People who work with me think I don’t sleep. They see me working on multiple projects and getting more done than they think reasonable in any given week, month, or year. They conclude I’m one of those people who never sleeps. In reality, I sleep at least as much as they do. Maybe more. I’m just a better juggler.
Look at my LinkedIn profile and you’ll find at least four “Present” positions. Pre-pandemic it was more like six and LinkedIn doesn’t two of my volunteer roles nor being parent to four kids. How do I do so many different things?
We use the term “juggling” when talking about being busy like me. The term isn’t quite right. It’s much more like a flash than real juggling.
Juggling is hard. I can physically juggle three balls a few times before one drops. I’ve never been able to juggle four balls. What makes juggling hard is that you fail if you drop a ball and you fail if you fail to throw the ball back before focusing on catching the next ball.
A flash (in the world of physical juggling) is when you throw the balls once and catch them once. Then you can relax and take a breather before trying again.
The equivalent of this in my work isn’t even that hard. I just have to toss the balls into the air and my inbox does the catching for me.
All I have to do each day is open my inbox, pick and item, and do what it says. Some items are ongoing conversations. Some are todos, queue up as email I send to myself. Some are cc’s monitoring other people’s work. A lot are news and other messages that just need to be skimmed and noted.
The trick here is to focus on the item at hand, toss the ball back into the air (in keeping with the metaphor), and move on. Most items get seconds or minutes of attention. Only a few get tens of minutes. Fewer still get a 45 minute Zoom call with a real-time conversation. Very few items get more than an hour of attention.
Not dwelling on perfection is important. Nothing in work is ever perfect and nothing is ever truly done.
There is always another ball that wants to be tossed, so spend as little time on the current ball as possible and move on.
Rinse and repeat.
On a typical day, 100 actionable balls are caught by my inbox and 30-40 of them get tossed back into the air.
Don’t dwell on how many balls have piled up. Just start at one end of the pile or the other, grab one ball at a time, and start tossing. A few hours or days later, all those balls with be flashed and there will be a free moment to relax and wonder how many will come back down to be tossed up again.
One tool to make this all work more smoothly is sanebox.com. That service helps divide up my email by the amount of attention each is likely to need, and that service also let’s me add an expiration date to my replies, getting the balls back into my inbox that others have dropped. This is one of the few online services I’m more than happy to pay for.