Juggling: The less you juggle, the less you drop the ball.
The water is boiling over on the stove while I’m responding to LinkedIn requests on my phone, a TED Talk presentation is playing on my laptop, and I’m asking my roommate about her day. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to feel like you’re overbooked, overscheduled, and overworked, like there are not enough hours in the day and like you’re giving up activities that really matter to you to accomplish less-meaningful tasks.
Kurt Sandholtz, Brooklyn Derr, Kathy Buckner, and Dawn Carlson wrote a book to address this very issue: juggling. The authors note that almost everyone juggles tasks and activities whether they realize it or not. The authors reveal the problem with juggling. “It’s high maintenance, complicated, and stressful” (Sandholtz et al. 2002, 8) Sounds like a total downer, but there’s a better way — five, actually — that the authors give as suggestions to get beyond juggling and rebalance our busy lives.
The first technique is alternating. Alternators utilize the alternating tool by doing exactly what it sounds like — they alternate. Alternating involves a period when individuals throw themselves completely into their work. Once this period of work is finished, alternators take an extended break from their work life. What a world it would be if I could make money by going to school and then take a semester off to travel the world or spend time with family. I’m sure I would return rejuvenated and ready to take on the next semester. To state the obvious, this technique is most effective when the individual’s job or life situation allows for this type of flexibility. According to the authors, alternating can be an effective strategy for a variety of reasons:
1. Alternating is a good option for those who enjoy dedicating themselves to one activity at a time.
2. Alternating assists individuals in balancing work and family life.
3. Alternating helps employees to recover from burn-out fairly quickly.
4. Alternating allows individuals to more easily experience a variety of job opportunities.
Alternating works well for people who can produce a significant income or be exceptionally thrifty in their spending, can continue to manage personal and professional relationships in both working and non-working periods, and continue to retain professional credibility when in a non-working period (Sandholtz et al. 2002).
Doesn’t sound like alternating will work for you? We’ve still got four more tools to cover, so don’t default back to juggling just yet.
Outsourcing is another tool the authors suggest for rebalancing busy lives. Again, this tool involves exactly what it sounds like — outsourcing, or hiring out, appropriate tasks. These tasks could be activities such as grocery shopping, yard work, house cleaning, meal preparation, etc. In some distant, perfect world, I’m sure I’ll be a very wealthy graduate student who can afford to hire someone to do my grocery shopping, to wash my laundry or to clean my apartment. Since that perfect world is not the one I am currently living in, outsourcing is not for me, but it can be a great tool and can provide the following advantages:
- Outsourcing helps individuals simplify by taking things off their plates and sending them to another source to be completed.
2. Outsourcing enables individuals to continue working full time.
3. Outsourcing forces people to determine their priorities and make decisions based on those priorities (Sandholtz et al. 2002).
In addition to these advantages, the authors mention a number of potential trade-offs resulting from outsourcing. Perhaps the biggest trade-off is being able to balance being personally involved with certain tasks and having the ability to let the task be controlled by someone else. The most prominent example of this trade-off is childcare. As with all the tools the authors give, it’s important to weigh the advantages against the trade-offs to make the best decision for each lifestyle.
Bundling is multi-purposing, not multi-tasking. I have to remind myself of that difference every so often. Remember when my water was boiling, I was talking with my roommate, doing homework, and also building my LinkedIn network? That is a great example of what bundling is NOT.
Using the bundling tool correctly could have looked something like this: Sending out a group text to my school team, inviting them over to make dinner and then to work on a class project. I need to eat, right? But, I also need to do my homework. Sounds like a pretty dull evening and I could probably use some social interaction to break it up, so why not kill three birds with one stone? Having my teammates over for dinner and homework would enable me to meet all my goals for the evening with one event. That’s bundling at its finest. The authors state, “The essence of bundling is to do fewer activities, but to pack more meaning into each one of them — more multi-purposing than multitasking” (Sandholtz et al. 2002, 82).
If you’re asking yourself, what on earth is techflexing? You’re not the only one. I asked myself the same thing as I read the title to chapter six. Sure, I’d heard of telecommuting, but never techflexing. Luckily for me, the authors talk about the difference between the two. “Techflexing is telecommuting…with a twist…[Techflexers] may work entirely from home, either as corporate employees or self-employed individuals. Or they may spend just one or two afternoons a week working from home (Sandholtz et al. 2002).
As with the other tools, I imagined what utilizing this tool would look like in my current situation. Although it would be great to participate in my classes via video call from the comforts of my own home, the one trade-off that comes to mind is a lack of physical in-person interaction with professors and with other students.
This is one of the trade-offs that the authors highlight. When techflexers work from home, they sacrifice some of the social interaction that obviously comes by being physically present on the job site. It may also be hard for some potential techflexers to separate work life from home life. Looking at the possible disadvantages is important before making a decision about which tool is right for you. Still not finding what you’re looking for? Well, the final tool may seem more manageable and may peak your interest.
Simplify. Sounds pretty straight forward, right? Let’s look a little deeper. The authors pose that using the simplifying tool involves making dramatic changes to uncomplicate your personal and professional life (Sandholtz et al. 2002). Doesn’t sound so straightforward now, does it? These dramatic changes include things like trading in a new, leased car for an older, used model, sending your children to public school, rather than private schools, turning down a promotion to switch to a part-time role, or accepting another position that is less time consuming and more flexible (Sandlholtz et al. 2002).
One suggestion from this chapter that really hit home for me was “say[ing] no to volunteer or social opportunities that don’t provide the highest value for you (Sandholtz et al. 2002, 142). What a concept! Instead of doing it all and being it all, I have the right to say no to some things that aren’t directly tied to my passions or interests.
“De-cluttering your life means that you have easier access to your remaining priorities, with a more clear view of what brings you joy and satisfaction” (Sandholtz et al. 2002, 129).
Not sure which one of these tools works best for you? Need more information and real-life examples of each tool in action? The authors included an aptitude test and multiple real-life examples in each chapter to help you measure how effective each the tool might be in your life.
Are you a manager and looking for ways to help your employees find a work/life balance? The authors of “Beyond Juggling” have included an entire appendix about how to do just that. It literally says, “Appendix: How managers can use this book” (Sandholtz et al. 2002, 203). What a great opportunity to help your employees succeed and find more joy and satisfaction in life. The tips and tools included in this appendix help managers to help their employees, no matter what tool for balancing life the employee currently utilizes.
As mentioned, each tool has its pro’s and con’s, and the effectiveness of each tool ultimately depends on the personality and life circumstance of each individual. The tools are so flexible, you may be able to use more than one at a time, but don’t get too carried away. You don’t want to start juggling the tools designed to make your life simpler — I don’t know if there’s another book for that.
Sandholtz, Kurt, Brooklyn Derr, Dawn Carlson, and Kathy Buckner. Beyond Juggling: Rebalancing Your Busy Life. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2002.