Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Triage: A Life Principle

As a mom/writer/wife/gamer/blogger/amatuer cook, one of the most frequent questions I get is "How do you do it all?" Or the ever-so-close "How do you find time?"

In fact, Becky Wallace commented just today on my last post:
I'm amazed that you can crank out so much work with all that you have going on in your life (ie children, husband, housework).

Will you do a post titled "A Day in the Life of Natalie" so that I can pattern my day after yours? Do you sleep? Eat? Shower? You look healthy and normal and so not greasy!
To which I say "HA!" Oh, Becky, you sweetheart. You really, really wouldn't want to pattern your day after mine. It would mostly consist of bickering kids, poopy diapers, messes, trying to fit in a blog post, and the occasional pithy tweet. Okay, not pithy, more like borderline asinine (hehe, asinine). Oh, and then there's that writing thing...

I know that picture of me in the sidebar is very pretty—I blame that on Michelle. She even photoshopped all my zits and smoothed out my back fat! Thank goodness for photographers—but I promise I don't roll out of bed with that charming smile and perfect lighting. (In all seriousness, sometimes I wonder how much Photoshop has altered our view of humans and the world in general. Normal humanity seems to have become rather...visually disappointing in comparison to over-edited everything.)

But anyway, as completely imperfect as I am, I do have something to say in the way of "How do you do it all?" It's simply this:

I don't.

We all know how emergency rooms work. You go in, some dudes at the front assess how much trouble you're in, and then you sit around forever (or are admitted immediately if you're bleeding on the cheap-looking-yet-expensive carpet). Well, life is basically an emergency room, too, except with less vomiting and blood (hopefully).

And no emergency room would be complete without triage. It's an age-old strategy, but if you're not familiar let's do that definition thing:

Triage: 1. The action of sorting according to quality. 2. (in medical use) the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treament of a large number of patients or casualties.

So while triage can sometimes sound or be brutal, it is designed to keep as many people living as possible. It is designed for the greater good, though sometimes it might not be in your favor (or fun). Yes, sometimes triage fails. Sometimes people are misdiagnosed or prioritized wrong. It is certainly not a perfect system, but it works and there's a lot to learn from it. Because really, triage is about priorities.

I am not always productive. Heck, I haven't been super productive for at least six weeks, honestly. But I find that the times I am productive are usually also the times I am prioritizing—the times I'm applying triage to my life. Which is precisely what I'm trying to do right now.

Let's face it, there are some things in life that come before others. For me, my mental, physical, and spiritual well-being are absolutely #1. I know it may sound selfish, but when I don't take care of myself in those ways everything else suffers because I don't have the stamina or emotional strength to face life.

Second for me is family, or at least I know it should be. I try very hard to care for them first, to make sure they are happy and healthy. Third is church. Fourth is writing. Fifth is blogging...notice I haven't mentioned cleaning yet.

What happens when you let your triage get out of order? What happens when you're treating all the fever patients and letting that girl with the bullet wound bleed out corner?

Well, people die, that's what. And in your life it's kind of the same thing. Not death, per se, but if you don't tend to the most important things first, then your well-being suffers. I know because I've been there. I constantly have to put my priorities back in order. It's shocking how easy it is to start thinking the smaller things are more important.

So let's take a look at a hypothetical day in the life of me, and I will decide how it should ideally get triage (though I must admit some days I suck at it):

To Do:
Drop Dino Boy off at preschool
Make Breakfast
Spiritual Routine
Pick Dino Boy up from preschool
Make Lunch
Do laundry
Make Dinner
Attend church actvity
Attend writing activity
Play WoW with Nick
Watch Anime
Critique manuscripts
Take library books back

Okay, I think that's a decent list. Also, please imagine that I must tackle all this while entertaining children/stopping them from killing each other/changing diapers. Now, when I'm on my game, I would organize my day like this:

Early Morning:
Spiritual Routine
Make Breakfast
Drop Dino Boy off at preschool
Take library books back

Late Morning (with Dino Boy gone):
Write/edit (once I get Ninja Girl settled with a movie)
Crit Manuscripts
Blog (if I have time)

Early Afternoon:
Pick Dino Boy up from preschool
Make lunch (so the Dino Boy doesn't whine me to death)
Dishes and other cleaning

Late Afternoon:
Crit manuscripts (if I haven't finished my daily goal and I can get the kids to behave long enough)
Blog (if I didn't get it in earlier and I can get the kids to behave long enough)
Make dinner (so it's ready when Nick gets home)

Attend church activity (foregoing writing activity, sadly)
Play WoW with Nick

So there's a pretty decent day, right? I fit almost everything on the list in—and it even sounds fairly doable. But let's imagine for a second that I decided to play WoW in the morning...and then it was so fun I kept playing through half the afternoon. And then I'm like, "Crap! I didn't blog or write! But writing with both the kids...yeah right." So I blog, but I didn't do my writing, and then I get on Twitter and watch some YouTube videos and, bam, it's almost time for Nick to get home and I haven't started dinner!

That's what happens when you don't triage your life—it gets all crazy and chaotic. I mean, life is always that way, but triage helps control it. When I put my priorities in line, I'm always shocked at how much I do and how much extra time I have! And then at the end of the day, I can sit down and do something fun like movies or games without feeling guilty for the things I didn't do.

I wish I did this more. I mean, it feels great and it honestly makes life simpler. But I'm lazy. I don't always want to wake up and do everything I should. It's a lesson I've had to learn over and over. Triage works.

If you are feeling stress over getting stuff done, I highly recommend stepping back and taking stock of where your time is going. Likely, a little triage will put things back in order.


  1. "I wish I did this more. I mean, it feels great and it honestly makes life simpler. But I'm lazy. I don't always want to wake up and do everything I should. It's a lesson I've had to learn over and over. Triage works."

    I need to print that out and post it over my desk or something. You are so right! And I know it, but somehow I can't seem to remember it until the END of every day, basically when I'm lamenting the fact that I DIDN'T triage...

  2. You are so right! My problem comes from having an unpredictable schedule. I am so good about having a routine if I know exactly when I have to be at work, and when exactly I should be asleep by. But my job is slightly flexible so sometimes I am home late and sometime early. I also have activities that have to be done before work, that can't get done in the evening.

    I really should figure out a way to rearrange things. Thanks for the wonderful post.

  3. Favorite two words of the entire post:

    I DON'T

    AMEN. People think I must be Wonder Woman because I "do it all." Hahahahaaaaaa! If they only knew.

  4. I do this with my life, but never thought of it as triage. But it is. Last weekend was the first weekend in a long time where I had saturday (sort of) and Sunday off of work. I had made a triage list of sorts. I'm happy to say that I accomplished alot. Funny though, cleaning the bathroom and putting up laundry fell to the wayside as non critical patients.

  5. There's a part of me that wishes I could be a stay at home Mom. Then there's the part that knows that all my days would be "Crap! It's 5 o clock? But I haven't even eaten lunch yet!"

    Needless to say, I'm bad with priorities.

  6. Great Post, Girl! I am a stay at home, homeschool Mama who is now trying to write and blog and keep a semi-decent home, too. I need me some triage :-) Thanks for the reminder!

  7. I triage my life only when it falls to pieces. I should really work on getting ahead of the game. It truly is such a GREAT feeling when everything is accomplished, even if a few things have to be passed over to get there. A few is infinitely better than most.

    (also, i wholeheartedly agree with you about photoshop. everyone looks too plastic-y these days)

  8. Thank you, thank you! You ARE normal, especially because you may (but probably really don't) have pimples and back fat.

    And you've helped me make a BIG fat decision. I spend 12+ hours each week cleaning my house. It's the one area I can really pare down.

    My new motto, "A clean house is the sign of a wasted life."

    I'm going to get my super crafty SIL to turn it into wall art so I can hang it in my kitchen.

    Anyone want one?

  9. Love this post, and the whole triage concept! I work from home, so I find that the current state of deadlines tends to drive my day a little too much. I really must learn to apply the triage concept to my days!

  10. Thanks! I was very naughty and didn't do my spiritual routine this morning, because I really wanted to edit, only I've been pooped all day. Now I know why. Thanks!
    *sits down to meditate*

  11. This is SUCH a great post. Triage is a wonderful way to look at priorities and something I rarely do. Thank you for the motivation!

  12. Natalie, thank you for this post. It really puts some things into perspective. I hate feeling like my day is just a checklist and sometimes you just have to let things slide and enjoy life as it is.