Juggling Invisible Balls

By Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T., MCC, SCAC
Part 2 of a 2-part article in a series of excerpts from my upcoming book,
TaskMaster™ – see article list below

Some Juggling is an INSIDE Job


Juggling invisible balls is my term for the conscious attempt to screen out persistent, irrelevant, or intrusive, off-task, background “noise.”

“Noise” refers to input from any modality (an area of information processing using our sensory apparatus);
“juggling” is a metaphor to help us understand the mechanism by which we handle life’s many demands.

In the previous TaskMaster Series article, Taking Your Functional Temperature, I introduced several analogies that help illuminate what’s going on “behind the scenes” to help explain WHY we struggle with focus — and WHY we struggle in ways that make it difficult-to-impossible to get things done.

If you haven’t read the previous article, I STRONGLY suggest you start there, or I doubt the content below will be as valuable to you as it could be.

In this second section, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the reasons why functioning can be so erratic.

As I said in the first part of this article, on an average day, you may well be able to handle a great many things that, on another day, you simply cannot.

  • It makes sense ONLY if you start becoming aware of – and counting – invisible balls, so that you can better predict your functioning level BEFORE you attempt to take on more than you can manage.
  • Part of the value of ADD Coaching is helping you develop the habit of taking your functional temperature to help you take on the type and number of tasks that will keep you stimulated but not overwhelmed.

You will find tasks easier to manage if you learn to think of your day as if, like Alice, you were faced with one long  juggling  performance for The Red Queen.

You may certainly plan what objects you TAKE to her palace, but you must determine the order of your performance in the moment, so that the objects don’t come crashing down around you to the tune of, “Off with your head!”

WHY we can juggle more sometimes

The more varied the objects that must be juggled, the fewer number of objects the juggler can manage and the less time s/he can keep them all in the air.

  • What you are able to add to the number of objects you are tossing and catching is
    a factor of what you are juggling already, as well as
  • How long you’ve been testing the limits of your juggling skills, AND
  • How many objects of what kind are tossed your way, moment by moment.

Some tasks have similar “shapes,” meaning that they are not only functionally compatible, but also that none of them require single-focused concentration, or consume proportionally more of other cognitive resources.

When we move from task to “similar” task, we are juggling metaphorical “balls.”

Balls are relatively easy to toss and catch.  We can reasonably expect
to increase the number of balls we can juggle with practice.

Other tasks don’t combine well — those with competing demands for concentrated attention.

Those tasks are metaphorical objects too dissimilar to juggle successfully —
analogous to what you’d expect to see in a stunt juggling act at the circus.

WATCH CLOSELY as the Amazing Juggling Twins exchange cats, dogs,
flaming hoops and three different kinds of ice cream cones while singing
Melancholy Baby — AS they eat ONLY the vanilla ice cream!

Unrealistic Expectations

None of us would expect ourselves to be able to compete with the Amazing Juggling Twins,
and few of us would be especially interested in the attempt.

Neither would many of us expect to be able to organize and document our tax liability in the car, for example, especially not on the way to our appointment with our accountant, even if it’s a fairly long drive and we have a relatively simple situation to document.

Add in a blinding thunderstorm and a couple of screaming kids fighting in the back seat,
and we’re doing amazingly well if we keep the car on the road!

More than a few of us, however, expect cognitive juggling demonstrations just as incompatible
— some foolishly dangerous, and others merely foolish.

THEN there are those moment-by-moment,
“oddly shaped” objects we call distractions

  • Attempting to manage our lives in the presence of numerous and repeated distractions turns what might otherwise be a direct route home into an extremely bumpy ride around the perimeter.
  • Managing distractions and interruptions is akin to being thrown swords,
    eggs, flaming torches and a toy poodle as we attempt to continue to juggle all of the balls we began with — expecting ourselves to jolly well carry on as before!

The Impact of STRESS

Along with distractions, stress is one of those invisible objects we expect ourselves to be able to juggle, right along with all the other invisible balls in our environment — at the same time we dazzle our onlookers by tossing and catching all of the balls that they can see.

Meanwhile, most onlookers will attempt to convince you that
invisible balls don’t count, which adds to your stress level.

Our stress level is a factor of the accumulation of events to that point and how many “open loops” our ADDled brains have been handling for how long (due to prior interruptions, prior open loops, and prior stressors).

ABOUT Open Loops

Open loops are steps to accomplish before an activity or thought process can be “put away.” Only once a task has been “put away” does the ADD brain truly let it go.

Until put away, an item remains an open loop  — and at least one more invisible ball you pretend doesn’t really count as you have no choice but to juggle it right along with all the others.

  • So JUST because “one more object” is easily managed by everyone else in our universe, that’s no reason to assume that we will find it so easily handled.
  • And JUST because we could easily manage “one more object” in a different juggling environment doesn’t mean it will be possible in the current one.

Which brings us back to where we started: the importance of TAKING YOUR FUNCTIONAL TEMPERATURE throughout the day so that you can match the task to the level of cognitive resources on board.

Why set yourself up for failure?

You can ONLY accomplish what you can handle right this very minute.  

  • Not what you could handle yesterday at this time
  • Not what you “should” be able to handle – and certainly
  • Not what you could handle if only . . .

For us, planning a day has to be done in a manner that the so-called “neurotypicals” can’t imagine.

We can’t follow their nice, orderly, well-planned maps — any more than they could schedule a car trip if they had no idea how many miles to the gallon they could travel between fill-ups, or whether their vehicle and gas gauge were reliable.

So when WE plan our “car trips” and determine our estimated arrival times

  • We’d be foolish to take the super-highway when we know we must be ABLE to pull over at any moment.
  • And ALL bets are off if some idiot talking on a cell phone rams into us!

In ADD/EFD-land, “the idiot who rams into us” is anyone who refuses to listen from belief long enough to understand the importance of stopping the things that they do that make it difficult to impossible for us to stay on task to completion.


We must not underestimate the impact of their cooperation on our level of cognitive functioning — to our ABILITY to work around the negative impact of distractions — which determines the reliability level of our accountability.

Go back and read that long sentence again.  It is a foundational concept.

There are times when, metaphorically, we simply must be able to “turn down the sound” to be able to hear another tune. They simply must leave us alone if anybody expects us to be ABLE  to remain on track with our “estimated arrival time.”

Boundaries, my dear Rhett, you must give a damn


  • When you are juggling at the limits of your ability, THEY simply have to stop that “I need you to focus on MY agenda right this minute” nonsense
    — and —
    YOU have to stop “accepting responsibility” or “feeling guilty” for your lack of follow-through ability when they refuse to understand or accommodate your need for focus to stay on track.
  • There is no such thing as “one quick question” or a “little” interruption when one struggles with intentional focus in the first place.  
  • Throw in the twenty to thirty minutes of transition time before most of us are able to return to our prior level of focus, then do the math.
  • Hmmmm . . . it doesn’t take very many “quick” interruptions before several hours of your day are t-totally shot!  Tell me again why this “failure to follow-through” thing is YOUR fault?

Nobody can get much of anything done when the day consists of repeated rounds of getting back on task.

That’s another good reason we need to take the time to chunk larger tasks into smaller ones — more completion points, fewer self-assigned Fs on our report cards to decimate self-esteem and undercut resolve.

Here’s a reframe designed to give you some “room” to examine your “procrastination” problem:

  • The dynamic where they prioritize their impulsivity over your need to concentrate is actually quite inconsiderate, more than a little narcissistic, and an overt demonstration of lack of respect for you, your agenda, and your goals.
  • If they won’t work with you to find another way to get their needs met without your Johnny-on-the-spot involvement, all bets are off as to whether you will be ABLE to give them what they want from you within a “reasonable” amount of time.
  • No complaining and no Monday-morning-quarterback make-wrong allowed or accepted.
And you can tell ’em I said so.

Stay tuned – the next article will had you the first of a list of practical ways to incorporate the principles in this series into your very own life.

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the TaskMaster™ Series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy

HOWEVER YOU DO IT, stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come.
Get it now, while it’s still free for the taking.

If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this article (either for your own life, that of a loved one, or as coaching skills development), click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end, or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
(in case you missed them above)

Articles in the TaskMaster™ Series

Linklists: Easy for me to keep updated for access from ALL related articles
– easy for YOU to jump to the article you want –
(hover before clicking on any link to see more)

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

10 Responses to Juggling Invisible Balls

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    • Sorry for the delay in approval and response. I have been at the ACO Conference [<==link] and *just* returned, playing catch-up as quickly as I am able.

      For me, managing at a conference (especially when I am one of the presenters) takes ALL available cognitive bandwidth, so I have *finally* learned to set my systems up in accordance to what I know, avoiding that “failure feeling” most of us know so well by avoiding overpromising and the resultant underdelivering (at least where keeping up with the blog during a conference is concerned ::BIG grin::)

      Thanks for linking here — keep coming back, and don’t be shy about sharing YOUR expertise, even if you disagree with one or more of my assertions. I welcome with open arms ALL reports of functioning “causes and cures” for attentional dysregulations. (DO keep your links to one per comment or you’ll get auto-spammed, however, no matter how helpful the links might have been. I can’t approve them if I don’t see them.)



  8. Steve says:

    You always seem hit the nail right on the head. It seems to me anyway that no matter how flustered I get, I can read one of your articles and find the clarity I need. Plus i enjoy your sense of humor that makes it all seem just a bit less life or death.


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