Triage isn’t scary

When we encounter the word “triage” in fiction, we often see it as a dramatic thing, the medical person agonizing over who to treat and when – usually with someone’s life on a fragile thread.

Believe it or not, even in an emergency room, that isn’t how triage works.

Triage is just a set of priorities you have thought about in advance in a non-emergency situation, so you can decide easily and quickly how to address situations thrown at you.

Do you have any sort of triage for your own life? What are your priorities?

So, in my last blog post, I talked about defining what’s “good enough” when addressing things in your life.

Until you know those priorities, you can’t possibly know what good enough should look like.

As part of getting control of your life, we’re going to explore how to triage your own life by sitting down in a non-emergency situation and making a plan of action. You’ll learn how to address what’s most important calmly. You’ll learn how to set standards, so you’re not wasting time on things that aren’t very important to you. You’ll learn how to evaluate what’s an actual problem that needs addressing and what’s a proxy (you’ll even learn the term) for the real problem.

Want to Get Control of Your Life?

The Beauty of Defining Good Enough

“If the Venn diagram of your “Good Enough” day and your “Perfect” day is a circle, you have never defined what Good Enough looks like.” – Noël Lynne Figart.

I am in the best physical shape of my adult life from defining “good enough.” Two and a half years ago, I declared that if I got in 10,000 steps a day as measured over a month, that was “good enough” in terms of physical activity.

Do I ever exercise in other ways? Sure. However, the clear priority is to make sure I have in those steps. I don’t quit. I don’t crash and burn. I exercise moderately and consistently in a way that is desirable to me.

The problem of getting in enough exercise? That’s solved. I can chew on it for fun, but there are better places to focus my attention. I don’t need to worry about running out of problems to solve

Achievement is often marketed as only counting when you are putting in Extraordinary Effort. I have many examples in my own life where Tedious Consistency beats Extraordinary Effort every time.

Today, as I write this, I’m leaning hard on “good enough.” I don’t feel energetic. I’m not excited about the day. I’m not even excited to be writing. (I know, take my temperature, ’cause I gotta be sick).

But I do have a view of “good enough.” I have a general schedule when things need to be done, and it’s not some Platonic* version of perfection. I don’t have to think too hard to decide whether or not to do something. I know what oughta get done, but bluntly? The world will not end if I skip cleaning out the vacuum canister this month. Besides, this article is more important.


You can’t define “good enough” until you’re very clear on the triage of your priorities.

Which, you guessed it, I’ll be teaching in my Get Control of Your Life! class.

* The Platonic Ideal of something isn’t about whether or not sex is involved, by the way. It is about an ideal – the quintessence of an object or concept that is the spiritual ideal and impossible to reflect in the physical world.

Can Artificial Constraints Interfere With Your Goals?

You have a task to do. You get yourself a cup of coffee and sit down to it, but you’re not excited about it. It’s ten minutes to eight, and you really ought to get going.

“I’ll get started right at eight,” you promise yourself, then check out social media or do a little shopping online.

You look at the clock and it’s 8:01.

So, you tell yourself, “Okay, I’ll get started at 8:15…”

Does this sound familiar to you?

  1. What kind of weirdo does that?
  2. Eh, maybe a little…
  3. I’m in this picture and I don’t like it.

If you answered 1, I’m jealous of your natural productivity.

If you answered 2 or 3, you’ve probably fussed at yourself more than once for procrastinating. Also, you might be doing something that can mess you up in ways other than procrastinating.

That “Imma start at 8:00” is an example not only of procrastination but an artificial constraint.

If you, to pick something completely at random, need to write an article, does it really matter if you started it at 8:01 rather than 8:00? Of course not. Next week, it’s whether or not you finished the article that’s going to count! The article isn’t somehow “less written” because you started it a minute before or after you said you would.

In my last article, I talked about rituals to get yourself going. They can be important. But sometimes, instead of helping you, they get in your way and make it harder to accomplish something.

Say you want to exercise every day, so you put your exercise clothes and your gym shoes on the chair by your bed and set your alarm for 5:30 in the morning.

But you roll over, you don’t get up until 6:30, and you have other things you have to do before you get to work. But after work, you throw on exercise clothes, have your workout, and then go ahead, prop your feet up and play a video game until bedtime.

Are you any less worked out than you would have been for the 5:30 workout?

There is a place for being strict with yourself, but the question becomes, “Is that strictness serving the goal or setting you up for failure?”

Am I about to tell you that my Get Control of Your Life! class has a method for evaluating that?

Yeah, you already know the answer to that…

The Perfect Morning Routine

The Perfect Morning Routine
A chart with actions and time to do them.
The perfect morning routine, down to the minute

Did you know The Perfect Morning Routine will bring about health, wealth, and happiness? I didn’t until fairly recently, and I learned it from a very special source.

I learned on the treadmill. I find treadmills deeply tedious, so I would often grab my tablet to watch some videos while I pretended to take a walk.

Being interested in self-improvement and productivity, I ran across a series of videos on YouTube with attractive young men talking Very Seriously about their morning routines and how that increased their productivity.

They would get up before dawn, do some meditating, exercise, eat a beautifully prepared protein-rich breakfast, and read some Improving Literature before getting on with a long bike ride to the office.

While a firm believer in bookending one’s day, the proscriptive “routines” they’d come up with often had me snickering and wondering how long such perfection endured.

Long enough to finish the production of the video? Maybe a few months until the season changed and that ten-mile bike ride would have been dangerous in the dark?

Do I think exercise is Important? Well, obviously. I was exercising while watching the darn things and had gone to the expense of putting a treadmill in my house!

Do I think nourishing oneself well is Important? Yeah, I am managing a health condition with diet until some of my organs give out on me and rebel and I have to go on meds.

It’s the prescriptiveness of it that makes me laugh and wonder if the procrustean nature of the routine wouldn’t become onerous after enough time.

I did an experiment with a finely-tuned “Morning Routine.”

How long did that last, and did it do me any good?

Evaluation of Life Experiments is part of my Get Control of Your Life! course.

Sign up to find out! The results may be surprising.

Do You Have Office Hours?

Working from Home Means Freedom

Often the idea of working for oneself means freedom! If you get a wild hare to go shopping in the middle of the day, you can do it and finish up your work later in the day. You don’t have a boss breathing down your neck to get a report done. You don’t have to get up at six in the morning to commute to your job.

When I first started as a freelancer, certainly that freedom appealed to me.

In truth, yes, there is a lot of freedom that comes with being your own boss. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. But being your own boss is often a matter of self-management. That means you’ll need to decide on company policy.

For the longest time, I did not have specific office hours. As long as I was making a target income, I would work to the job, or work to get the job and not worry too much about it otherwise.

That caused several problems. I found myself never taking a full weekend or never feeling as if my time were really my own. Goofing off on the Internet (which I genuinely enjoy) started to merge with work time so that it was difficult for me to assess whether or not I was being genuinely productive at any given time. I hit my deadlines, so my clients were happy. I was always prepared to teach my classes, so the classes went well.

And that was great.

You Still Need Office Hours

But, it was easy to lie to myself, to be externally motivated by deadline and visions of happy clients rather than by my own goals.

My own office hours actually started as a way to ensure that I would not get telephone calls from clients at ungodly hours unexpectedly. I set a specific time when I could be contacted (and included the time zone!) so that if a client needed to talk to me outside that time, we’d arrange for a phone meeting. I like being available to my clients, but for random, off-the-cuff stuff, the office hours worked out better.

Then, I started attempting to analyze my productivity. Other than my accounting software, I really couldn’t. I work to the job rather than to the clock. How much of surfing the net was genuine research and how much of it was procrastinating and screwing around? What about personal projects that were falling by the wayside? What about value-added things I could do for my clients that I was not thinking about because I was too busy laughing at something on Youtube? Sure, sure, I was paying the bills. But was I really being effective?

Since the fluid work habits made it too hard to do an honest analysis, I actually set genuine work hours. I was allowed to work outside those hours if I wanted to (and I usually do), but I was not allowed to goof off within them. I even downloaded blocking software to keep me off sites that were not productive. While I would have been deeply annoyed if my boss had done this to me in a “Real Job”, I confess that as the boss, it sure does help keep focused on work during worktime.

Plug-ins to block time wasting sites

When Should You Have Office Hours?

I chose to make my work hours and my office hours slightly different. Knowing that I am most productive early in the morning, my work hours start long before I’m taking telephone calls from clients. I’m allowed to start goofing off slightly before I stop taking client calls, as well.

Doing this, I’m working smarter rather than harder. I’ve given myself a limited amount of time within which to accomplish my work for my clients, so there’s no use in fooling around. It needs to be done! But when it is done, instead of going off to play, I’m working on other projects that will be useful down the road – creating attractive cheat sheets for the computer classes I teach, working on writing projects that might not have an immediate benefit to my bank account, but in the long term might prove useful, thinking about new and better ways to market my work, thinking about new and better ways to be valuable to my clients. All of these things really are part of my job, even if I’m not directly getting a cash amount for it.

If you’re finding your freelance career stagnating, I encourage you to try office hours for a while and see what it does for you. There’s nothing like the recharge of knowing that you’ve put in a full day, that it’s legitimately done and goofing off with a clear conscience in your off-time. You’ll come back to your work recharged, excited and clearer-headed, ready to meet all the challenges and rewards of being self-employed.

Gorilla Client

When you’re a freelancer and get a really big client, probably the first thing you do is cheer. Money! Lots of work! You can slack off marketing for a while, wheeee!!!!!

If that client is now providing more than about 40% of your business, stop cheering right now and start panicking. No, seriously.

There’s an expression for this sort of client – the Gorilla Client. Sure, that big client seems great, and yes, big projects with lots of work/pay really are. However, like having a big, powerful gorilla in your office, it can be a problem that becomes bigger and stronger than you are. Any problem with that client is now a potential threat to your entire business. You’ll find yourself structuring your business around the needs of that single client. You’ll find yourself tempted to leave off working for other clients and concentrate on that one
[1]. Sure, you want to provide good service. Good service should be at the heart of your business. It is simply that you do not want to rise and fall at the whim of a single client.

So, why do we accept Gorilla Clients? It’s mostly laziness and greed, from what I can see. If you don’t love marketing (and it’s strange how many freelancers don’t), any excuse to be able to work and not market sounds like a lot of fun. If you’re getting plenty of work, it’s hard to be motivated to do something you don’t like.

A good way to avoid this is to budget your time carefully. Since you’re in charge of your work day, make sure you dedicate a certain percentage of that day to marketing no matter how busy you get. Yeah, I know. If work from one client swamps you, it’s hard to make yourself go looking for more work. Suck it up and do it.

Remember that as a freelancer, you can choose how much work you’re willing to accept as well. How many hours a month are you willing to work? I go monthly rather than weekly because there will be plenty of weeks that you’ll be hammer and tongs at a deadline for one particular client. That’s okay as long as you’ve got more work on deck, and are keeping up on your marketing. What you don’t want to do is let any one client suck up your professional time over a significant period.

I consider myself a client for purposes of time management. As a writer, there’s a certain amount of non-commercial “sharpening the saw” that’s necessary to stay fit, stay alert and stay skilled in my profession. I don’t dedicate anywhere a full client’s allotment of hours a month on it, but I do make sure that I leave time to write, to work on projects with no direct result and to make sure that I’m exploring avenues that might be useful in the long run.

This article is meant for the one-man shop. If you’re finding that you need at least 40 hours a week specifically to spend on billable client hours, chances are good that what you need is at least a part-time admin assistant or salesperson. If you’re in love with being a one-man shop, raise your rates. That’ll take care of the problem well enough, and you’ll bring your time management back into balance.

[1] The Pareto Principle might be okay for really large firms, but isn’t an ideal strategy when you’re a small business servicing small businesses.