Keeping All the Balls in the Air

When my students here at theUniversity start to struggle, they will often come by my office for a discussion of how they can do better. One of the most common problems is that they are involved in more activities than seems humanly possible: they are full-time students, they belong to a sorority or fraternity, they are involved in clubs, they have a part-time job, they are involved in personal projects, they have families and friends to keep up with. On top of all that, they are often severely stressed out by trying to keep all of those things balanced.

When my students here at the University start to struggle, they will often come by my office for a discussion of how they can do better. One of the most common problems is that they are involved in more activities than seems humanly possible: they are full-time students, they belong to a sorority or fraternity, they are involved in clubs, they have a part-time job, they are involved in personal projects, they have families and friends to keep up with. On top of all that, they are often severely stressed out by trying to keep all of those things balanced.

Our world has become one of multi-tasking. People try to cram more into their lives by doing 4 or 5 different things at once. I can hardly blame them because I multi-task myself. Technology simply offers us the possibility of doing a great many things at one time.

When I talk with my students, I often tell them the following story. A circus will often have one or more jugglers. These folks will frequently juggle balls – baseballs or tennis balls or the like. Until they practice and improve, each of these entertainers will have a limit as to the number of balls they can juggle. One person might be a “4-ball juggler” and another might be a “5-ball juggler” to indicate their maximum ability at the moment. A 4-ball juggler can successfully juggle four balls. 

I then look at the student and ask a very simple question: “Do you know what happens when you toss a 6th ball to a five-ball juggler?”

Over the years, I have never yet had an incorrect answer to this question. The student will get quiet and say in a whisper “I guess the person drops all of the balls.”

Exactly. 100 percent correct. If you try to juggle too many balls, you don’t just drop the last one, you drop them all.

I wait a few seconds for dramatic effect and then ask “So, what’s the point of that story? Am I trying to get you to run off and join the circus?”

And, again, I find the students know the answer “I am trying to juggle so many things in my life that I am not doing a very job with any of them.” 

That is exactly the problem with multi-tasking. Technology can be such a wonderful help and make you so much more efficient. But, if you grab one ball too many, they all come crashing down. One extra ball and you lose them all.

The CPA Exam is a very big ball. When you start planning to add preparation for the CPA Exam into your life, you need to consider the consequences. If you are lucky and if you study hard, you can probably get through the CPA Exam in 6-18 months. That is a very reasonable goal. But during that period of time, you are adding a very big ball into your life’s juggling act. If you are not careful with that additional ball, you will drop all of the balls

What is the answer?

When you are preparing to take the CPA Exam, I think you should sit down and think about how you can simplify your life for the period of time that it will take. Being efficient certainly helps but probably not enough. Most candidates make a big mistake by thinking “I’m going to do everything in my life AND add in hours of study every week.”

My advice? Figure out how many hours you plan to study each week(remember I always recommend a total preparation of 240-400 hours for all four parts of the exam). Then, figure out what you are going to give up to make up at least half of those hours. I realize that there are some things that cannot be reduced. Time at work is often set and not subject to change. However, if you spend 8 hours per week exercising, can you cut that back to five hours per week? If you mow the grass every week, can you cut that back to every other week? If you are on Facebook an hour a day, can you cut that back to 10 minutes each day? Where can you free up the time that you are going to need in order to be successful?

From the moment, you start preparing for the CPA Exam, you are adding a new ball into your juggling act. You need to make tough decisions to eliminate some of those other balls so the whole act remains under control. If there is nothing you can give up, then maybe you should wait before starting the CPA Exam.

Don’t be naïve – you only have 168 hours each week. You have to make some room for the hours you are going to spend in study. If you don’t do that right from the beginning, every ball that you are juggling might fall to the ground.

And, that is not your goal.

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