During a Mavericks game half-time show last season, I sat staring with my mouth wide open. With the rest of the breathless fans, I gawked at a tiny woman on an outrageously tall unicycle as she balanced a growing stack of bowls. She continued to toss them up, one by one, with her free foot (the other was pedalling, of course). I broke into a sweat because I was so nervous for her.
When people ask me about juggling obligations or "work/life balance," I imagine they see me as that halftime show acrobat with a delicately suspended stack of responsibilities, and want me to share my secrets to not dropping anything (or anyone). I'm not really worthy of their spotlight; I just have a little more practice than some. While this balancing act looks different for each person, the following are a few tricks of the juggling trade I have learned over the years:
Toss in some space: Dr. Richard Swenson, the author of Overload Syndrome and Margin, defines margin as "the difference between our load and our limits." I have attended numerous time-management seminars and know how to prioritize my schedule and schedule my priorities. It's the situations or people who don't call for an appointment that can throw me for a loop. Intentionally not scheduling every second to the max and allowing for some space, or margin, in my day is critical. For example, during my workday I plan 30-minute "breathers" between scheduled meetings to allow for people running late or to catch up on e-mail. Buffers of time like this leave me feeling like I can handle the inevitable crisis or opportunity, instead of feeling like I'm spinning out of control.
Toss around something to savor: What refreshes you? What brings back the pep in your step when you have had an intense season of life? Three things that restore my reserves are naps (self-explanatory), nature (spending time enjoying the fresh air), and nobody (being alone with my thoughts and a good book). Because I know this about myself, I plan specific activities that will breathe life back into me when I see a tremendous load that could leave me breathless.
Toss to someone else: While the one-woman-show is exciting, it's also a little crazy. I have found the best stunts I have ever accomplished have been feats of teamwork. Some simple examples of sharing the load from my world include having the dry-cleaning picked up and delivered to my home (at no extra charge!), delegating non-essential work tasks to team members, and asking my husband to address our Christmas cards. Giving up control of every move in your act is smart, so surround yourself with people you can toss to and catch from.
Toss out the scale: I heard a wise author and teacher answer the "how do you balance family and ministry life" question with this golden nugget: "I don't." She went on to share how she didn't believe there really was such a thing as having the scale perfectly balanced with family things on one side and ministry or work related-things on another. It's just not realistic - one day a child will need to be priority and another day a woman in crisis will need more time. I've felt tremendous freedom in throwing out my ideal of the perfectly balanced scale and just going to God and asking, "What needs my energy, focus, and time today?"
Now, just to be clear, I don't have this "work/life balance" thing all figured out. Some days I can juggle the demands of marriage, parenting, work, and friendships with one arm tied behind my back, while other days I can barely get out the door in one try. I guess I'm just an acrobat in training.