“If the throw is right…” Juggling multiple projects

“If the throw is right…” Juggling multiple projects

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When, as a teenager, I came back from “exile” in Suffolk to live in London and rejoin my mum and family, my younger brother Justin was a mad juggler.

His favourites were the Flying Karamazov Brothers. Justin, being Justin really went for it. In the same way that he wrote to Eli Wallach to ask for acting advice, he found out who the Flying Brothers were and where they lived (no mean feat – this was 1983, remember, way before the internet) and wrote to them for their take on juggling.  

Alongside a lovely personal letter, The Flying Karamazov Brothers sent Justin back a hand illustrated pamphlet that taught the basics (of course, Justin followed this and quickly became a talented juggler). One sentence in the pamphlet stuck with me: 

“If the throw is right, the catch will come”

If you work independently, run a portfolio career, or even work in a company with a large number of clients, I think this is a pretty useful rule of thumb for juggling multiple projects.  

What the Brothers are getting at is that the better you concentrate on the beginning of any action and prepare properly, the less energy you need to expend on the action’s execution*. The more energy you put into setting yourself in the right direction, the better you can juggle three or more balls, clubs, or even work projects. 

At the moment I’m juggling eight projects. These are: 

  • 3 retainers (School of Communication Arts, Futurecity and the CITIES project
  • A TV format (MyChoons)
  • A monthly event (Accidental Powercut)
  • A new Festival (Vision Sound & Music at the Southbank Centre in September more of that later…)
  • A big life project (Me, AB, & C are taking a sabbatical from this coming September – more of that later too…) and 
  • An independent project (I’m putting together a radio station for The Nike Foundation in Rwanda – and definitely more of that later. I can’t wait for this one!) 

With each of these I work hard to get the “throw” right – preparing, working out direction, meeting the right people, asking advice, thinking and talking – so all I have to do is open my hand, and the club lands safely.

I have to admit, this can sometimes be frustrating for a client as the process doesn’t look that productive in the early stages. Getting the throw right involves much trial and resultant error, and a lot of time spent watching, listening and trying to understand trajectory. But honestly I’ve found that it leads to the best results in the long run. The more time I spend on the throw, the more accurately I hit the target that I have set myself, or the client has set me.  

Risking snapping this analogy to breaking point, I think there’s another thing that the world of work can learn from juggling. Just as a juggler’s clubs whirl and blur into one seemingly connected pattern, juggling many projects only works if you see them as a whole. The better they relate to one another, the easier it is to keep them up. But that’s another story for another day…

*I ended up learning a similar lesson as a drummer when I was taught the Moeller System by Bob Armstrong – where the beat of the drum is the final part of the movement, not the start