It All Comes Tumbling Down: How Much Is Too Much?

“A man’s gotta know his limitations.” — Clint Eastwood as “Dirty Harry” Callahan, Magnum Force.

 It All Comes Tumbling Down by Laura Stack #ProductivityHave you ever watched someone juggle chainsaws? I have—my speaker friends The Passing Zone do it several times a week. Scary right? I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes, would you? But in fact, you already have been, at least in a sense, if you’re in a position of any authority at work. The difference is that this crazy duo juggles dangerous objects for fun, as you may have seen on America’s Got Talent.

You might have a job with one big responsibility (a single chainsaw), such as a bodyguard (protect someone), lifeguard (keep people from drowning), grocery store bagger (pack up groceries), or personal assistant (make someone’s life easier), but they’re uncommon—especially in the business world. Managers and team members alike tend to find themselves juggling multiple responsibilities and projects (three to five chainsaws), in addition to the job’s normal maintenance tasks.

But as my friends Owen and Jon can attest, juggling in any sense is subject to two things: gravity, and the limitations of the person doing the juggling. We all have our project-juggling tipping points. You have to know where yours is, so you know when to cry uncle (no, sorry I can’t juggle 17 clubs). Furthermore, when juggling your tasks, you come up against the hard barrier of time. There’s only so much time you can spend at work, keeping all the chainsaws in the air, before you compromise your health and sanity.

The good news is that with practice, all jugglers can expand their realistic repertoire. There was a point where they went from three clubs to four. Once you’ve mastered four and put it on autopilot, you can move to five.

For example, I currently have three key responsibilities in my company: I’m the brand builder, the rainmaker, and the talent at The Productivity Pro, Inc. Everything I do has to fall under one of these three key responsibilities. Over time, I’ve taken on more tasks, until I reach the point where I know that just one more straw will break the back of my productivity. Then I back off a bit, while working on expanding my capacity. Now that these three main responsibilities are easier after 22 years in business, I don’t just sit back and take it easy. Now I want to become an internet maven. To do so, I need to increase my productive capacity through training, mentoring, prioritizing, organizing, systematizing, and outsourcing. But I have to make sure this new responsibility doesn’t make me fall behind on my other work.

When you can get your main responsibilities on autopilot and then add more capacity and create greater results, you’ve expanded your productive potential. Your boss will love you. Love means you have guaranteed employment, better pay, and more bonuses, and rightly so, because you produce like no one else on the team.

Being the team’s biggest juggler will make your manager your biggest fan, who is the one applauding the loudest in the audience. What have you done to increase your productive potential or capacity?

© 2014 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, is America’s Premier Expert in Productivity™. For over 20 years, Laura has worked with business leaders to execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. Laura is the bestselling author of six books, with over 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, including her newest work, Execution IS the Strategy (March 2014). Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.