How to be a Master Life-Juggler

by Andy Wood on March 31, 2010

in Ability, Allocating Your Resources, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Time

Jugglers fascinate me.  Not the run-of-mill, three-balls-in-the-air type, but the ones I call the Master Jugglers.  I love the guys or gals who can toss torches, chainsaws, balls and small animals all at the same time.   Well, maybe not the small animals part, but you get the point. 

In a sense, we’re all jugglers.  Only, instead of swords or bowling pins, we juggle life.  And that’s who this article is for – the jugglers.  For the ones who have multiple “balls” in the air – time balls, relationship balls, money balls, even ambition balls.  Every one claims to be a priority.  Every one demands attention, and often wants it now.  In the middle of all that, you and I have a choice:  Handle them – or they will handle you.

In order to successfully juggle rather than being tossed around yourself, there are four issues you will need to settle:

1.  Priority – the Important

Either you live by your highest values, or somebody else is setting your agenda.  Many people build their lives on the belief that they have no control over what happens to it – that what will be will be, and they are powerless to stop it or shape it.  People like that spend more time planning a bachelor party than they do planning their lives. 

Master jugglers realizing something different:  we can influence our destiny or we can pass it by while someone else shapes it for us.  But to do it, we have to focus on what the ultimate priorities are. 

What matters – really matters – most to you?  Here are five questions to help you frame your understanding of your highest ideals:

  • What are the things you are willing to say “no” to other things for?
  • What (or who) are you willing to be interrupted for?
  • What are you able to defend as of higher importance, especially in a crisis?
  • What (or who) are you building your future on?
  • What are the principles around which you base our behavior?

Of course, it’s not enough to be aware of your priorities; we also have to act on them!

2.  Time – the Urgent

You’re using time to purchase one of two things:  either opportunity or regret.  Master jugglers recognize that life is short, and that whatever good they intend to do must be done today.

Two elderly gentlemen – Marvin and Dick – taught me this lesson.  These brothers remained very close throughout their lives, including many years as business partners.  But even well into retirement, they had a practice of meeting every afternoon at 5:00 to “close the books” on the day.  They got done that day’s work, and “put the day to bed.” Well into their 80s, they were still closing the books every day.  Of course, by then, the “books” were whatever they happened to want to talk about that day.

Master jugglers also recognize that there is no getting back the opportunities of yesterday.  So they practice making the most of every moment.  They live alertly, and wisely.  They make decisions quickly, with the end always in mind.  They learn to recognize opportunities and seize them before they’re long gone.

3.  Space – the Adjacent

Years ago an article appeared in Time Magazine about a doctor who lived through the terrible bombing of Hiroshima.  When the blast occurred, Dr. Fumio Shigeto was waiting for a streetcar only a mile away, but he was sheltered by the corner of a concrete building.  Within seconds after the explosion, his ears were filled with the screams of victims all around him.  Not knowing what had happened, he stood there for a moment bewildered – one doctor wondering how he could ever handle this mountain of patients.  Then, still somewhat stunned, Dr. Shigeto knelt, opened his black bag, and began treating the person lying at his feet.

Master jugglers recognize that sometimes the next right thing to do is the thing right in front of you.  The next person to deal with is the one right in front of you.  This is particularly important for those who are trying to balance work and family demands.  One of the best pieces of advice I ever received in that regard was, when you’re at home, be at home, and when you’re at work, be at work.  Attend to the adjacent first, especially in a time of crisis.

4.  Relationship – the Intimate

An old adage says that nobody lies on their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time in the office.  Relationships always trump duties or things in the grand scheme of what’s important.

But here’s the tricky part:  How do you choose between your professor and your kid, or between your boss and your best friend?  They’re all people, after all.

What helps me is recognizing four layers of relationships:

The Circle of Exchange involves partners in transactions.  They need to be able to predict my behavior (and vice-versa) and sometimes they just need someone to listen.

The Circle of Participation involves partners in vision and labor.  We share a common purpose somewhere.  The greatest need here is cooperation.  People in this circle need to know I will work with them, not against them.

The Circle of Friendship involves partners in fellowship, or shared life.  These are people who get me, who know what I am doing.  These are my close friends and relatives; their greatest need is communication. They need to know what I’m thinking – what my ideas are.

The Circle of Intimacy involves covenant partners, or those with shared hearts.  These are the ones who are most aware of my heart and share the deepest levels of accountability and commitment.  They need to know that I am in the relationship for the long haul, and am willing to be open and transparent.

While we live in every layer, occasionally relationships in different layers collide.  Master jugglers make their relationship choices from the inside out.  Intimate always comes first!  People in the Circle of Participation take a back seat to the Circle of Friendship.

We’re all jugglers.  Some seem to do it much better than others.  These master jugglers get a grip on their priorities, their time, their space and their relationships, and work diligently from near to far, or from higher to lower.  The rest build their lives around the tyranny of the urgent or the pressure or distractions that come from a life of trivial pursuit.

Okay, before you get back to your own chainsaws in the air, here’s some fun from Cirque de Soleil

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