Keeping All the Balls in the Air

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hey guys, thanks for the awesome contribution of the motivational quotes added to Friday’s blog post. There are some real gems there I am for sure going to add to my growing list.

Encore, Feature and I spent the weekend at a CKC trial.  Saturday was cold and rainy, Sunday was windy and freaking COLD! I have admitted on this list that I am a fair-weather walker and I will now tell you since I have this beautiful indoor training facility I am definitely a fair-weather agility competitor. If the weather even hints at being nasty I just train inside. In spite of being cold and incredibly wind burnt on Sunday, I stuck it out to the end and did enjoy myself . . . I use the term “enjoy” loosely.

My girls didn’t seem to mind the inclement weather at all, but why would they, they were doing what them love best! I felt like a cross between the Michelin-Tire man and one of those big major league baseball mascots as I tried to maneuver around the courses (sorry, no video footage to entertain you).  Not being the swiftest, nor most agile competitor out there at the best of times, it doesn’t get any better when wearing 2 pair of pants and layers of winter clothing & coats!  All things considered my girls did have some nice runs but I came away with a bigger list of things I need to get to work on.

I have been doing a lot of juggling this year, working out how to fit in my normal responsibilities of teaching workshops, training my dogs, spending time with John and my family, exercising, cooking etc while mixing in the new tasks I have taken on with the building of the new house, sending out newsletters and writing in this blog. I think it comes down to organizing and better list building. I am not about to give up on anything, but this weekend it was obvious to me, my dogs both need more training than they have been getting (which has been very little lately).  So today I am going to spend the morning organizing, starting with my messy desk and then working on a task list to make sure important things like training my dogs doesn’t get pushed back any longer on my things-to-do-list. I know my girls will appreciate it! Any ideas on how you guys organize your responsibilities would be greatly appreciated, especially those of you that are still in college or have young kids or both!  That can’t be easy, you must be pros at prioritizing and multi-tasking!

This morning I watched out the window when I let my dogs out at 5:30 AM. They milled about doing their business then all of a sudden it was like someone just yelled “fire” and they all took off chasing each other. Stuff like really cracks me up, and it makes me even more grateful for the role dogs play in my life.



  1. Lists are my best friend… but so is my husband! I find even with lists, you need to prioritize – there are some things that CAN be pushed to another day and others that CAN NOT – training is one of the second kind… it also helps that 5-6 hours sleep seems to be enough!

  2. This may be a bit unsettling but remember, business is a choice.

    • Sorry, that should have read Busy-ness is a choice.


  3. I find that periodically taking a few hours to “re-evauate” priorities(make a mini-mission statement), where I am in various ares of my life, where I want to be, etc is helpful, especially when things are not going well. Also I believe in “appointments with myself”. Most of us keep appointments, so I when I make lists, I try to put times or end dates on tasks.( knowing each day when I will train my dog, for example) And being comfortable that I must make choices, sometimes giving up something, in order to really focus on something I want to do more. I don’t need to do it all. But i want to really focus on what I am doing at the moment.
    I thought it would get easier when the children were grown. I didn’t realize how wonderful grandchildren would be…so my day and a half a week with them are top priority.I am fortunate to be able to make my own work schedule, so grandkids and dogs can get top billing. When I was younger kids and career got top billing.
    Also I would recommend a book: Rapt:Attention and the Focused Life, by Gallagher

  4. Less philosophical than practical:

    I shop for food once a week, and spend Sunday afternoon making all my meals for the week. I made lunches the night before.

    This way I can get in 9 hours at work, an hour training the puppy, 1.5 hours at the gym, two hours doing “house” stuff (chores, bills, yard work, laundry, etc), and of course some “me” time every day. I don’t have to worry about cooking, and I save money and calories by working my plan.

  5. I use my own form of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). The key concepts are:

    – Limit your collection methods (i.e. don’t have 10 different to-so lists or piles of stuff to go through)

    – Organize your to-do lists by category (i.e. office, house, errands, calls, etc..) so that you can quickly figure out the best thing to cross of your list if you ahve 5 spare minutes or a whole hour depending where you are at the moment

    – Do periodic reviews/”mind dumps” to make sure you have everything on your list and are not storing the information in your head (too stressful!)

    I find it very helpful and reduces stress unless you fall behind to the organizing and reviewing, which I do all the time 🙂 It feels productive to handle things in the moment and as they come up, but it’s stressful!


  6. I forgot one other thing about GTD. One of the categories is called “Someday/Maybe” for all your projects not on your current horizon.

  7. I have a goal list for everything I need to do this year that way if I dont get it done in time I can extend the time a bit if life gets in the way also I keep a organizer/calendar in my purse so wherever I am at I can update it or mark my calendar off of any tasks, meetings, and etc..I also keep a inbox on my desk for both work and for training so if it gets too high I take a few minutes out of the morning to file it in the right place =)

  8. Sometimes you gotta just let a few balls drop…. At 3:00 am when I am wide awake with heart pounding, all these balls in the air seen so so important… By the light of day somehow the panic I felt during the wee hours of the morning subsides and I am able to gather my brain and drop some of the balls and concentrate on a couple at a time. I find if I exercise first thing in the morning (usually a walk/run with the dogs) I am more focused and less distracted by all the balls bouncing around in my head.
    I remind myself too, that, I will not lie on my death bead wishing I spent more hours in front of the computer or behind a camera working….. Go on a walk with John and the dogs, make that a priority, everything else will fall into place.

  9. I find that Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” helps me to organize and prioritize, since he has a great system in the book for doing so.
    I work three jobs (that all involve dog training, lucky me) and have two border collies. One is older, tried and true and needs little maintenance training, while the other is just a baby and needs all kinds of work. I try to organize my week on Sunday nights and have a list of “must get done on this day” things for each day. Training the baby and making the older kid feel special fall into “must get done” tasks right up there with finances and trips to the post office. It’s tough, but it helps me to break it down to day-by-day lists.

  10. Susan – I’ve been having similar issues lately (since I got a new puppy! puppyclinic, puppyclinic, puppclinic, please!) And I’m in the midst of re-evaluating how to prioritize and remind myself of everything.

    When I worked at a marine life park, we had a huge white board and since I was the newbie, it was my job to do all of the admin/feeding/etc. Which was good – one thing I did was use that board to made a big planning chart for all of the sessions and shows that would be scheduled for the animals in our area each day – and how much food would be allocated for each session. Then we’d all just cross the session off the board as the day progressed. If any of the animals were left with lots of un-marked sessions, we knew we had to get our act together and start working that animal. It sure kept us honest!

    I’m thinking of adapting this whiteboard idea for myself – primarily for training sessions for the dogs, but also for some other important daily tasks that I want to get done.

  11. Check this out – may help keep us grounded .. 🙂

  12. Easy- what is most important in your life? that’s first. Second – what’s next? You can spend an awful lot of time on lists that could better be spent of doing and smelling the roses.

  13. As somebody that works full-time, teaches at least one dog class every session (sessions are usually 8 weeks long), takes at least one dog class each session and trains at least one dog every day (I have three dogs), I can totally understand how challenging it can be to fit everything in. I also write for a couple of magazines, volunteer for rescue and act as secretary for my breed’s national club.

    The issue is that I can’t bear the thought of giving any of it up, so I tend to just find ways to keep my balls in the air (juggler talk).

    Good luck with your lists!

  14. Some balls can easily be dropped now and then without the world coming to an end. We can waste an amazing amount of time (accidentally or on purpose)fussing over relatively unimportant-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things details. Who cares if you don’t do your dishes more than once a week, as long as the dogs get their time?

    Some balls can safely be passed on to someone else to juggle… for a while, or for ever. For example, the time and stress I save by employing a cleaning lady more than makes up for the $$.

    I break down a lot of my tasks into planning time and doing time. [Hmmmmm…”Think, plan, do, review.” Where have I heard that before?] It can be ahrd to carve out the “doing” time, but the planning and thinking can be done anywhere. For example, I “write” a lot of my articles and presentations on the drive to and from trials. That way, when I am ready to sit down and DO it, it is mostly done! I have expreimented with a voice activated recorder, but I found that I could never keep track of it!

    Having an easy, relatively painless, structure in place to take care of the important stuff is also a great idea: I pay almost all my bills by direct debit- less time, more reliable.

    Can you combine chores more efficiently? When I go shopping, I have a fairly consistent route, and I know what I need to get, where. So, if I am rushed, I can be quick, but if I have time, I can explore.

    I am addicted to plastic containers of all shapes, sizes and colours: I will often gather the stuff I need for a project and store it in a container that can be opened up… or left on the shelf as needed, with no loss of organisation.

  15. I’m a ‘creative’ person and have a lot of projects going on at once, and will clutter up my workspace in a flash if I leave myself to my own devices. I need to devote 20 min/day in to clutter-clearing and follow my “rules” (no stacks of papers, no stashing-until-later-just-because-I-can’t-deal, etc) Hiring a personal organizer, re-visiting the reasons why I need to maintain – these are all great motivators. Being right brained doesn’t mean I have to live in chaos.

  16. I’ve found that the best way of getting stuff done is to make a todo-list for every week, with final dates every task, and put it over my computer so that i cannot avoid looking at it.

    On that list I also put a list of rewards for myself (most of them related to dogtraining) so that whenever I look at my list, I will see things that I have to do, and a list of fun things that I will get to do when I’m done with the boring stuff. It really works for me 🙂

  17. More thoughts on streamlining…

    Make sure that your work place (be that your desk, the kitchen, the training hall, or wherever) is efficiently organised.

    The things you use most often should be closest to hand. If you find yourself “always” wasting time hunting down that stapler, maybe you should just buy another one (or two).

    I am a HUGE fan of the (now defunct) organising show Clean Sweep. Purging your space of unused stuff
    is alwasy the first stage on the show. If you have less Stuff, it is easier to find the stuff you DO have. I almost suffered a stroke when I gave away >100 boxes of books a few years ago, but it was quite liberating, and it made it easier to locate books I wanted to reread- before the purge, I would just buy another copy of a book I wanted to read again!

  18. This allegory is one of my faves and helps me to remember to focus on the right stuff!

    A philosophy professor stood before his class with some items on the table in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, about 2″ in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

    So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

    The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He then asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “Yes.”

    “Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your dogs, your health — things that if everything else were lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter – like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else. The small stuff.” “If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued “there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your dogs. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the rocks first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
    Story attributed to a demonstration by Steven Covey.

  19. I have learned the hard way what could happen if I try to do everything at once. I got burned-out and have been that in 2 years now. So my lesson learned so far is:
    – Do what you LIKE and nothing more.
    – Take on your own mask before you help others.
    – Don`t try to be perfect, you are good enough.
    – HAVE FUN!

  20. I find that my dogs and I both learn best when training is spontaneous and sessions are short. Premack is a powerful tool – if anything the dog likes can be used as a reinforcer, I am never far from a reward. I have also built a lot of conditioned reinforcers into our everyday life. The opportunity to sniff an interesting patch on the ground, being sent to the crate, cueing the dog to perform a favorite trick, chasing a bunny with me (on leash), digging on cue, 1/3 of my dog’s daily meals used as treats, killing the Swiffer, going to the mat, me smiling at the dog, letting the dog shred a kleenex or destroy a cardboard box… my dogs love it when I ‘catch’ them doing something right, because they never know which reward will follow.

    A lot of our training comes during leash-walks. Musical freestyle moves have really helped my dog to learn handler focus and body awareness. Watching her move laterally into and away from me or tuck her rear in to attain heel position always makes me smile. Being able to adjust my dog’s position relative to me just by shifting my weight slightly or rocking a hip forward or back just a few degrees shows me how attuned she is to my movement – and you better believe that helps in agility!

    I am so right-brained that making a list is often painful to me. *G* But, by being attuned to my dogs and building training into our life, we achieve so much. Fetching up and down steps is great – can the dog do a perfect 2On/2Off contact when the ball is rolling away just a few feet in front of her nose? What about when she’s returning with the ball in her mouth? What about a 3-minute stand-stay before breakfast, with some handler movement thrown in?

  21. I use a smart phone that I can synchronize with my PC calendar. When I schedule an appointment or meeting I invite my other email addresses to prevent conflicts between work and play. Since I always have my phone with me I can check availability or schedule things on the fly confidently. Then just sync up when I’m home to keep everyone on schedule.

    I use the “Tasks” function for my lists. One that I call “Store” is used to keep a running list of things I need to pick up at the store, groceries and everything else. If there is a sale on something specific I want, I’ll include the details so I know exactly what I’m looking for and it shortens up the time I spend in the store by sticking to my list. I also keep track of measurements for things I need to buy. For a year I had a box window measurement in my list so that I could keep looking for the perfect cushion that would fit. Very handy to use.

    I am very much a list person and have checklists as tasks so that when I’m getting ready for a trial or trip I can check the list to see if I’ve remembered the things I like to bring.

    I use the camera for taking pictures of ideas I like, things I might add to my project list or my ‘Hubby Do’ list, and for fun.

    I’m too cheap to pay the price for a data plan and don’t think I’d enjoy doing email and surfing the internet from such a small screen, but I do put a high value on being able to have my calendar and tasks with me always. Worth the small investment if you can’t get one for free when you update your plan.

  22. I used to feel guilty about not exercising my dogs when I was away at work from 12-14 hours per day. I solved this by making sure the the first thing I do every day is to walk them – I drive to a good free running woody area. It might be dark, cold and wet, but at least I feel that they have had some attention. In the evening I might train them outside for 10-20 mins, I plan what I want to train so it doesn’t take too long. Or I might do some balance work inside.

    When I had my new puppy 2 years ago, I spent 15 mins with him inside in the morning before I walked all the dogs. Training consistent of different positions, left/right, 1/2/3 games, release command – heaps of stuff that I could do while sitting on the couch.

    From being this busy at work, while training a puppy and another youngish competitive dog, I worked out what training was important to me and focussed on that, ie anything that I deemed important for my agility training. Just recently I have been doing more random training with my now 2yo pup like crawl, 4 feet on container etc, and I had forgotten how operant he is. Spending the time when he was young was well worth it, and really reduced the time I need to spend now.

    So I agree with some other comments – you need to allocate time to stuff that is important now, you don’t get that time back later to spend with pups/dogs/and partner, so take the time now.

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