We all have so much going on in our lives and it’s hard to keep track/keep up with everything. I have a spreadsheet with the different projects I’m working on, broken down into manageable steps to help me keep everything straight. But, it seems every week a new challenge, project, or task arises and I need to rethink my strategies for handling it all. A lot of the time, I feel like I am managing spinning plates.
When I was growing up, I saw a juggling act on TV where they would spin several plates on thin poles. It was exciting and scary and that image pops up every once in a while when I feel overwhelmed. (There are a few videos of this on YouTube as well as images and cartoons online—Google ‘spinning plates video’). What seems most appropriate to me about this image is that the plates are breakable. Most of us talk about juggling tasks in our lives, but thinking about juggling balls doesn’t really illustrate what we’re feeling; balls don’t break if they’re dropped, but plates do. In our anxiety, every task seems fragile and breakable and keeping them all spinning seems perilous at times. And sometimes it is. If we take a moment to step back from the panic, we can look at all we are trying to do and, hopefully, think more clearly about what is a precious porcelain task and what is a paper plate. Most of our tasks fall somewhere in between, but you get the idea.
Getting back to my spreadsheet, I learned when I was in graduate school that the only way I would make it is if I quite obsessing about how much I had to do, how many books I had to read and annotate, how many project notes I had to write up. If I looked at what I had to do TODAY and only today, to map out what I had to do THIS WEEK, I could function. Not only did my anxiety level go down, but I actually accomplished more. Multitasking actually works best when you do several things a day, but only one thing at a time.
I don’t have the heavy deadlines and outside expectations I had then, but I do have self-imposed deadlines and long term projects I’m trying to work on. I have nine anthropological research projects going right now in addition to my coiled and loom studio projects as well as a reading list that will take me another 150 years to complete. I also teach anthropology at the community college when they need me, teach weaving and basketry in the community and volunteer at a non-profit bookstore that supports our local libraries. Lots of spinning plates. The spreadsheet really helps!
Another thing that helps is taking time each day to smell the roses. An old cliché, but an apt one. I do this by following the turn of the seasons. Being an odd duck, I don’t subscribe to the seasons the way most people do; spring does not start for me on March the 21st. Thinking of the movement of the earth around the sun works a lot better for me. I think of the calendar and the seasons as a circular round we travel. March the 21st is the spring equinox, a point on the circle but between the spring equinox and the winter solstice is a midpoint that I think of as spring’s horizon, a point we pass around the 6th of February. In this round, as in the orbit of our planet, the equinoxes and solstices happen at different points and their horizons are equidistant between them: Feb 6, May 6, Aug 6, and Nov 6. This probably works better for me in the desert of West Texas than it would for those of you living further north, but I have noticed in the many years I’ve lived here that nature starts waking up around this date. Over this past week, the birds have begun their mating dances and have started gathering materials for their nests. The sun’s angle has begun bringing more and stronger sunlight into my northern windows. When does nature wake up where you are? When does the sun come in more strongly in your windows? Take a moment each day to note where the sun is in relation to your home, where you work etc. Begin to track its yearly round.
I hope that each of you has developed some way to help you cope with your spinning plates. Decide what each of your plates is made of. Find a few plates that don’t need to be spinning right now, but make a note of when you need to spin them up again. And, most importantly, find a way to take a deep, calming breath each day and watch the seasons in their round.
Peace be with you.