Juggling Glass and Wood: How to Prioritize Your Life

Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 1.51.48 PMMy father likes to explain life using a juggling metaphor. “Life is all about juggling glass and wooden balls. Sometimes you can’t keep all of them in the air. The trick to being successful is that if you have to drop any balls, make sure they are the wooden ones.” If a wooden ball drops on the floor, it’ll just roll away whereas the glass ones will break and cause an even bigger mess. So now not only do you have to juggle, but you have to watch your feet so you don’t step on any of the shards. Inevitably that will cause you to drop all the balls – and that’s a full fledged level 5 disaster.

I’ve always found that metaphor useful when I’m starting to feel stressed out. Like recently as I’ve been trying to finish projects for the end of my first quarter of school, scheduling blogs, making appointments with my over-priced personal trainer, writing stories for my storytelling seminar… It gets to be a bit much. And I’m not even trying to pretend to be like many of you who are juggling jobs, children, relationships with everything else.

Those responsibilities can grow exponentially during the holiday season when you add buying gifts, cooking family meals, sending out Christmas cards, making that pot luck dish for the office party – it never ends. So how do you deal with it? Get out a piece of paper and start identifying what balls you have in the air.

How do you tell if something is a glass ball? If you answer yes to any of the following questions, it’s glass.

Is this essential to me paying my bills at the end of the month (aka keeping my job, etc)? 

Does not doing this negatively affect my health or the health/safety of those around me? 

Is this essential to the happiness and stability of my family (or for you personally)? 

If it does not fall into one of those categories, no matter what pressure anyone else is putting on you – it’s a wooden ball. This means the world isn’t actually going to end if one of them drops, even if it seems that way. However, there are still more important wooden balls than others and prioritizing them will only help you further. Try these tips for figuring out the most important tasks.

  • Order the tasks by timeline (what has to be done the soonest?)
  • Tackle the tasks that will take the most time and effort first (as you complete one hard task it’ll only energize you to tackle the others)
  • Are there any tasks that completing them will make the others easier? These definitely go first! 
  • Which tasks reap the largest rewards? Whether that’s time with family (or for yourself!), financially, or space in your calendar – line them up in order of payoff. 

At this point you should have a good idea of the essentials and know the order of your task list. Now you can get started, and if the clock starts winding down and you know you aren’t going to get to everything – start dropping from the bottom. It’s all wood, you’re going to be okay. Breathe. Keep tossing and catching. Toss and catch. One at a time and steadily the list gets smaller and smaller until you get down to only the essential balls that hopefully will feel by instinct at this point so you can rest.

How do you determine your glass and wooden balls? Leave your tips below!