Broken China

I sometimes struggle with too many plates spinning at once. If you ever find yourself in the same situation you will understand why the metaphor of ‘plates spinning’ is perfect for that feeling you get when there’s just too many things that demand your time at the same time.

Have you ever seen those performers who spin plates on the top of large spikey poles? The only way to keep the plate balancing on top of the spike and not falling off and smashing into pieces, is to spin the plate. These clever performers have many plates spinning at once, but they can’t just get the spin going and leave the plate; no, we all know that they have to return at just the right moment to save the plate before it crashes. With a swift movement of the hands the plate can go from an unbearable wobble to a pleasing spin in a split second. But a second too late, and it would be curtains for the plate. The performer knows exactly how many plates they can look after at a time. Letting the audience think that a plate is about to smash is all part of the act! But if they had too many plates to look after, then even these performers would not be able to keep on top of their task! The inevitable crash and smash would happen.

When we take on too many different things in our lives and businesses, it is a bit like spinning plates. There is a certain amount that we can keep spinning at any one time, and just like the performer, we must have a good idea how much we can cope with at once. Adding a few extra responsibilities or tasks will inevitably spread our focus a little more thinly. Just like the performer, if we are working up to our capacity, we will be able to save our tasks from crashing and smashing just in time. A few too many tasks, and something is going to fall and break….

Did you know that trying to do too many things at once is now proved to reduce our performance? It has been a long-held belief that multi-tasking is possible and some people pride themselves on the number of things they can work on simultaneously. Latest research is showing, however, that whilst multi-tasking is definitely possible, it is almost certainly the case that the level to which we can perform is significantly reduced if we try to share our attention across a number of tasks. Multi-tasking can make us slower overall, less focused, more prone to errors and less productive. Which brings me onto ‘The One Thing’.

I’ve been reading Gary Kellar’s book ‘The One Thing’ and in it he makes a very persuasive argument for reducing the number of goals you are working to just one, and then focusing on it unrelentingly, until you have achieved it. Think of people who are operating at the highest level of performance, eg an Olympic athlete. They focus on the achievement of one goal at a time. They don’t try and multi-task or achieve loads of big goals simultaneously. They identify their most important goal and then build their regime around the achievement of this one goal. I’m not quite operating at the high level of discipline of an Olympic athlete (!), but in January I did try ‘The One Thing’ approach. And do you know what? It worked, most definitely! I focused on making one thing happen and didn’t try to do too much else. I put particular effort into that one thing, and just kept everything else ticking over.

So, the moral of the story is that whilst keeping lots of plates spinning might be an unfortunate reality for many of us…when it comes to trying to achieve something bigger, something significant and important, the only thing for it is to treat it like it is ‘The One (and only) Thing’ that matters. You’ll be amazed what you can achieve. Good luck! xx