Sherlock Holmes Solves The Mystery Of Juggling Elephants

Benedict Cumberbatch is an actor currently best known for playing the role of Sherlock Holmes in  the BBC series, Sherlock. He was the voice of the dragon the final two Hobbit movies, and played the role of William Prince Ford in 12 Years A Slave.

Cumberbatch was recently interviewed by Jason Feifer as part of the Creative Conversations feature in Fast Company. The article got my attention with Cumberbatch's quote: "My managers are 'people on the verge of a nervous breakdown.'" It seems that even successful actors can have too much on their plate, or in my words, have too many elephants to juggle. While most of us aren't actors or actresses, the interview offered keen insights into what we can do about the struggle of too much to do. They include:

Recognizing that you can't get it all done. When asked about social media, Cumberbatch commented, "Brilliant though the immediate reach of social media, I am very, very happy to walk away." Our struggle to choose between two potential tasks is rarely between a "good" one and a "bad" one. It's between a good one and the best one. Cumberbatch recognizes he must choose those activities that offer the highest return on investment for his career and personal well being.

Delegation is a key component of handling all those elephants. When asked about the constraints of his time, Cumberbatch is quoted as saying, "I started to delegate about a year and a half ago. It was the best thing I've ever done. I thought I was capable of running the whole circus, and I'm really not." We have to think beyond work. We should always be asking how we can reduce the time commitment required by any activity through delegation. That includes home repair/cleaning, automobile maintenance, lawn care, or even shopping.

Use technology wisely. In the interview Cumberbatch talks in one moment about pushing away all technology when he needs to focus, and then in the next discusses his use of the concept of inbox zero. As Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog, writes, "Technology should be a servant to us, not us a slave to it."

You have to choose what's most important. In response to a question about keeping up with everything, Cumberbatch responds, "You just have to go for what's really necessary first, and then, God willing, there's time to get lost in stuff that's just a diversion but as illuminating as the stuff you need to know." In Getting to It, Todd Musig and I talk about filters to help prioritize, and his focus on "what's necessary" serves as his tool to sort through all the possibilities.

Benedict Cumberbatch is certainly practicing the key tenets of  successful time management. However, he may have unknowingly uncovered the strongest clue about how why we need to set limits, prioritize, and make good choices when he said, "....because you can't be a good student by doing it all." Excellent advice for any of us!

Searching for how to juggle your elephants? Download My 15 Favorite Time Management Strategies