Why You Should Keep Fewer Balls in the Air

April 11, 2021

Among the couple of thousand people who will read this, there might just be a literal juggler or two. While skilled jugglers might be able to effortlessly keep many juggling balls up in the air, even they cannot handle every single metaphorical balls that life throws at them.

The other day, I came across a way of looking at balance in your life that was so good that I simply want to share it here. The idea is from Steve Pavlina, from whom I’ve learnt more than from anyone else. I will phrase it in my own words and with my own metaphor, though.

Think about all the things you’d like to spend your time and energy on: your family, your friends, your work, your physical health, your mental health, your hobbies, your volunteer work. The list seems endless—and these are just broad categories. It would be a much longer list if you tried to list specific activities you want to do.

Now imagine that each of the high-level areas of your life that demand your attention are juggling balls. How many can you realistically juggle at once? Two? Three? Four?

The key is how you define “at once”. Many people, myself included, try to fit everything in, every single week. You might even use a technique like time blocking to try to make this happen: you have weekly family time, weekly time for working out, weekly time for your hobbies, etc. Does it feel comfortable, though, to try to fit everything in every single week?

It doesn’t for me. It feels like I’m playing whack-a-mole. Shit, it’s been too long since I meditated—whack! And I haven’t talked on the phone with my friend in a week—whack! Oh crap, I haven’t recorded a podcast episode this week either, so I had better schedule two recordings for next week—whack!

My apologies for the metaphor-mixing. Back to juggling: it feels like juggling ten or twelve or twenty balls at the same time. When literally juggling, I can’t even handle three. In my metaphorical juggling, it definitely isn’t much more than three on a daily basis. And when you try to focus on too many balls at a time, you know what happens: you start dropping balls.

What if—and this is Steve Pavlina’s insight—you didn’t try to fit in time for all of your life “domains” every single day, every single week, or even every single month? What if you went all-in on your work for a few weeks and then you spent the next few weeks catching up with your friends? What if you gave yourself copious time to explore one of your hobbies, without the pressure of also having to “be productive” that day or that week?

Take this approach and your weeks might be less balanced, but your years still would be. And in the meantime, you wouldn’t be dropping all of those balls; you’d just be setting them down and picking them up consciously.

This approach requires some flexibility in your schedule, of course—but then I believe you should be the one in charge of your own schedule, anyway.

Are you juggling too many balls and do you keep dropping certain ones? Then try picking up fewer balls at a time.

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