Juggling

In episode 23 of Back to Work, my friend Dan Benjamin argued it is not possible to do two things really well at the same time. Specifically, Dan explained that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to seriously pursue two different big things. He used the example of starting an iOS app business while holding a day job. Dan made a good case that the attempt to do two things well results in you sucking at both.

Ouch.

I’m doing a lot of things at once. Am I torpedoing myself? Dan’s argument led to some soul searching about what I’ve been up to lately. I simultaneously agreed and disagreed with Dan throughout the show. At one point Merlin Mann used me as an example. I practice law by day and write technology by night. Dan explained that I didn’t count because I’m not a, “normal human.” That’s the one part that Dan got wrong. I’m very human and this stuff is really hard.

A Very Regular Human Indeed

I laugh when someone refers to me as a productivity guru. I am a mess. My mother chose well when she named me David. I spend my weekdays in the trenches with my clients against a seemingly endless stream of Goliaths. I spend my free time (the weeknights and weekends Dan was talking about) writing for MacSparky and podcasting with the Mac Power Users. Add to this my family, friends, and other social commitments and I quickly find I don’t have just two things. I have six or seven. That is my normal juggling routine. Now add to this the spinning chainsaw that is a 25 chapter book, due in just a little over a month, and you can see how I am well and truly screwed. Or at least it would seem. The thing is, right now I am having more fun than ever.

Saying No

Saying “no” is something I’ve only recently figured out but, like a religious convert, I’m exercising this particular muscle plenty. If you want to juggle, you have to learn to say no. Even jugglers have their limits. There are degrees of difficulty in saying no. Television and video games are the easy ones. The day I decided to stop responding to every MacSparky e-mail was a tough “no”. (I still read everything you send me.) It gets even harder when you turn down opportunities. In the past six months I’ve turned down some great opportunities including writing for some really smart people, sitting on an American Bar Association planning board, and expanding my career. I don’t have any regrets with any of those, but they weren’t easy. The real corker, however, is saying no to your family and friends. That is a fourth degree no. This stuff is hard.

The key to it all for me is balance. I try my very best to give the things and people I love attention and accept that it is not possible for me to be all things to all people at any one time. I’m also not too hard on myself. I do my best and try each day to get a little better.

Where Dan’s words ring true for me is this very month as I push to complete a book. It is this extra commitment with the obscene amounts of extra time it requires that I get Dan. Now things are nuts. The next month is going to requires me to say no to some things I’d rather not. It is a temporary thing and will pass soon enough. If every month was like this one, though, I’d fall apart, just as Dan predicts.

Big and Small Touches

Wouldn’t it be great though if I could constantly juggle all of this? If I could run a law practice, blog, podcast, speak, and write books and not go insane? That would make me awesome with my very own superpower. That, however, would also be bullshit.

Writing the book is my edge case. Normally I seem to get by just fine with the law practice and MacSparky. I think, for me at least, this juggling act isn’t a super power but instead a selfish thing. I really like everything I do right now and I’m addicted to the big and small touches.

Just looking at my law/MacSparky juggle, I see these two things scratching very different itches.

I became a lawyer because I enjoy helping people. Stop laughing. You’d be surprised how many lawyers find themselves in this profession for exactly the same reason. People come to me with some really big problems. My clients need help and I can make the difference between pulling out of a nose dive and making a big smoking hole in the ground. My work as a lawyer has a major impact on their lives. Those are my big touches

MacSparky, on the other hand, leads to many small touches. I get e-mails from people all over the world explaining how some little thing I posted or said made their lives better. I love those small touches. When the Mac at Work book shipped, I received an e-mail from a single mom who explained how she used a bunch of my workflows from the book to shorten her work day, saving her about 10 hours a week (500 hours a year) for more time with her daughter. When I wonder why I’m working so hard on this next book and saying “no” so often, that e-mail is why. Both the big and small touches that mean a lot for me.

Dan is Right

Despite all of the above yammering, Dan is right. You really can’t give two things everything. The trick in all of this is finding that tipping point when outside interests go from being simply a hobby or dabbling into the pedal-to-the-metal Next Big Thing. Recognizing that moment and having the guts to jump on it is key. That is what I think Dan was talking about and he is absolutely right. My only qualification is that this idea of just one thing shouldn’t prevent you from dabbling and hobbies. You never know where those things might lead. (I think Dan would agree with me on this.)

Since I’ve accepted Dan’s argument, I’m agreeing that if I did just law, or just wrote about technology, or just podcasted, I’d no doubt be able to commit more energy and be better at the one thing. However, I’m still not interested in picking just one. Maybe I’m too gutless to jump but I don’t think that is the case.

Emerging from this rabbit hole, I realize that at this point in my life, I couldn’t imagine myself giving up the big touches or the little touches. I’m not willing to jump on just one thing because I’m enjoying several things way too much. My life is more enriching now because of all the things I do. In other words, I intend to continue juggling.

48 Comments Juggling

  1. Trentmcd@mac.com

    Nice post. I know what Dan means but I think the one thing can be a bit bigger than traditional one thing. The one thing you are doing are the things that make you happy. You are doing one thing..making yourself a happy person.
    (I dislike my overuse of the word thing(s) here.)

    Reply
  2. Trentmcd@mac.com

    Nice post. I know what Dan means but I think the one thing can be a bit bigger than traditional one thing. The one thing you are doing are the things that make you happy. You are doing one thing..making yourself a happy person.
    (I dislike my overuse of the word thing(s) here.)

    Reply
  3. Trentmcd@mac.com

    Nice post. I know what Dan means but I think the one thing can be a bit bigger than traditional one thing. The one thing you are doing are the things that make you happy. You are doing one thing..making yourself a happy person.
    (I dislike my overuse of the word thing(s) here.)

    Reply
  4. Trentmcd@mac.com

    Nice post. I know what Dan means but I think the one thing can be a bit bigger than traditional one thing. The one thing you are doing are the things that make you happy. You are doing one thing..making yourself a happy person.
    (I dislike my overuse of the word thing(s) here.)

    Reply
  5. Trentmcd@mac.com

    Nice post. I know what Dan means but I think the one thing can be a bit bigger than traditional one thing. The one thing you are doing are the things that make you happy. You are doing one thing..making yourself a happy person.
    (I dislike my overuse of the word thing(s) here.)

    Reply
  6. pbain@gaylordmerlin.com

    Things will never get "back to normal."
    Welcome to the new normal.

    You could easily make the jump into leaving the law practice. I'm not sure how it would affect your standard of living, but have a lot of ideas about how you could become a specialist and consultant. There's a real need and it's only going to get bigger and bigger. However, there may be some of Quieting the Lizard Brain needed to make the transition (hat tip to Merlin Mann).

    Thanks for all that you do. I've loved having my Mac at work because of your book.

    Reply
  7. pbain@gaylordmerlin.com

    Things will never get "back to normal."
    Welcome to the new normal.

    You could easily make the jump into leaving the law practice. I'm not sure how it would affect your standard of living, but have a lot of ideas about how you could become a specialist and consultant. There's a real need and it's only going to get bigger and bigger. However, there may be some of Quieting the Lizard Brain needed to make the transition (hat tip to Merlin Mann).

    Thanks for all that you do. I've loved having my Mac at work because of your book.

    Reply
  8. pbain@gaylordmerlin.com

    Things will never get "back to normal."
    Welcome to the new normal.

    You could easily make the jump into leaving the law practice. I'm not sure how it would affect your standard of living, but have a lot of ideas about how you could become a specialist and consultant. There's a real need and it's only going to get bigger and bigger. However, there may be some of Quieting the Lizard Brain needed to make the transition (hat tip to Merlin Mann).

    Thanks for all that you do. I've loved having my Mac at work because of your book.

    Reply
  9. pbain@gaylordmerlin.com

    Things will never get "back to normal."
    Welcome to the new normal.

    You could easily make the jump into leaving the law practice. I'm not sure how it would affect your standard of living, but have a lot of ideas about how you could become a specialist and consultant. There's a real need and it's only going to get bigger and bigger. However, there may be some of Quieting the Lizard Brain needed to make the transition (hat tip to Merlin Mann).

    Thanks for all that you do. I've loved having my Mac at work because of your book.

    Reply
  10. pbain@gaylordmerlin.com

    Things will never get "back to normal."
    Welcome to the new normal.

    You could easily make the jump into leaving the law practice. I'm not sure how it would affect your standard of living, but have a lot of ideas about how you could become a specialist and consultant. There's a real need and it's only going to get bigger and bigger. However, there may be some of Quieting the Lizard Brain needed to make the transition (hat tip to Merlin Mann).

    Thanks for all that you do. I've loved having my Mac at work because of your book.

    Reply
  11. John

    I've been following you for a while now and have been impressed and usually amazed and all of the things you do. I too am "busy" with work, kids and other projects. I seldom get to do the things I want to do, to move forward rather than just get by. When I read your posts or listen to your podcasts I wonder how it is that you do it. Do you sleep? Is Omnifocus just THAT awesome. :-). Really no point to be made here other than to say perhaps it is the fact that you are having fun and enjoying what you are doing that makes taking all this on easier. What is that saying – if you enjoy what you do it will never be "work"

    Reply
  12. rhianon.jameson@gmail.com

    I listened to Dan and Merlin discuss that on "Back to Work" as well, and it's hard to argue with the concept that focusing on a single thing will make you better at it than trying to master two things. Surely you'd be a more effective lawyer if you devoted more time to that, or a more effective Mac writer and podcaster if you spend more time on that, etc.

    But what I took from Dan's point was not that one should be single-minded about life. If you took the hours per week you spend on your blog and stayed at the office instead, the marginal benefit to your career is likely to be small, while at the same time your overall happiness is likely to diminish. Life needs balance.

    What I think Dan was saying was: if you decided you liked writing better than lawyering, the way to change careers is not to spend eight hours a day as a lawyer and then ease into writing. That's an excellent point, but not applicable to your juggling act.

    Keep it up as long as it's what you want to do… and I look forward to the book.

    Reply
  13. rhianon.jameson@gmail.com

    I listened to Dan and Merlin discuss that on "Back to Work" as well, and it's hard to argue with the concept that focusing on a single thing will make you better at it than trying to master two things. Surely you'd be a more effective lawyer if you devoted more time to that, or a more effective Mac writer and podcaster if you spend more time on that, etc.

    But what I took from Dan's point was not that one should be single-minded about life. If you took the hours per week you spend on your blog and stayed at the office instead, the marginal benefit to your career is likely to be small, while at the same time your overall happiness is likely to diminish. Life needs balance.

    What I think Dan was saying was: if you decided you liked writing better than lawyering, the way to change careers is not to spend eight hours a day as a lawyer and then ease into writing. That's an excellent point, but not applicable to your juggling act.

    Keep it up as long as it's what you want to do… and I look forward to the book.

    Reply
  14. rhianon.jameson@gmail.com

    I listened to Dan and Merlin discuss that on "Back to Work" as well, and it's hard to argue with the concept that focusing on a single thing will make you better at it than trying to master two things. Surely you'd be a more effective lawyer if you devoted more time to that, or a more effective Mac writer and podcaster if you spend more time on that, etc.

    But what I took from Dan's point was not that one should be single-minded about life. If you took the hours per week you spend on your blog and stayed at the office instead, the marginal benefit to your career is likely to be small, while at the same time your overall happiness is likely to diminish. Life needs balance.

    What I think Dan was saying was: if you decided you liked writing better than lawyering, the way to change careers is not to spend eight hours a day as a lawyer and then ease into writing. That's an excellent point, but not applicable to your juggling act.

    Keep it up as long as it's what you want to do… and I look forward to the book.

    Reply
  15. rhianon.jameson@gmail.com

    I listened to Dan and Merlin discuss that on "Back to Work" as well, and it's hard to argue with the concept that focusing on a single thing will make you better at it than trying to master two things. Surely you'd be a more effective lawyer if you devoted more time to that, or a more effective Mac writer and podcaster if you spend more time on that, etc.

    But what I took from Dan's point was not that one should be single-minded about life. If you took the hours per week you spend on your blog and stayed at the office instead, the marginal benefit to your career is likely to be small, while at the same time your overall happiness is likely to diminish. Life needs balance.

    What I think Dan was saying was: if you decided you liked writing better than lawyering, the way to change careers is not to spend eight hours a day as a lawyer and then ease into writing. That's an excellent point, but not applicable to your juggling act.

    Keep it up as long as it's what you want to do… and I look forward to the book.

    Reply
  16. rhianon.jameson@gmail.com

    I listened to Dan and Merlin discuss that on "Back to Work" as well, and it's hard to argue with the concept that focusing on a single thing will make you better at it than trying to master two things. Surely you'd be a more effective lawyer if you devoted more time to that, or a more effective Mac writer and podcaster if you spend more time on that, etc.

    But what I took from Dan's point was not that one should be single-minded about life. If you took the hours per week you spend on your blog and stayed at the office instead, the marginal benefit to your career is likely to be small, while at the same time your overall happiness is likely to diminish. Life needs balance.

    What I think Dan was saying was: if you decided you liked writing better than lawyering, the way to change careers is not to spend eight hours a day as a lawyer and then ease into writing. That's an excellent point, but not applicable to your juggling act.

    Keep it up as long as it's what you want to do… and I look forward to the book.

    Reply
  17. gfiremark@firemark.com

    David,

    Thanks for saying this so well. I, too, am an attorney who juggles multiple "jobs" in addition to trying to maintain some balance with family, social life, etc.

    While I agree with the *concept* that doing only one thing can lead to doing it really, really well… it can also lead to being rather one-dimensional, bored and well, boring.

    Most people have hobbies, non-work interests, and other things in their lives that draw their focus from their "job". Some of us, though, have found ways to make these other things, part of our 'work'. Don't we all know someone who, for example, works as a banker during the week, but is a part-time golf "pro", giving lessons on weekends?

    How is juggling law practice, book writing, blogging, podcasting, and other ventures really different…

    So, go ahead and juggle. It makes you (us) well rounded, interesting people, and keeps us interested, engaged, and inspired.

    That, in my book, is a win!

    Reply
  18. gfiremark@firemark.com

    David,

    Thanks for saying this so well. I, too, am an attorney who juggles multiple "jobs" in addition to trying to maintain some balance with family, social life, etc.

    While I agree with the *concept* that doing only one thing can lead to doing it really, really well… it can also lead to being rather one-dimensional, bored and well, boring.

    Most people have hobbies, non-work interests, and other things in their lives that draw their focus from their "job". Some of us, though, have found ways to make these other things, part of our 'work'. Don't we all know someone who, for example, works as a banker during the week, but is a part-time golf "pro", giving lessons on weekends?

    How is juggling law practice, book writing, blogging, podcasting, and other ventures really different…

    So, go ahead and juggle. It makes you (us) well rounded, interesting people, and keeps us interested, engaged, and inspired.

    That, in my book, is a win!

    Reply
  19. gfiremark@firemark.com

    David,

    Thanks for saying this so well. I, too, am an attorney who juggles multiple "jobs" in addition to trying to maintain some balance with family, social life, etc.

    While I agree with the *concept* that doing only one thing can lead to doing it really, really well… it can also lead to being rather one-dimensional, bored and well, boring.

    Most people have hobbies, non-work interests, and other things in their lives that draw their focus from their "job". Some of us, though, have found ways to make these other things, part of our 'work'. Don't we all know someone who, for example, works as a banker during the week, but is a part-time golf "pro", giving lessons on weekends?

    How is juggling law practice, book writing, blogging, podcasting, and other ventures really different…

    So, go ahead and juggle. It makes you (us) well rounded, interesting people, and keeps us interested, engaged, and inspired.

    That, in my book, is a win!

    Reply
  20. gfiremark@firemark.com

    David,

    Thanks for saying this so well. I, too, am an attorney who juggles multiple "jobs" in addition to trying to maintain some balance with family, social life, etc.

    While I agree with the *concept* that doing only one thing can lead to doing it really, really well… it can also lead to being rather one-dimensional, bored and well, boring.

    Most people have hobbies, non-work interests, and other things in their lives that draw their focus from their "job". Some of us, though, have found ways to make these other things, part of our 'work'. Don't we all know someone who, for example, works as a banker during the week, but is a part-time golf "pro", giving lessons on weekends?

    How is juggling law practice, book writing, blogging, podcasting, and other ventures really different…

    So, go ahead and juggle. It makes you (us) well rounded, interesting people, and keeps us interested, engaged, and inspired.

    That, in my book, is a win!

    Reply
  21. gfiremark@firemark.com

    David,

    Thanks for saying this so well. I, too, am an attorney who juggles multiple "jobs" in addition to trying to maintain some balance with family, social life, etc.

    While I agree with the *concept* that doing only one thing can lead to doing it really, really well… it can also lead to being rather one-dimensional, bored and well, boring.

    Most people have hobbies, non-work interests, and other things in their lives that draw their focus from their "job". Some of us, though, have found ways to make these other things, part of our 'work'. Don't we all know someone who, for example, works as a banker during the week, but is a part-time golf "pro", giving lessons on weekends?

    How is juggling law practice, book writing, blogging, podcasting, and other ventures really different…

    So, go ahead and juggle. It makes you (us) well rounded, interesting people, and keeps us interested, engaged, and inspired.

    That, in my book, is a win!

    Reply
  22. mark.fuccio@gmail.com

    David,

    Great post. Many people, like you, are productive in different areas. Its self-defeating to give up without even trying. Mental toughness is required. This includes focus and "saying no".

    Your post reminded me of the aphorism "if you want something done, give it to a busy man"

    Mark F

    Reply
  23. mark.fuccio@gmail.com

    David,

    Great post. Many people, like you, are productive in different areas. Its self-defeating to give up without even trying. Mental toughness is required. This includes focus and "saying no".

    Your post reminded me of the aphorism "if you want something done, give it to a busy man"

    Mark F

    Reply
  24. mark.fuccio@gmail.com

    David,

    Great post. Many people, like you, are productive in different areas. Its self-defeating to give up without even trying. Mental toughness is required. This includes focus and "saying no".

    Your post reminded me of the aphorism "if you want something done, give it to a busy man"

    Mark F

    Reply
  25. mark.fuccio@gmail.com

    David,

    Great post. Many people, like you, are productive in different areas. Its self-defeating to give up without even trying. Mental toughness is required. This includes focus and "saying no".

    Your post reminded me of the aphorism "if you want something done, give it to a busy man"

    Mark F

    Reply
  26. mark.fuccio@gmail.com

    David,

    Great post. Many people, like you, are productive in different areas. Its self-defeating to give up without even trying. Mental toughness is required. This includes focus and "saying no".

    Your post reminded me of the aphorism "if you want something done, give it to a busy man"

    Mark F

    Reply
  27. marcustataylor@gmail.com

    I have long thought that multitasking is a misnomer. You can be busy with dozens of projects, but you can only work on one thing at one time. David Allen's GTD is principally about finding the one next action, through the maze of multiple interrupts. I admire your energy David, I would like to put better effort into my other lives, but sadly work takes the lions share of my time and attention.

    Reply
  28. marcustataylor@gmail.com

    I have long thought that multitasking is a misnomer. You can be busy with dozens of projects, but you can only work on one thing at one time. David Allen's GTD is principally about finding the one next action, through the maze of multiple interrupts. I admire your energy David, I would like to put better effort into my other lives, but sadly work takes the lions share of my time and attention.

    Reply
  29. marcustataylor@gmail.com

    I have long thought that multitasking is a misnomer. You can be busy with dozens of projects, but you can only work on one thing at one time. David Allen's GTD is principally about finding the one next action, through the maze of multiple interrupts. I admire your energy David, I would like to put better effort into my other lives, but sadly work takes the lions share of my time and attention.

    Reply
  30. marcustataylor@gmail.com

    I have long thought that multitasking is a misnomer. You can be busy with dozens of projects, but you can only work on one thing at one time. David Allen's GTD is principally about finding the one next action, through the maze of multiple interrupts. I admire your energy David, I would like to put better effort into my other lives, but sadly work takes the lions share of my time and attention.

    Reply
  31. marcustataylor@gmail.com

    I have long thought that multitasking is a misnomer. You can be busy with dozens of projects, but you can only work on one thing at one time. David Allen's GTD is principally about finding the one next action, through the maze of multiple interrupts. I admire your energy David, I would like to put better effort into my other lives, but sadly work takes the lions share of my time and attention.

    Reply
  32. Mars Sanford

    Very nice post. Good to hear a retort to the all in focus of Dan. Of course one should try not to compare themself to others (speaking of rabbit holes), but good to hear a case made for jugglers. Gives a bit of hope. Best to you, good sir!

    Reply
  33. will@wildernorm.com

    This seems much like David Allen's view of procrastination "Doing something (while not doing another thing) and feeling guilty about it." If you don't have an issue with juggling, its not causing your overdue stress or anxiety, then you are fine. Keep up the juggling.

    Reply
  34. will@wildernorm.com

    This seems much like David Allen's view of procrastination "Doing something (while not doing another thing) and feeling guilty about it." If you don't have an issue with juggling, its not causing your overdue stress or anxiety, then you are fine. Keep up the juggling.

    Reply
  35. will@wildernorm.com

    This seems much like David Allen's view of procrastination "Doing something (while not doing another thing) and feeling guilty about it." If you don't have an issue with juggling, its not causing your overdue stress or anxiety, then you are fine. Keep up the juggling.

    Reply
  36. will@wildernorm.com

    This seems much like David Allen's view of procrastination "Doing something (while not doing another thing) and feeling guilty about it." If you don't have an issue with juggling, its not causing your overdue stress or anxiety, then you are fine. Keep up the juggling.

    Reply
  37. will@wildernorm.com

    This seems much like David Allen's view of procrastination "Doing something (while not doing another thing) and feeling guilty about it." If you don't have an issue with juggling, its not causing your overdue stress or anxiety, then you are fine. Keep up the juggling.

    Reply

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