Managing Multiple Projects—A Jugglers View

“Too many balls up in the air”

People like to use the juggling analogy to convey the impression that they are not just busy but on the edge. It makes for good theater.

Jugglers do put on a good show. They also give the impression that they are on the edge of chaos, but it is also part of the performance; they are in full control.

If you want to benefit from the juggling analogy, a better place to look is in the methods that they use to develop their skill. Those lessons can be applied to managing multiple tasks or projects.

Juggling skills require:

Confident and focused attention.

A heightened sense of awareness is needed to be able to react to the immediate situation. Both the mind and the body need to be in a comfortable position. Jugglers develop these skills.

Excess tension and distraction leads to dropped balls and mismanaged projects.

Following only on the critical activity.

It is impossible for the juggler to follow the complete track of each ball. The juggler though looks through the top arc and makes the required adjustments in the movements to catch and throw based on these observations.

Similarly, in managing multiple projects, identify the key elements and put the attention on those elements, delegating the others.

Anticipating and controlling an upset.

On occasion, the juggling sequence is interrupted (perhaps by a mis-thrown ball) and the juggler sees that he will have to stop. Since he anticipates this, he can choose which balls to catch.

When an upset occurs with multiple projects, all of the projects often suffer, similar to balls being dropped and bouncing in all directions. However, if the right priorities are known, the appropriate actions can be taken to minimize the effect on the most important projects.

Systematically Developing Skills.

Anyone who has picked up three balls and tried to juggle them, finds that it doesn’t go well at first. There is a learning curve. But as their skills develop, adding one ball at a time and an impressive skill develops. There is alot of effort though just picking up balls from the ground during the practice.

Learn to do one project well, then add another.

Jugglers’ underlying skill is real, developed by practice. The frenzy of the performance is an act. That skill should also be the goal of people managing multiple tasks. Sometimes though, the manager’s frenzy is real and the underlying skill is an act. Without the developed skills, projects, like juggling balls, are dropped.


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