Keeping the Plates Spinning

Posted: June 23, 2013 in Time Management
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spinning plateWhen I was younger, it was common to see acts on TV variety shows where entertainers would keep multiple plates spinning on poles.  At some point, plates would start to wobble and the person would have to rush to get them spinning safely again before they fell.  There was a bit of drama at that point where you just couldn’t imagine it doing anything but fall, yet the person usually found a way to keep it going.

It is an ongoing challenge to keep a lot of plates spinning in our lives.  However, what is important may not be the same as what is urgent.  Intervening to keep a plate from falling is urgent.  It may or may not be important compared to what else needs to be done in a limited amount of time.

The subject comes to mind as I find myself over the last couple of weeks spending more time focusing on the wobbling plates than on those which my better judgment tells me are most important.  Got a presentation due in a couple days?  Better get to it.  Have a deadline creeping up?  Get to work on it.  Said ‘yes’ to one or two out-of-the-ordinary requests to help some friends out?  Can’t let them down now, no matter what.

Concentrating on the most wobbly plate is a clear signal that I have too many plates spinning.  The situation is in part my fault for being ambitious in setting certain goals for the year that I am struggling to achieve.  Part of the issue is that I have more to do at work than my mere 50-55 hours per week can get done.  Add to the mix some unusual, temporary personal obligations that could not have been foreseen, and all of that adds up to a plate spinning act that is going on for longer than I wish.  In fact, I made a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes at work this week that, while minor and inconsequential, still bother me since that isn’t the norm for me.  Even though others may not have noticed or cared, I felt like I let a couple of plates fall.  I don’t like that.

What to do about it?  There are a few possibilities:

  • Recognize that some of the spinning plates aren’t important enough to keep spinning, and let them go;
  • Plead my case at work for more help in some matters (tough to do when others on the team are also overworked and more new hires are unlikely);
  • Get better at saying ‘no’ to some requests.

Only a week remains until my next monthly update on how I’m coming on my goals for the year, and it isn’t looking like I’ve done more than barely maintain this month.  I certainly haven’t made up ground on any delinquent goals.  Near the mid-year point, there is still time to achieve them, but now it has to be done with the end nearing – not my preference.

I have several wobbly plates in front of me this week.  It will be crazy busy and somewhat frustrating.  All of them are hard commitments that must be followed through on.  Allowing any to drop is not an option, so I’ll do what it takes.  Beginning in July, my calendar looks more clear than it has been in June, so there is reason to believe that I can start to make up some ground next month.  I know it will eventually take some vacation weeks to have time to make a serious dent in some personal goals lagging behind, and I can do that in the Fall.

Meanwhile, for this week, it looks like I’ll keep spinning plates.

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