It’s Ok to Drop the Ball… or Two, or Three
It’s an exciting time to be a working creative. With remote work becoming the norm, and new companies and types of roles cropping up daily, our opportunities as professionals are nearly endless. On top of that, we have access to new means of learning online, there’s constant innovation in tools and processes that are changing the way we work, and there are vast communities of creatives to both learn from and be inspired by. With all of this information available at our fingertips, there are more reasons than ever to be excited about creative work, but with the sheer volume of it all, it can feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to absorb it.
As a result, our creative inputs begin to outweigh our output, and we amass long lists of all the things we’d like to learn, books to read, and ideas for projects that end up permanently stuck on the back burner. With both lots of things we want to do, and lots of things we have to do, finding a creative balance is a constant struggle between our personal and professional lives.
We often hear the adage that if you can’t find the time, you have to make it, or that if there’s a will, there’s a way—and to an extent, I agree. However, there are only so many hours in the day, and only so much that our brains can handle in terms of bandwidth. Simply adding more balls to those we’re already juggling can work for a while, but it’s not sustainable and it’s only a matter of time before they all come crashing down.
That time has to come from somewhere, after all, and unless you’re reallocating the time you’d usually spend scrolling through social media or streaming the latest Netflix series, that time is being taken from something vital, like sleep. Sometimes, for the sake of our sanity or health, we have to allow one or more of the balls to drop to avoid burnout or avert disaster. Doing so deliberately allows us to control the fall so we can reduce the collateral damage. The challenge lies in choosing which balls to let drop.
The key thing to consider when restructuring your time and deciding which balls to drop is the ripple effect that ball will cause when it hits the ground. You’re going to have to sacrifice something—this is the flip side of the coin when it comes to making the time to try something new or removing something when your schedule is overcrowded. Will your decision have ramifications that will affect others adversely, or will you be the only one to take a hit?
When deciding your priorities, consider your relationships, not only your personal and professional relationships, but your relationship with yourself. Which of these are you least willing to make a sacrifice in? That might mean prioritizing your friendships or time with family by not putting in those extra hours after work in pursuit of a promotion. Or maybe you value your relationship with yourself, choosing to push yourself at work to advance your career, and using your personal time to eat well, exercise, and learn new skills. It can be hard to choose but that’s the nature of sacrifice—understanding what matters most to you and doing everything in your power to protect it at the cost of everything else.
The unfortunate reality is, we all have bills that need to be paid and when push comes to shove, our personal lives are often the first to take the hit. Without the luxury of dropping any responsibilities in our professional lives, our pragmatic minds prevail and things like hobbies, time with friends, and sleep are the first to go, along with the benefits they provide to our health. But is it really the case that you’re unable to keep up with the pace at work or have your duties begun to creep and expand beyond the point where they can be successfully managed by a single person? If you find yourself in this situation where you feel expectations of you are unreasonable or you’re having to put in overtime just to make sure deadlines are met, the best thing to do is verbalize your concerns sooner rather than later.
Don’t allow things to reach a point where you’re forced to choose between working nights and weekends or letting your team down. If you feel like the workload is unevenly distributed, there’s a strong chance your team members aren’t even aware of it. There’s no shame in admitting you can’t do something or asking for help and your team will appreciate your honesty if you do so early while there’s still time to redistribute work, you prevent the whole team from ending up in a bind later on. Keeping an open line of communication provides valuable info that can be used to allocate budget and plan future hires if the workload necessitates another set of hands, or at the very least adjust timetables and expectations to be more realistic.
Choosing to drop the ball is about recognizing patterns and proactively mitigating behaviors that lead to burnout. We’ve all heard stories of the former high-level executive who burned the candle at both ends until there was nothing left to give, eventually reaching the point of utter burnout and leaving it all behind after finding their calling in running a small juice cart or playing the handpan. At this point, it’s almost an archetype. Things don’t need to reach that level before you decide to do something.
If you’re not sure exactly where you stand in terms of priorities but still feel like your time management needs some improvement, there are some low-hanging fruit like social media scrolling, gaming, or watching videos on YouTube that may seem insignificant but add up to consume a significant portion of our day if left unchecked. Just by cutting these habits out of your routine, you can reclaim a surprising amount of productive work time.
When we choose to drop parts of our personal or professional lives, we do so knowing that we can always pick them back up when time permits. Sometimes circumstances require that we drop something important, but it’s always in exchange for something of equal or greater weight—putting our careers on pause to show up for family or friends when it really counts or vice versa, taking some time to focus on our careers so we can improve our position and provide better lives for our loved ones. Managing our personal lives along with professional and creative aspirations is a constant juggling act. It’s ok to let some balls drop if it means preventing everything from crashing down. Just keep your eyes open for the signs of impending disaster and trust your gut when it comes time to choose which balls to let fall.