lose deGrom. That guy has a heater.

  11. mfeinstein

    One of my mentors in the VC business told me that sometimes you have to “cancel the uncancellable”

  12. jason wright


  13. David A. Frankel

    Thank you for giving a name to a state of being many of us experience from time to time.And I don’t seeing it as being curt — I like to rationalize it as being “efficient with your words.” I’m sure those that “get” you appreciate it.

  14. Jaikant Kumaran

    Wow great! Speaks a ton about how much importance you give to speak your mind on this blog! The words here are then pure gold.

  15. BSchildt

    I feel like I keep reading the same blog post over and over from successful people who choose to continue to work after they are financially able to not work. By “prioritizing friends and family, exercise, eating right, communicating” you are saying that your health, friends and family come first. Unlike those of us who must work, it is your choice to determine your workload. I look forward to the day when I can say “yes” to every event my friends invite me to, because events with friends beat work every time. My advice, from one does not have your freedom, is to say “No, I won’t” to whatever work commitment is keeping you from seeing your friends.

  16. JLM

    .In my prime as a CEO (two different companies, public, private, multi-unit, multi-state operating businesses), I used to be at work by 6:15, work on Saturdays, and stuff in a little work on Sunday mornings. Made it to the pay window.I got a lot of stuff done. I was driven to a degree it would be difficult to imagine. I got stuff done that was beyond my wildest imagination.I had 1-3 assistants and kept 2 MBAs busy working on acquisitions. I had a good staff with an extraordinary CFO – an indulgence. I knew how to delegate and I did with a vengeance. I had an airplane and could fly anywhere I needed to go, thereby stretching my working day immensely.Too late in life, I learned that if I had never worked on a single Friday, Saturday, or Sunday I would have accomplished exactly the same things. I would have had to make a few changes, but I could have been just as productive.However, I would have had time to pursue things I wanted to pursue, like writing. When I stopped being a CEO (of course, I started another business to keep my hand in the game), I went back and made this realization.Luckily, at a critical time in my life I’d sold a business and had a 5-year non-compete which allowed me to do all the essential family stuff I wanted to do. It was a God send. I coached my kids through middle school.I made the decision to sell in no small part because I was stricken deathly ill. It forced me to find perspective.I tell you this not to suggest that it is illuminating for anyone else. I admit with all humility it worked out for me, but if I never worked on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday it would all have turned out the same.I was my own worst enemy. Do not wait to learn this.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. Tom Labus

      A lots of guys I knew putting in 18 hour days just didn’t want to go home. You are on your game only so many hours per day/week. Important to know that.

    2. LE

      Too late in life, I learned that if I had never worked on a single Friday, Saturday, or Sunday I would have accomplished exactly the same things.Maybe yes and maybe no. In retrospect that is what people say, and it’s literally a cliche on the deathbed, “I’d be in the same place if I had worked less”.So let me give the other perspective.My ex wife used to ‘hock’ me constantly to come down and spend time with her at the pool. She used to constantly berade me to not work on weekends (in the 90’s) and instead take time off. The things I did during that time are directly linked to the money that I have made over the past 20 years. If anything I wish I had spent more time on those things since I’d have more ‘winnings’ now.My ex girlfriend in college did the same. At that time I always put school work first (and work for that matter). One case she and her family were invited up to the cabin of a wealthy friend of her father. I finally caved to going but said I was not going to go out with them for the day I think they went fishing. Instead I stayed in the cabin all by myself and continue to study. And it payed off I managed to get into a better college and the degree I got and the college have helped me tremendously. Perhaps even allowing me to marry a woman that is out of my league. Do I know that I wouldn’t have ended up in the same place if I had taken off that one day? Who knows sometimes things are decided in sports by 1 point, right? So you work as hard as you can. Then there were the times that I worked 7 days a week (and actually in a way I still pretty much do that). All the time everyone is constantly hassling me. However those people will not be around (as I like to say) ‘to clean up the mess’. The sister in law who wants you at her party is not going to ever bail you out if things go south. That is my attitude. Ditto for pretty much anyone. My kids don’t care now that I missed games or school events. They do care that I help them pay for their expensive apartment in NYC.Anyway my point is I can clearly see how what I did in retrospect was right. Because in business (and you know this) you have to overshoot and not everything turns out positive. So it’s not like being on an hourly wage where you can ‘dial back a bit’ and still be basically ok.That said (and to one of your points) my health and exercise is always at the very top even above work. That has always been the case. Because if you are not healthy none of that matter. (And no yoga or meditation either btw I just exercise).

      1. Andrew Cashion

        your sports analogy is very true. I’ve heard countless stories of players losing or missing by one shot, including major championships, mini tours, or missing by one on a monday after going 8 under. When you come across a great player the only thing that stands out is not how their raw talent makes them, its their desire to compete, to play the game, because they love it. Even coaches of great players if you ask them what makes them great? They cant necessarilly tell you. I will say much of it seems to create monsters that must do their work.

    3. LE

      I made the decision to sell in no small part because I was stricken deathly ill. It forced me to find perspective.Wow I am really sorry to hear this by the way.My Dad had an issue when I was in high school and that is part of the reason that health is always at the top of my list. Above family, business and money. And I’ve passed on many opportunities keeping that in mind (and not wanting to resort to drugs of any type (pot or alcohol included) in order to manage the stress). Working a great deal isn’t stressful (probably the opposite it reduces stress) simply because I over alot time and enjoy working and don’t exceed (important) my base capabilities.

    4. Lawrence Brass

      I have learned this several times in my life, sometimes the hard way, but then I forget. I have so many things to do yet. Thanks for the reminder.

    5. george

      Thank you JLM – Very helpful advice! I have to do a better job of challenging myself – do I really need to work weekends…

  17. LE

    I can be curt. I am working on that but sometimes it is easier to just say no and leave it at that.Easier? It depends on whether you care about the feelings of the person you are replying to or care if they think you are rude. (If I read what you are saying literally).Let’s use what I have called ‘the Governor’ example. That is where I decide what would happen if someone really important did the same thing. Would I act the same or would they treat me the same (in reverse)?In your case if ‘the Governor’ asked you the same question how would you react? (Or someone very important that you don’t know super well is my point). Would you say ‘no’? Or would you show respect for that person (and their feelings) by taking the time to wrap what you mean in some words to convey that you care about them? My guess is that you would.This is similar to when someone invites you to a party that you don’t want to go to. You don’t say just ‘no’ and you certainly don’t tell them the truth. Such as ‘I honestly don’t like you enough to cancel my weekend plans for your party’. Right? Nobody would say that. Instead you say something and even if the person knows you are lying you have shown (and this is important) respect for their feelings. People like that. It’s all about respect. And it’s so easy to do. Sometimes this is obvious in the other direction. The guy who cuts your lawn asks you out for dinner and wants to hang out. You realize it would be a big mistake to just say ‘no’. You’d probably say a bit more to soften the blow.Along these lines in my comments here (and in my email communications with people from all walks of life (and I really mean that)) I try to always deal in a respectful manner as if they are all important. Maybe not as important as I would if it was ‘the Governor’ but pretty close to it. I think I am up there in the 90’s with this (for good measure I will acknowledge that I slip up I guess).I have noticed that people will always give you deference here (some would call it ‘sucking up’) that they don’t give to other commenters. It is so obvious and I wonder if you notice it? One person in particular actually is king of this.Anytime I catch myself wanting to ‘rip a 3rd asshole’ to someone by replying to a comment I always think first ‘would I answer Fred that way’ and that usually manages to get me back to the way I should be communicating.Along these lines when working on a deal recently I had another person who was frustrated and actually said to me ‘I am not your whipping boy’. Luckily he said that to me and I wrote back and told him he shouldn’t be saying things like that and he was making a big mistake in treating a client like that. (He ended up making a $100k fee which if I hadn’t done what I did he would have lost the fee for sake of that one event of acting out of line and burned a business relationship). [1][1] I am only pointing this out to show that I actually practice what I say here in my comments it’s not theory. Sure I stood to gain but emotionally it was difficult to not just tell him to FU at that point and I did consider that.

  18. BillMcNeely

    It’s really hard to say no to family but my wife and I did 3 weeks ago. We allowed family to move in and after 10 months it was too much. It was affecting our budget, our marriage and what we wanted to do as a couple and my PTSD. We had 9 people and 4 dogs living in a 1200 sq foot house. We had to move into 2300 sq ft house. We were picking up the bill for all this. If I did not Uber, we could not eat. We kept setting deadlines but they kept passing . Finally I just rented a Uhaul for July 1st and told everybody I was packing up their stuff on that date if they were not out. July 1st came people were out but not their stuff. I told them to come get their stuff or it would be on the curb . They got the message. Our house is quiet our budget has improved and we can do things we want to do.

    1. LE

      Wow that is the type of stress that ends up not only impacting a relationship but also your health. It’s actually unfortunate but also lucky in a way that it was so bad that you ended up putting an end to it.

  19. Ron Shah

    We all have this feeling of “time escaping”… I wonder how much it has to do with screen time. If we get all of our news via Twitter, do all our reading via web articles, and do all of our writing on the phone…… I tried going “screen free” for 48 hours and it did something…. it actually created new time & space around me. Give it a shot.

  20. Matt Zagaja

    I volunteer for an organization and recently a bunch of core team members came to me excited about an idea. On its merits it was a solid idea but required way more work than I had time for. Nothing is harder than saying no to a good idea about something people feel is important.

  21. johndodds

    I love your friend’s response.Made me wonder if you could develop a phrase like “It’s a triage no from me” that gets the message across as briefly without you feeling curt?Obviously this is exactly the wrong time for you to have to think about that, but I mention it for your future consideration. Above all, stay healthy.

  22. karen_e

    Etiquette books offer a supply of polite but firm “no” statements to the willing learner. AVC readers may particularly enjoy the “businessman” section in this free online Emily Post book from 1922 …