We often talk about juggling multiple projects and responsibilities. In fact, we brag about it.
I know a thing or two about juggling — balls, clubs, torches, machetes, eggs, bowling balls, and yes, even a non-running chain saw. I never did cats, mice, or hand-grenades.
Smooth juggling depends on muscle memory, consistent throws so you know where to catch a ball, and staying relaxed. Jugglers understand that you’re only tossing one item at a time, in a predictable arc, catching in a predictable spot in 3D space, and then moving to the next toss with a predictable arc, and so on. Toss, catch, toss… Predictable, repeatable, relaxed speed. You can juggle with your eyes closed. It looks impressive, even mesmerizing, to someone who doesn’t understand how it’s done. Juggling can be enjoyable and satisfying.
What most of us do when “juggling multiple projects and responsibilities” is more like heaving a bunch of things in the air simultaneously and dealing with the random fall of the objects. There’s no consistency in your throw arc, muscle memory isn’t helping, and you tighten up rather than relax. Heaving is stressful. Bystanders are alarmed for their safety. No one can do it for long.
Juggling is a possibility when the work is familiar, repetitive, well-encapsulated. Figure out what portions of your work fit this pattern, and you can become an efficient juggler. The best leaders always look for ways to pass off that kind of juggling to someone else or eliminate it through automation.
Sometimes we have little choice but to heave stuff in the air and deal with the consequences. Explore options. Maybe you can allocate the heaving among more people so each person is only heaving one or two items – not ideal but manageable for a time. The best option is to convert heaving into juggling by giving awkward and unfamiliar work to others who are comfortable and familiar with it.