Juggling: 101

Many years ago I was juggling too many balls. I moderated six e-mail lists, maintained three web sites, and published two newsletters. I was homeschooling two of my four children, pregnant with number five, and active in a local homeschooling support group. I was a freelance writer, the owner of a new puppy and a new kitten, and starting a curriculum-selling business. Add to that my daily cooking and cleaning chores and it’s no wonder I often dropped the ball! Whenever I'd try to pick it up, I'd drop a different one. My life was slowly spinning out of control.

Thanks to advice from friends who had "been there - done that," I finally learned to juggle my responsibilities better. I'd like to offer some tips to help you juggle your life better, too.

Start From Scratch

Your first task is to drop everything for at least two days if possible. No major cleaning, no working at home of any kind, no elaborate meals. If your situation allows it, consider a night at a local bed and breakfast. Your family will survive without you for two days.

Spend your first day just relaxing. Read a book, play games with your children, take a nap, etc. Just have fun enjoying no responsibilities. For the second day, sit down and write out a Personal Goals Sheet.  Divide a sheet of paper into six sections. List all the "balls" you juggle. Be specific, yet general. For instance, your top three spaces should have the most important balls listed. In my case, for example, I list my personal quiet time, my role as wife/mother, and homeschooling. Your list will differ.

Now, think of some of the other balls you juggle; things like a hobby, support group involvement, and time on the computer. Choose two or three of these other items based on how important you feel they are. List them on your Personal Goals Sheet. As an example, I added writing and Internet activities.

Once you have your main areas listed, go back and fill in details. Include things like time and energy needed; whether it’s a daily, weekly or monthly obligation; and specific duties that make up the commitment. Don't let any one ball get too big. Whatever doesn't fit on your Goals Sheet should be dropped completely. Once you have your sheet completed, all future activities should be measured against it. If an activity does not help you move toward one of your goals, say "no" to it.

Go Slow and Practice

Now that you have your goals written out, it's time to start juggling again. Focus on your three main balls for a couple of weeks. Get really good at juggling these three balls before you attempt to add any more.

Add other balls one at a time. Do not add a fifth ball until you have perfected juggling with four. Do not add a sixth ball until you are comfortable with five. No more than six balls - no exceptions! Once you justify juggling more than six balls you will easily fall back into the habit of doing too much and dropping balls.

After I was comfortable juggling my quiet time, my family and homeschooling, I added writing. When I had established a routine around those four balls, I resumed my Internet activities. I'm still working on juggling five balls perfectly, but I don't drop balls as often as I used to.

Find Your Rhythm and Keep Going

The final thing to remember when you are juggling your responsibilities is that you need to relax and stay flexible. Some days you will be tired and not throw the balls as high (when the baby keeps you up all night). Other days the wind may blow and cause you to reach farther to keep the balls from falling (when an unexpected visitor shows up on your doorstep). If you feel you must add something, try to cut back on an existing activity. If your child wants to join a sports team which requires you to drive him somewhere, request that he take over an extra chore or two to make up for the time you will spend transporting him.

Life will change, and you'll need to review your Personal Goals Sheet once or twice a year, or more. Take into account the fact that your children are growing and becoming independent. Take into account that your own hobbies and interests will change. Be prepared to alter your schedule so that your routine fits your current needs. Find your rhythm, and keep on juggling!

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