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Workforce Skills of the Future: #1 - Time Management & Triage

The cloud, connectivity, and collaboration are just three of the factors shaping work in this century. Throw in the explosion of mobile and other smart devices and it’s easy to see that customer service will be facing some ongoing challenges.

How will organizations choose the right people and teams to meet these challenges? What will they look for? What skills are innate—and which can be learned?

As the workforce continues to evolve in order to deliver world-class customer service and support to the social customer, it will be important to have 21st century skills to meet the expectations and match the pace of demand.  This is the first in a series of articles about the traits and techniques that will help organizations hire and train the employees best suited for customer service and support.

Skill #1: Time Management & Triage

Employees dealing with complex problems will benefit from the ability to:

Fight cognitive overload.

It would seem that the ability to deal with a lot of information would be a valuable skill. But as technology gives us ever more sophisticated information on lots of channels, we must now guard against getting too much—an overload—that leads to distraction. Stressful multitasking is not useful, and trying to absorb data that is aggregated and/or sliced and diced every which way becomes an impediment to success rather than a benefit.

Know how to focus and filter information to decide how to prioritize tasks.

Being able to organize tasks and navigate from most important toward least important – it’s what they call “Study Skills” in the K-12 educational system, and in health care it’s referred to as “triage.” Good CRM tools (like!) build prioritization right into the product, which helps channel workflow without conscious decisions most of the time. However, while there are plenty of tools to assist in organizing, filtering, and triage, it’s probably a topic that should be a substantial chunk of a job interview in customer service.

Know the difference between urgent and important.

A subset of being organized and understanding how to triage, is knowledge of how to sort tasks that present themselves with urgency. Lots of tasks are urgent, which can mimic importance. Workers have to know the difference. This is an issue that has been addressed by many successful businesspeople, thought leaders, and writers.
In Stephen Covey’s book, First Things First, there’s a 2 x 2 matrix that is designed to pinpoint whether a task is urgent, important, or some mixture of the two. It should be on the wall of every office or cubicle:

Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important

Quadrant 2: Important, but not Urgent

Quadrant 3: Urgent but not Important

Quadrant 4: Neither Urgent nor Important

Know how to slow down and actively eliminate distractions.

The authors of Rework:

"If a task doesn’t get done this very instant, nobody is going to die. Nobody’s going to lose their job. It won’t cost the company a ton of money. What it will do is create artificial stress, which leads to burnout and worse."

They also advocate for fewer meetings, silent workdays, and allowing workers the freedom to get work done when and where they want. This is not a framework, of course, that will work for customer service teams. But there are plenty of ways to create a culture where your workers know that they are free to create their own efficient workflow and productivity systems for a good balance.

Here are some resources for more information on Time Management & Triage skills:

Important vs. Urgent:

Is That Task Important or Merely Urgent? by Michael Hyatt, Intentional Leadership

More article titles from Hyatt’s blog:

  • What I Learned About To-Do Lists from My Eight-Year-Old Son
  • When You Feel Overwhelmed by Your Workload
  • Are You Tired of Feeling Overwhelmed
  • Your To-Do List as a Personal Command Center

First Things First by Stephen Covey

Cognitive Overload:

Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson

Find Your Focus Zone: An Effective New Plan to Defeat Distraction and Overload


Meditation: How to Reduce Stress, Get Healthy, and Find Your Happiness in Just 15 Minutes a Day [Paperback] by Rachel J. Rofe

Meditation for Dummies by Stephen Bodian

Triage Skills:

Training Triage: Performance-Based Solutions Amid Chaos, Confusion, and Change by Lou Russell (Seven years old, but still packed with useful techniques)

Organizational Strategies for the Overwhelmed: How to manage your time, space, & priorities to work smart, get results, & be happy by JoAnne Corley

Time Management:

Perfect is the enemy of done, a blog post by team member, Greg Meyer

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