Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Juggling Your Life by Marie Wells Coutu

Marie Wells Coutu
My husband likes to juggle.

Several years ago, he taught himself to juggle and got pretty good with four tennis balls. No, he didn’t try the more dangerous objects like knives or burning torches, thank goodness.

But he quit practicing for a while. Recently he decided to take it up again for the mental benefits, but he had to start back with two balls at once and he’s working his way back up to three or four.

I’m a juggler, too. Only I juggle writing, marketing, family time, paying bills, Bible study, exercise, dealing with legal issues such as wills and real estate, and spending time with friends (not listed in order of importance).

As we begin the new year, we all tend to struggle with juggling our various roles. How can we keep all the balls or plates in the air, including our writing?

Many writers like to use yearly planners that help you prioritize various aspects of your daily life. Use whatever works for you.

On a short-term basis, there’s a method I used in my job when I felt overwhelmed with too many tasks and deadlines, and it works for my retired life, too. (My apologies for not giving credit, but I honestly don’t remember where I learned it.)

Make a numbered list of all the tasks you have facing you, in any order. Beginning with the second item, put numbers at the end of each task as shown below, depending on how many items on the list.

Now you evaluate each task against the others in turn. So if “Feed the dog” is more important than “Pay bills,” you would circle the 2 in the second row. Move on to item #3 and compare it to each of the remaining 5 items, circling the number that should have a higher priority. Deadlines, possible penalties (for instance, having the electricity shut off if you don’t pay bills), and relationships all should be factored in for each item.

When you’re finished, calculate the total number of times each item is circled. See my example below, where I’ve used highlighting instead of circling the numbers.

In my example, the total counts wind up this way:

  1. 4
  2. 6
  3. 3
  4. 5
  5. 2
  6. 0
  7. 1
Now, here’s my priority list, showing the items with the highest number first:
  1. Feed the dog (if I had one, I’m sure he would complain until I fed him!).
  2. Bible study (I need this!).
  3. Pay the bills. (this might be different at different times of the month!).
  4. Outline my next novel (finally I get to this one!).x`
  5. Go for ice cream with my husband (on a different day, this might rank higher).
  6. Market my latest novel.
  7. Watch a movie (Might rank higher in some circumstances, such as if it’s for research).
Sometimes you may have a tie. If “Pay the bills” tied with “Feed the dog,” for instance, I would compare how the two items ranked against each other.
Ed, the Juggler

I hope you get the idea. Be as specific as you can. (Obviously “Market my novel” is too vague for this to be useful. “Write a blog post” or “schedule Facebook posts” would be more helpful.)

Once you set up the list with the numbers, you can easily revise it as often as you wish, eliminating the completed tasks and adding new ones. It only takes a few minutes to make the changes, and it gives you your plan of action for the day (or the next few days). If an item is enough to make the list, it will eventually rise to the top—or you’ll decide it’s not important and remove it.

Juggling can be a fun hobby, but when it comes to juggling your obligations, having a system to help relieves the feeling of being overwhelmed. I hope this system will help you juggle your priorities this year and achieve your writing goals.

About the Author
The Secret Heart
by Marie Wells Coutu
Marie Wells Coutu retired in 2013 from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. She now spends her time writing fiction—when she’s not busy having fun with her husband or with their four grandchildren. She has written three novels for Write Integrity Press, including the award-winning For Such a Moment and Thirsting for More. Her most recent book, The Secret Heart, released in February. She is working on a historical novel set in western Kentucky, near where she grew up.

Marie is a regular contributor to Seriously WriteFor more posts by Marie, click here.


  1. This is the second to do list I've seen with priorities, time, etc. as the focal point. It really teaches you to number your days when you write it down like that. Also, simplify, if you can.

    1. You're so right, Sandy: "Number your days." God promises that if we seek Him first, all other things will take on the right priority. Thanks!

  2. Marie:
    I've never seen "juggling your time" put quite so succinctly as you've put it in this post. Thanks for sharing. Now to go juggle!

    1. Thanks, Beth. I know you're one of the best at juggling your time and your priorities! Keep up the good work.

  3. Marie, I dropped the balls and made a mess! I’m in the process of getting them back in the air. Thanks for the tips on prioritizing.

    And you are absolutely right about the dog!


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