How to Stop Spinning Plates


“How ya’ doin’?” someone asked me. “Sheesh,” I replied with a bit of pride in my voice, “I’ve got a million things going on. How about you?” My colleague echoed my comment, as well as my tone, “Me, too.” Then we each catalogued all the projects and how important they were. It’s a daily ritual for most people and we tend to wear busyness as a badge of honor. However, if we pause for a moment of honesty and clarity, we readily confess that the busyness and endless task lists are an insidious, productivity sapping, demotivating disease. How do we stop?

To get at the core of how we get too busy and why it is really a sin to be busy, I highly recommend Kevin DeYoung’s book, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem. It’s a very fast read (only 128 pages) and it revolutionized my perspective on ideas such as busyness, margin, rest, and being available to God for His purposes.

While you wait for your copy of Crazy Busy to arrive, there are some things you can do to reduce your load and focus your attention on strategic purposes. To begin that process you must attend to three basic principles.

Align your work to a personal strategic direction.

Your personal strategic direction should be based on two things: 1) Your stewardship of how God has gifted you, and 2) Your personal mission. Your strategic direction is essentially the operationalization of your gifting in a manner that seeks to fulfill your mission. It is an effective action plan for your life.

If your work is aligned to your personal strategic direction, you will be doing the right things for the right reasons. A conscious understanding of your personal strategic direction will enable you to say Yes to the right opportunities, No to the wrong opportunities, and Later to others.

Most of us work in an organization of some kind. So the next principle is important, too. Finding synergy between personal and organizational strategic direction is critical. A mismatch will sabotage effectiveness and can create disastrous results. It can be a challenge to establish this alignment, and sometimes requires a job change!

Align your work with your organization’s strategic direction.

In a leader’s job, there are a broad range of opportunities, tasks, and activities that come along. If you’re like me, you find that many of them are interesting and they present a chance to do something well and add value to the organization. The temptation to say Yes to these opportunities is sometimes overwhelming. However, not everything that can be done should be done. (In fact, most things should not be done.)

Every effective organization has a strategic direction. There is a plan for moving forward in fulfillment of the mission. These strategies often have an annual or quarterly focus. The strategic direction is usually communicated by senior leadership and comes with a certain amount of tangible and intangible investments in making it happen.

If your organization’s strategic direction isn’t clear, listen carefully to what your senior leaders are saying, where money is being invested, and the focus of major meetings and events. You should be able to figure out the strategic direction pretty fast. (If you can’t that’s a different problem.)

With a clear understanding of your organization’s strategic direction, you are able to assess every task and opportunity that comes your way. Does this support our strategic direction? If so, consider investing yourself into the task (but see the first and last principle, too). If not, then seriously resist doing it.

Discern the differences between what you have to do and what others can do.

If you’ve examined an opportunity using the first two principles and it remains a consideration for investment of time and resources, your next responsibility is to discern whether it’s something you need to do or if it should be delegated.

Avoid taking on a responsibility just because it’s something you like to do. That’s not necessarily strategic and you might be stealing a developmental opportunity from someone else.

When do you have to do something? There are certain obvious situations: informational secrecy, HR-related activities, and having received an assignment from a superior. In other cases, the choices are less clear. In most cases, though, the decision comes down to weighing two factors:

  1. To what degree does success with this opportunity depend on my own unique gifting, experience, and connections?
  2. To what degree can this opportunity become an important developmental situation to further develop someone else’s gifting, experience, and connections?

Those are difficult to weigh against one another. Effectiveness with these decisions comes with experience and time. How well you know your employees and team members is a great factor, too. I regularly take calculated risks with my teams. I hand them opportunities that stretch and challenge them, while providing support and resources. They and I all grow in the process.

Project Quadrage

With practice, the application of these three principles will enable you to quickly engage in what I call “project quadrage.” (Quadrage is a take-off on the military field hospital concept of “triage.”)

  • Do – These opportunities align with both personal and organizational strategic direction and you’ve determined it is an important task for you to do.
  • Delegate – These opportunities align with both personal and organizational strategic direction and you’ve determined it is something that someone else could benefit from doing.
  • Delay – These opportunities align with both personal and organizational strategic direction and you’ve determined that this isn’t the right time to do this.
  • Dump – These opportunities do not align with personal and/or organizational strategic direction. Probably don’t do it.

What if the opportunity aligns with the organization, but not to your personal criteria? The organization has a need that doesn’t fit your personal filters. Resolution for that depends on whether it is a matter of ethics or preferences. We all know there are parts of our work that are important to do, but we don’t prefer it. This, though, should be a minor part of our work.

If the preference mismatch is a majority of your work or there is an ethical mismatch, it’s probably time to look for another situation.

If you get in the habit of consistently applying these principles and engaging in project quadrage, you’ll find you are not spinning so many plates. You’ll find your motivation levels increase. You’ll have more effectiveness and success in what you do. Your influence will expand.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at] with your questions.

Photo by Author

Photo by author.

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