The Juggling Elephants time management system

Juggling Elephants is actually the title of a book by Jones Loflin and Todd Musig, and contains advice for anyone who finds that their time management system feels more like juggling elephants than any kind of organized process.

The theory of the book is that if your life feels like a circus, perhaps it should be run like one. After all, circuses have a lot going on at the same time, and yet are seldom disorganized or inefficient. So they recommend dividing your life into 3 "rings", and managing the rings as a ringmaster would manage a circus. (They recommend calling the rings Work, Relationships, and Self, but you could divide it however makes sense to you; entrepreneurs may find it helpful to divide their business into the 3 rings of Marketing, Operations, and Accounting, for example.)

Elephant-juggling Principles

Principle 1: One Act at a Time
The first principle of a circus is that, although all 3 rings of the circus must be running simultaneously, the ringmaster can't be in all 3 rings simultaneously. So the first principle of the time management system is that at any given time you should be focusing exclusively on one of your rings: if you're at work, focus on your work ring. If you're on a date, focus on your relationships ring.

Keep a "program", listing all of the "acts" that need to be worked in each ring. So your lineups might look like:

Get proposal to McCraysDate on FridayWorkout on Tuesday
Finish report for managerTake kids to zooFinish current novel
Annual review for MaryGolf with BobSpa on Saturday

Then decide when each act should appear; some may not be ready to go until tomorrow, or next week -- never bring on an act that isn't ready.

Principle 2: Not every act belongs in your circus
A circus is designed to provide its audience with entertainment, and every act must serve some purpose towards that goal. Although the ringmaster has offers every day for new acts to add, they must only add acts if and when they contribute to the entertainment value of the circus.

In the time management system, you're the ringmaster of your own personal circus, and you'll get many offers to add "acts" to your circus. Before you agree to add them to the lineup, ask yourself if this act will serve a purpose. Will it improve your relationship with your kids? With your partner? Will it impress your boss or get a new client? If it doesn't help you accomplish any of your goals, why are you doing it?

Principle 3: Only one major act at a time
If the circus has major acts in all 3 rings at the same time, the audience won't know where to look. The performers will get tired out, and no one will be impressed with the performance.

Don't schedule your home remodeling at the same time as a major work project, or your big client presentation for the week of your root canal.

Principle 4: Intermission is essential
Once you get all this running smoothly, you'll be tempted to think that it can run like this forever. But you'll be much more efficient if you allow yourself a break. Take a weekend off every once in a while and review the entire time management system: all the acts you have in your lineup, and if all of them belong there, and if they're in the right order, and if your circus has been running smoothly. You'll be much more productive when you come back.

Elephant-juggling Habits

As with any other time management system, there are habits involved also. Fortunately they're pretty simple, and only come into play 1) when you get a new task and 2) when you sit down to work on a task.

When you get a new task:
Ask yourself, "Does this act belong in my circus?" If not, turn it down, hire someone to do it, or delegate it to someone.

If it does, ask yourself, "When should it be scheduled?" Put it in the lineup according to its importance and how soon it will be ready. If you won't be able to get to it for a while, notify whoever gave it to you and ask them if that scheduling is ok.

When you sit down to work
Ask yourself, "What ring should I be in right now?" Then start working on your lineup in that ring.

How does it connect with my calendar?

The Juggling Elephants time management system doesn't much care what kind of calendar you use, so long as it helps you get all your rings balanced and your intermission scheduled. Any type of calendar will work, so pick one that works with your requirements.

How does it connect with my to-do list?
The Juggling Elephants time management system uses a master to-do list, which it calls your "Program". You also can optionally make a daily to-do list that's your "daily program". Almost any task list method will work, as long as you can sort your to-dos into your three rings.

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