Zen and the art of juggling work
Have you ever watched a professional juggler - either in person or seen a video of he/she doing their thing?
What’s striking to me is how calm the very best jugglers appear, as if they’re not even thinking about juggling. The rising and cascading of three, four or five juggling objects at a time looks effortless to a juggler, like it’s second nature. There's something almost serene about the master juggler.
But what may appear to you or me as luck is the exact opposite: juggling is extremely calculated. There's a science behind it - the “Juggling Theorem” researched by MIT scholars - with rules that, if broken, result in the object hitting the ground. Even a juggler can't best gravity. Which is not what you want when you juggle. And then of course there's the practice. Practice, practice, practice. No juggler just picked up 3 oranges and knew how to do it. They had to put in the time.
This got me thinking: I wonder if people can really juggle their work responsibilities as a juggler might do with objects? What if one responsibility is taking up too much of your focus and you’re neglecting others? Does this analogy even work?
We’ve all read the thinkpieces about multitasking and its effects/myths; about how it’s not really possible and how our brains can’t actually multitask and even function. We keep hearing the word “multi-task” so many times it ends up losing its meaning. Those articles don’t help when you feel like - no matter what the science is - you have to multitask because it’s the only way you’re going to get everything done and hit that looming deadline.
We end up hearing the word “multi-task” so many times it ends up losing its meaning.
This has been on my mind because I’ve recently started doing part-time work for one of Creatis’ clients through our Studio. This work is in addition to my work as the Creatis Marketing/Content Specialist. On the one side, my responsibilities and experience are expanding - which is a good thing. I’m learning how to speak in new brand voices and becoming skilled in automated marketing tools. This is the exciting stuff for me. Learning, analyzing and ultimately creating. But this new arrangement does create new challenges. I have to keep multiple tasks in the air and not let any of them hit the ground. No dropping of the proverbial ball. The first two weeks I was feeling the heat and having trouble keeping everything straight.
But I kept at it. I now believe you can get better at juggling work. Call it multi-tasking or whatever you want, the truth is, you have to find a way that works for you to get everything done - to keep it all organized and moving forward. You have to find ways of separating the tasks, too. You can do it, and find your 'zen' when it comes to getting it all done. I needed to make myself a game plan in order to create the distinctions in my mind, and devote the appropriate time to each role. I don't like to be rushed, so I needed a system to help me feel a sense of ease in approaching the work.
I like to use little checkboxes. It’s extremely gratifying to check off a box when I finish something, even if it’s a simple task of sending some follow-up emails. I also like to send myself emails of "to-dos". My tip: write out those "to-dos" clearly, making sure to pair each task with its deadline, and then send off that email to yourself. I sometimes keep marking that email as unread until I've finished each to-dos for both jobs. That's just what works for me!
Call it multi-tasking or whatever you want, the truth is, you have to find a way that works for you to get everything done - to keep it all organized and moving forward.
What I’ve found is that I must look at the deadlines I need to hit for both of my jobs and then work backwards by prioritizing what needs to be done first. From that starting point, I begin to understand what assignments I can get an early start on - doing a few hours here and there - and which assignments need consistent attention according to a set schedule.
As the weeks have rolled on, I’m getting the hang of it more and more. I’ve got multiple tasks open and I’ve so far been able to effectively switch from writing one brand voice to another through a combination of scheduling, taking mini-breaks to reset my brain, and through good old fashioned proactivity.
In fact, there's something exciting about having manage multiple tasks and brands and maintain the level of excellence your client (and you yourself) expect. Maybe the more we practice dividing and conquering our own, the better we get at keeping everything in the air. Best of luck as you continue juggling.