Friday, January 3, 2014

The Great Juggling Act - Keeping Things From Falling

It is rather ironic that I am writing this post.  It is almost like a doctor who smokes but advises his patients to stop smoking.  There are times when I fail woefully at this crazy juggling act, but more often than not it is because somewhere I have violated one of the key rules I will outline below.  I do know WHAT to do, and even know HOW to do it to keep many things going at once, but the discipline to practice these rules consistently is the difference between successful juggling and things hitting the floor.

1) Know your limits:  Juggling, like any skill, takes practice, and new jugglers don't start juggling with fifteen balls at once.  They usually start with two or three and once they have achieved a level of comfort and expertise with those, then they will begin to add a ball at a time and practice with those.  Once again, when mastery has been achieved, they can continue to add more and more objects until the really good ones can keep a mind-boggling amount of things in the air at once.

Juggling priorities and life tasks is no different.  If you dive right in and try to balance a job, spouse, children, church/ministry, social engagements, and then toss writing, editing, publishing, marketing, etc on top of all that, you are going to wind up with quite a few things on the ground and a life woefully out of balance.  The problem is, with writing, especially for those self-published authors, you often have to be everything from cover designer to editor to typesetter to marketing guru all at once.  So how do you add one ball at a time to a busy life?

Start small.  Start with just writing.  Don't get ahead of yourself and try to phase everything in all at once.  And at first, don't try to do it all yourself.  Focus on writing and getting that routine added to the rest of your life juggling act.  Once that is done, you can start looking at laying some early marketing groundwork next.  Start a blog, join a few Facebook groups, start building that platform from which you will eventually launch your books.  If you wait until you have gone to print to start building a platform, you will find yourself behind the curve and overwhelmed.  If you start these types of steps early, then when it comes time later to go to market with your writing, you already have the writing routine and the blogging/platform activities successfully added to your juggling routine.

Next is to not try to do it all yourself.  Invest in your work if you believe in it.  Be prepared to pay a cover designer (unless you have those skills already), and an editor, and a formatter.  If you try to climb the learning curve on all these things at once, once again you will find balls you were already successfully juggling falling onto the floor.  Eventually, as you learn to master new skills, you can decide if you want to take on more aspects yourself, but initially, remember the juggling rule, and add one ball at a time.

2) Learn to prioritize:  Jugglers know which ball they need to worry about next.  Balls that are two or three places away in the rotation don't get any attention until their time in the rotation is up.  I have seen interviews with successful jugglers who have juggled as many as 15 balls at once.  When asked how they keep up with everything, the answer is, "I only worry about two balls, the one I am throwing and the one I am catching."   That is the key.  What needs to be done next?  Handle that.  Repeat.  Simple, right?  Where we often find ourselves dropping balls is trying too hard to multi-task.  We worry about things that aren't imminent and in the meantime urgent tasks get missed.  We soon find ourselves overwhelmed and hopelessly buried.

In Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the habits is "Keep first things first".  He lists a quadrant chart where activities are plotted in their respective quadrants.  The quadrants are: "Important-Urgent, Important-Not Urgent, Unimportant-Urgent, Unimportant-Not Urgent".  If you can plot out your pending activities in a chart like that, it can really help prioritize what needs to be done.  Obviously "Important-Urgent" items are the ones you should be worried about.  Every week, few days, or possibly every day these items may move into different quadrants, so keeping at least a mental eye on where they are can help you focus on only two balls at a time, the one you are throwing and the one you are catching.

3) Eliminate distractions:  One thing they almost always warn folks about in an audience for a juggling show is "No flash photography".  Flashes at the wrong time, especially when jugglers are juggling things like knives or other objects potentially dangerous to themselves or others, can cause catastrophic effects.  They can force the juggler to take their mind off the task at hand, which, even for a split second, can be very dangerous and result in a cascade failure.

This happens in our life-juggling too.  Something shiny, flashy or fun can take time and focus away from our juggling act and can cause things to hit the ground.  If there are activities, like going to the movies, going on vacation, a volunteer activity at church or in the community, organizing a block party, or any number of one-time, non-routine events that consume time and attention, be sure to plan for these things and adjust your juggling act accordingly.  If you want to add this new object into your juggling routine for a short time, think about which other activity can be taken out to make room for it.  Since it is not a regular thing, you may not want to devote the energy and effort required to be able to add another ball to the juggling routine, and in these instances simply taking a break from one of the other activities that you normally juggle.  That can free up temporary bandwidth for the shiny new but temporary activity while not causing any major disruption in your regular routine.

If you focus on honing your skills of multitasking with these three rules of discipline in mind, you can find the time, effort and energy to balance your writing with the rest of your life and find the way to keep all the balls in the air without feeling overstressed or winding up in a cascade of falling elements of your life.  Wishing you all success in 2014 with your writing and your juggling.


David G. Johnson

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