Tasks, questions, and requests fly at you as a leader and sometimes it feels like it’s non-stop. Because these requests are coming from multiple sources, these items might be a high priority to the requestor, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a high priority for you. Understanding why you should define emergency will help you not only prioritize incoming requests but push back when things aren’t an emergency.

Defining Emergency

There should be one, maybe two major items that are in fact emergencies. This means that if this one thing happens, everything you are working on should come to a screeching halt so you can address it.

If you’re an e-commerce business and you do all of your business online, an emergency is if your website goes down or if you’re not able to process transactions.

For a brick and mortar business, an emergency is if there’s a fire at your place of business and you’re unable to open.

These are true emergencies and you should know what those are as a leader. This should be the only time you drop everything to address an incoming request.


By defining what an emergency means to you, you are able to quickly determine what is or isn’t a high priority. You’ll be prepared when new items come in and because you know that you don’t need to drop everything to address something, you can simply place it on a priority list and prioritize appropriately.

Related: How to use priority lists as a leadership tool

Pushing back on what other people feel are emergencies will help you keep your priorities and stress levels in check.

To hear an example of what a true emergency really looks like, listen to Travis Haldeman’s story about firefighting and surviving Route 91, the mass shooting that took place in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017.