“Juggling Elephants”

This week, I read Juggling Elephants by Jones Loflin and Todd Musig. The book tells a story to present “an easier way to get your most important things done—now!” (subtitle).

Time management has been something of lifelong journey for me. I’m always looking to be more effective in the use of my time. Most of the time, though, I feel like Mark, the main character in the story that’s told in Juggling Elephants.

The story centers around Mark, who’s married to Lisa. Mark and Lisa have a young daughter, Jackie. Mark is overwhelmed at work trying to get everything done. One night, he reluctantly goes to the circus with his family and there he encounters a visiting ringmaster, Victor, who becomes a mentor to Mark and shows him a way to get the most important things done.

The concepts taught in the book aren’t necessarily new, but they are presented in a way that’s memorable and fun, which make them more likely to be implemented!

The phrase “juggling elephants” is a metaphor for trying to get everything done. Just like juggling elephants is impossible, so too is getting everything done. The book states, “The result of juggling elephants is that no one, including you, is thrilled with the performance” (25). The solution is to focus on the most important things.

Using the circus as a metaphor for life, we become the ringmasters of our own three-ring circus. Victor, the mentor in the book, states, “The ringmaster has the greatest impact on the success of the circus” (31). Victor also points out, “The ringmaster cannot be in all three rings at once” (33). Victor says, “I have to give my full attention to the ring I am in and, when it’s time, I must move to the other ring as quickly as possible” (33).

Applying this to your life, Victor notes that there are two steps. “The first step is to have a plan, much like the (circus) program” (34). I like “program” better than “to-do list.” The “second step is to review the acts before bringing them into the ring” (34), that is, be intentional.

Viewing your life in three rings, there’s the work ring, the relationship ring, and the self ring. Mark, like many of us, “was just jumping from ring to ring, accepting whatever acts were easiest and most convenient to have in a ring at that moment. He was busy, but he felt like he was not achieving the results that were most important to him” (41).

Here is a list of some things Mark learned from his mentor, Victor …

  1. The ringmaster cannot be in all three rings at once.
  2. The ringmaster always reviews the next act before bringing it into the ring.
  3. The key to the success of the circus is having quality acts in all three rings.
  4. I need to figure out which ring I should be in at this moment.
  5. I need to decide what acts I should be focusing on right now. (46)

Two questions that help bring focus to this process are, “Which ring should I be in right now?” and “What act should I be focusing on?” (58).

Because there are so many “acts” vying for attention, “every act must serve a purpose” (63). We must focus on the most important things, even if that means laying aside, or delaying, some good acts. Victor says, “I have to remind myself that not all acts belong in my circus. We cannot be all things to all people. Choices have to be made” (65).

When considering new acts (i.e., things to add to the program or to-do list), there are two questions to ask: “Does this act belong in my circus?” and “When should this act appear?” (89).

There’s a lot more in the book that I need to process and implement. I like the importance of “intermission,” those breaks that helps us be more effective in the long run, as well as the advice to spread out the major acts in the three rings (i.e., if you have a major act at work, don’t schedule a major act at home at the same time).

The challenge for us is that our ministries are not clearly-defined, 9-to-5, 5-days-a-week jobs. Neither do our jobs do not come with clear boundaries, that is, our work takes place in many different locations—worship services, the church office, various places in the community, different locations within the district and/or conference, as well as in our home, which is where the real challenge of knowing which ring we are in comes into play!

There is a website that goes along with the book. See jugglingelephants.com.

While the concepts aren’t necessarily revolutionary, the approach is helpful because it’s fun and memorable. And if it’s fun and memorable, it’s much more user-friendly. I look forward to becoming a more effective ringmaster of my own circus!

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