The book Juggling Elephants: An Easier Way to Get Your Most Important Things Done–Now! was written in 2007 by corporate trainers Jones Loflin and Todd Musig. The short read tells the story of a man named Mark visiting the circus with his daughter. Mark meets a ringmaster there who shares the analogy of life as a circus. “Sometimes does it feel like you are juggling elephants?” he asks Mark.
The circus performance in the book takes place in three separate rings under the tent. The ringmaster schedules the acts for the circus and introduces the audience to each performer. While one act is performing, another ring is typically cleaning up from an act or setting up for the next act. The goal for the ringmaster is to have a great overall show.
Mark learns that life is like a three-ring circus, with one ring for yourself, one for your professional life, and one for your relationships. The key to a circus (and life) is having quality acts in all three rings. But a ringmaster cannot be in all three rings at once – this is like trying to juggle elephants. Which ring in my life should I be focused on now? Which acts should I have in each ring?
Life is Like a Three-Ring Circus!
Some of the key work-life balance lessons covered are:
- Not all acts belong in your circus: be selective with commitments
- All acts need to fulfill your purpose: ensure what you are doing is moving you closer to your goals; work on the right things
- Have the resources to make your acts successful: delay actions until you have information and skills for them
- Line up acts for a successful performance: all lives go through different phases
- Schedule major acts at different times: maintain effectiveness and don’t spread yourself too thin
- You may need to delegate management of some acts: get help when it makes sense
- Make sure to schedule an occasional intermission for the circus: take the time to step back and review your performance. Ask for feedback.
Work-Life Balance Using Roles
I have expanded upon the three rings in my planning process, instead focusing on my separate roles as suggested by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey recommends you balance and prioritize based upon the roles in your personal and professional life. The roles I currently balance are:
- Personal (mental and physical health, personal improvement and learning)
- Husband/Dad (family relationships)
- Relative/Friend (social relationships)
- Homeowner (projects and responsibilities related to the family and home)
- Volunteer (actions for causes I am supporting)
- Business owner (tasks and responsibilities for my business)
- Employer (tasks and responsibilities for my employees and partners)
- Project Manager (tasks for customer projects)
I plan each week based on the above roles, identifying key goals or actions I will focus on. In this method of planning it is desirable to seek opportunities for two-way or three-way wins – actions that will support growth in multiple roles. A few examples of these include:
- A weekend hike with your children
- Attending a business conference with your wife
- Training for a 5K run with some great friends
- Volunteering to join a board of directors consisting of potential clients
- Completing a home improvement project with my daughter (developing the skill of patience as well!)
- A golf or ski outing with business associates
- Volunteering for an organization that involves working with good friends
Whether you separate your life by circus rings or by roles, the key is balance and success in all areas. Don’t forget to clown around occasionally too!