“I’ve got too many things in the air.”
“I keep dropping the ball.”
“I am getting exhausted from this juggling act.”
The concept of juggling sounds all too familiar. We say the lines without even acknowledging what they mean, to us, to our family, to our employers, and to our friends. It can even be a badge of honor. If you are not juggling then your plate is not full enough.
I believe that our ultimate goal is to be present in the moment. To practice mindfulness and not just espouse the concept. To be embedded in our everyday lives and to focus - truly focus - on one thing at a time. But unfortunately for most of us, that isn’t how we are hardwired and, through years of habitual formation, we become multi-tasking beings. We understand the impact on our work (40% productivity decline, according to research) and on personal relationships (reduced empathy). And yet, we quickly glance at our phones when stopped at a red light, read emails while walking the dog down the street (hoping that we don’t trip on the crack ahead), or update a document during a Zoom call. We text our children during meetings when they are in a panic about a lost pair of leggings. And we get lost in thought over dinner about the presentation we are to make the next morning.
While the pandemic has called our attention to slowing down and savoring time with our family, the reality is that Work-From-Home (WFH) environment is conducive to the exact opposite. On a conference call, we hear the kids screaming from the living room. Our dog starts barking to get attention. There are dishes to wash, dinner to prepare, and beds to make (unless you have decided to let that one go for the time being).
So rather than berate ourselves for continuing this juggling act, how about if we redefine it?
We imagine ourselves juggling eggs – we are afraid to drop one of our responsibilities because it might break. And what happens if it breaks? We fear the disappointment it will bring (in ourselves, in others) and that we won’t be able to recover.
What if instead, we are juggling bouncing balls? We know that balls will be dropped. If you are like most people, you won’t be able to remember or do everything. And even if you are one of the lucky 2.5% who is able to multitask effectively, you will still inevitably drop a ball. Research shows that our mind wanders almost 50% of the time. With those odds, even with years of practice, you are going to miss things.
Unlike an egg, a bouncing ball returns to us. It doesn’t break. Once in a while, we can prioritize a work meeting over a child’s concert, and the child (and our relationship with the child) will be fine. Bouncing balls are resilient. And we should be too.