Exercises and Resources for Learning to Juggle Competing Demands

Book / Produced by Individual TOW Project member
Desk laptop notebook pen

Questions to Consider

  1. What aspects of our stories did you particularly identify with? What parts challenged you?

  2. Think through the following statements as they relate to your life:

  • Short-term imbalance is inevitable; long-term imbalance is destructive.

  • Being a responsible and reliable person doesn’t mean you have to deal with every problem that arises.

  • Because you can doesn’t mean you should.

  • People are more important than jobs.

Your personal balancing act

One helpful way of maintaining balance in your life is suggested by Richard Bolles in his book The Three Boxes of Life.

Bolles notes that traditionally life has been divided into three areas, each dominated by a particular activity – Education, Work, and Retirement. He suggests that it would be more healthy if we saw Learnng, Working (paid and unpaid) and Playing as essential ingredients of each stage of life. Bolles invites us to divide a circle into segments that portray what kind of time and energy we are currently investing in each of these activities and then decide if there is anything we would change in our present circumstances if we were really committed to lifelong learning, lifelong working and lifelong leisure.

He suggests that to help us analyse carefully what is going on, during the course of our life we need to regularly ask the following four questions:

  • What is happening?

  • What do I need for my survival?

  • What meaning or mission or ultimate goal shapes my life?

  • How do I arrange my life now to most effectively sustain me and work towards my goals?

These four questions, asked in this order, need to be answered for each of the Learning, Working, and Playing dimensions at every different stage of life.

Note: Ongoing or lifelong learning is accepted as an important part of working life these days – partly because of our need to grow technical skills, partly so that we can develop as people, but also partly because of our constantly changing world. We cannot assume that the tasks we work at today will be the same or even exist in ten years time. For example, forty years ago most churches had need of an organist. Today the organ has been largely replaced by electronic keyboards. Who would have thought back then that a sound technician might replace an organist?

Step 1

Divide up the following circle into three segments – learning, working, playing – making each segment proportional to the time and energy it currently takes in your life at the present time.

Step 2

Ask yourself the four questions listed above.

Feedback from friends: personal reflections in a small group

Do the previous exercise as preparation for a group session. In the group show your personal pie-chart, explaining it and your answers to the questions of Step 2. With the help of the others in your group, aim to sharpen your understanding of how you are working out your priorities in your life, and how you can make your life more balanced.


Doug Sherman and William Hendricks, How to Balance Competing Time Demands, (NavPress,1989).

Mary Ellen Ashcroft, Balancing Act: How women can lose their roles and find their callings (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996).

Richard A. Swenson, The Overload Syndrome: Learning to live within your limits, (NavPress, 1998).

Richard Bolles, The Three Boxes of Life (Ten Speed Press, 1978).