The Modern (Hu)man’s Juggle

Dylan at Growth Currency (@growthcurrency) recently asked a question about juggling a primary job with side gigs… AND family AND everything else BUT without burning out. You should read his notes on the topic here (including a snip from yours truly – thanks Dylan).

Dylan’s thoughts made me reflect on just how often I’ve had a version of this conversation with others lately. I’ve struggled a lot with it too and have had to develop my own intentional coping mechanisms to combat the unintentional inevitable ones. What follows are some thoughts in case you’re struggling with the modern (hu)man’s juggle too.

Ambitious people are always trying to figure out how to juggle more. I’m not talking about the distracting call of the stress balls eyeing you from the desk drawer (been there), but about the jump people like us often take into juggling knives, chainsaws, and flaming bowling pins all at once.

It sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea until we find ourselves so burned out from the stress we don’t know what to do with ourselves anymore. That’s because juggling well takes some serious strategic planning and tactical execution.

Here are three big ideas for juggling your crazy items of choice like a pro:

Know what hat you’re wearing and when.

Example: Your office hat is different from your parent hat, which is different from your artisanal malt ball maker hat (or whatever you do).

Know the roles, responsibilities, and expectations for each of your hats.

Example: office gal leads her team which expects to be professionally victorious under her guidance. At home as mom, she is the Queen of dinner and bedtime while dad covers the mornings. On weekends, she conducts the kitchen to turn out the best malt balls in town.

Know how to leverage processes and people to get the most out of your time and energy.

Example: office gal knows how to time block her calendar and delegate to the right people to keep things moving forward. As Queen of the house, she also knows how to be a team player with her partner and not negotiate with the terrorist children. She brings the same disciplined tenacity to the malt ball game. She’s a malt-baller as she’ll tell you.

(deep breath break)

After you’ve digested those ideas (and maybe some malt balls, which I’m now craving) – here are some bonus points on what happens when you drop a ball or burnout, and what you can do about it:

Realize that burning out is like riding a bike that’s in the wrong gear. You can either stop peddling pointlessly altogether OR change gears. Just don’t keep burning out harder. The gears here are metaphors for the hats, roles and responsibilities, and leverage points mentioned above. Troubleshoot to change.

Once you know what to change and in what direction you’re going to change it, set some focus points and some fuses.

Focus points are goals. They’re where your attention should be. They can be as tangible as a quantified metric or as intangible as a qualified emotion (“when this happens it makes me happy”).

Fuses are triplines that tell you when something isn’t working. They force you to pause and take stock. A good fuse lets you know what to cut first after you reset it.

If you can’t use the hairdryer and the blender at the same time, ask “does my hair need to be dry before I can make my smoothie?” Likewise, if you’re burning out, ask, “what’s the order of priority, and what can be cut if absolutely necessary?”

Juggling multiple gigs is hard work. Not burning out is an essential part of doing any job (or jobs!) successfully. You need to have your own strategies and tactics to survive this stuff.

If you know what hats you wear, when you wear them, what the corresponding roles and responsibilities are, and how to create leverage in terms of processes and people, you can keep burnout at bay and the results you seek coming in.