Juggling it All- How to Balance Competing Priorities

By: Sandra Wachenheimer

Like many others, for many years, I have worn many different hats simultaneously: grad student, nurse, wife, mother of three, and advocate and caregiver for my neuro-diverse child. Often, juggling so many different commitments has caused me to awaken in a sleep-deprived state of confusion. A few years ago, when I was working as a 911 dispatch operator while working on my nursing degree, I was so tired that I mistakenly had the following conversation with my mother:

Me: “911, what’s your emergency?!”

Caller: “……”

Me: “Hello? 911, what’s your emergency?”

Caller: “…Sandra, it’s your mother. You asked me to call you to make sure you were awake in time to attend your clinicals at the hospital.”

As I reflect upon my successes and failures, I can attribute my ability to successfully balance my commitments to three essential strategies that I have mastered along the way.

#1: Organize your daily calendar to better manage your time.

Find or create an organizational system that enables you to be where you need to be when you are committed to being there. Today, it is easier than ever to keep track of meetings, assignments, due dates, and doctors’ appointments with apps, smartphones, and digital assistants. No one wants to get a call from their child’s school, reminding them that they are 30 minutes late to pick-up because it was an early-release day. Admittedly, this happened to me once before. Since that occurrence, I have found an organizational method that works for me.

I have grown to love Microsoft Outlook, as it allows me to integrate my kids’ school Google calendars, my personal Apple calendar, and my school and work Microsoft calendars all in one place. One of the better features is the option to look at one calendar at a time or all calendars at once. I also use my smartphone to set and label alarms throughout the day when a simple calendar notification is not enough to get my attention for important recurring events, like picking up the kids from school.

#2: Know your limits.

None of us wants to fail, so understanding our limits helps prevent dropping any of the balls we are simultaneously juggling. If new to multitasking, start slowly with one responsibility or schedule change at a time. Do not take on a new responsibility until you are comfortable with every task you are currently working on. At that time, assess your ability to take on more before committing to another project or task. Be realistic with the expectations you put on yourself. Never be afraid to speak up when you cannot take on additional work and ask for help if you took on too much. Asking for help can be difficult and is a skill we all could probably work on. Often, there is an inaccurate belief that asking for help is weak, yet it is anything but that.

Life is full of many unexpected challenges that can disrupt the best-laid plans. A Chief Nursing Officer once told me, “There will always be more opportunities,” and since then, I have kept this in mind when considering taking on new responsibilities. Be honest with yourself and your colleagues and accept the next project when you and your life are ready for it. It is better to be known for honesty than for producing inferior work.

#3: Know your priorities and be prepared to make sacrifices.

Most often, the first sacrifice made when juggling too much is a good night’s sleep. Family outings, hobbies, lunch with friends, diet, exercise, and mental health are also often pushed aside to make time for assignments. It is important to remember that a person’s well-being should not be disregarded, as it is essential for success. If you have ever flown on an airplane, then you are familiar with the flight attendant’s safety instructions to put on your oxygen mask before assisting your child or loved one. This is analogous to other aspects of self-care because it is necessary to care for your whole self (physically and mentally) to provide better service to others.

Hopefully, the strain of multiple commitments is only temporary. Prior to making a new commitment, assess and prioritize what you are willing to sacrifice. For example, when working on two committees, there may be occasions when you must choose which meeting or event to attend. Inform team members of your other commitments and limitations should a scheduling conflict occur. Mentally preparing for sacrifices and sharing this information with others involved makes these events less stressful when they occur.

Wherever your life takes you, and no matter how many hats you wear, remember always to celebrate your accomplishments, big and small. Sometimes merely making it through the day and sharing a meal with those you love is equally as rewarding as acing that big presentation to the board. Organize your time, know your limits, understand your priorities, and you will be successful in all your endeavors.