Software, Development, and WordPress

“You’ve Got Too Many Irons in The Fire”

As far as this blog is concerned, I rarely share anything personal. That is, I rarely share anything outside of WordPress and/or general development practices, but the thing is, when you make your living off of just that, it’s hard for it not to intersect with your personal life in some capacity.

When I was in high school, I remember feeling especially stressed out about a number of different things that I had going on all at once. At the time, it seemed like a big deal. I remember talking with my parents about it and my dad specifically saying:

You’ve got too many irons in the fire.

Though I knew he was right, I still laughed a little bit because that’s the kind of wisdom that, as a teenager, you expect to come from your parents, right? Plus, the implication is that you have to remove some of the said irons and I wasn’t going to do that (again, because I of the whole stubborn teenager thing).

But here I am over 10 years later with that phrase going through my head again.

And again.

And again.

Too Many Irons in The Fire

Though this isn’t true of all, I’d venture to say that most people are busy – busy with jobs, busy with significant others, busy with exercising, busy with traveling, etc.

We’ve all got stuff going on. The only thing is that we have different stuff going on – and one person’s level of busyness is hard to compare to another person’s level of busyness because they’re two different types of activities so the whole I’m-busier-than-you-are-and-you-don’t-understand mentality is pointless.

So anyway, one of the things that I absolutely love about balancing my time between self-employment and working at building a company is that I get to work on a lot of really fun stuff with some really amazing people (and great friends).

On top of that, I have the opportunity to speak at some really cool events, contribute to a variety of different blogs, and I have the ability to watch all of the little characteristics and personality traits develop in my 16 month old.

But the challenge of balancing all of this is that you eventually find yourself having to juggle too much or, to use the same idiom, manage too many irons in the fire.

If you want to continue working on the things that you love with the people who are worth surrounding yourself with all the while being fully present as a husband and a father, then something has to go.

As I mentioned earlier in the post: the implication if the idiom is that have to remove some of those said irons.

And that’s no easy task.

Refining The Iron

The way I see it, if we’re involved in too much – or have too many proverbial irons in the fire – then we’re unable to fully refine each of them to their full potential.

But if there are fewer to manage, then there’s potential to fully refine the ones that remain.

That’s what I’m facing right now: Having to remove myself from certain roles, certain jobs, and certain volunteer responsibilities so that I can fully do justice to the things that are of the highest priority.

The problem with this is that it almost always comes at the expense of having to let someone down.

That sucks.

Though I don’t know if this is actually true, I’d like to believe that most people want to be respected by others and in order to achieve and maintain said respect, it’s important to follow through on things to which you’ve committed.

But when it comes down to having to remove yourself from some of those commitments, it can be viewed as breaking them. Lame, right? And the truth is, there’s nothing that can be done about that.

The upside is that those to whom you’re fully invested in and hold at the highest priority get more of your time, focus, and energy.

So What’s The Point?

The point is that I don’t think I fully appreciated the wisdom of my parents until I was old enough to find myself in a position where I’ve overcommitted and am willing to sacrifice personal time (which I think is required to ultimately do our best work) to uphold all of the responsibilities.

The funny thing is that it’s not an issue of time management, nor is it an issue of failing to maintain the commitments. It’s an issue of enjoying contributing to things so much (both online and offline) that the thing that ends up going first is not family, but personal time – be it for exercise, sleep or rest, hobbies, etc.

And I’d argue that all of the above are necessary to refresh us for our primary jobs, and to help maintain a level of sanity and good health.

So if you find yourself at a place where you feel the urge to remove something from your list of activities, make sure that it’s something that will allow you to more fully impact your family, your job, and yourself; otherwise, I’d say that it’s simply a matter of try to wiggle out of something that you don’t want to do.

When it comes down to having to choose to cheat on something, I’m going to choose to cheat on work.


  1. John Saddington

    when you say “yes” to one thing you say “no” to the others. some people forget that.

  2. andrew Parker

    Good stuff. I don’t have a wife and kid yet so i don’t have to face this yet.

    • curtismchale

      But you do have relationships with friends that you can invest in.

    • Tom McFarlin

      I second Curtis – there are definitely relationships in which you can invest, but I also know (from experience, of course) that not being married and not having kids does result in having a bit more free time.

  3. Japh

    Great point, Tom. I’ve often found myself feeling like I have too many irons in the fire, and not enough time for each of them. Usually means something has to go.

    I’ve tried to get better at not letting this happen in the first place these days. Either I don’t take on something new, or I take another iron out before I add a new one.

    • Tom McFarlin

      I’ve tried to get better at not letting this happen in the first place these days.

      I think this is the toughest part. It’s really easy to say yes to something especially when it falls in line with what you love doing.

      But if you’re full, you gotta say no or, like you said, swap it out for something else.

  4. Jorge Silvestrini

    Your post comes in at a great time. I’ve been analyzing and literally writing down 3 things I want to concentrate starting June 1, 2013 through August 31, 2013 (summer time). While we all keep trying to juggle things around, for me at least it is best if I see them written down and I can ask myself: what did I do today to complete x / y / z?

    Be intentional about it as my good friend Josue Molina says to me every day…

    • Tom McFarlin

      Intent is key – how else are you going to accomplish anything, you know?

  5. Chris Howard

    It’s good reading a post like this. Motivates me to getting moving on my own over work issues.

    For me, the too many irons are too many plugins.

    I look at guys doing things like Gravity Forms, Advanced Custom Fields, Types & Views, and see that they do one or two things and do them well.

    I look at what I’ve done, which is create a new plugin for every need, and then when I step back, I see that there’s a lot of overlap.

    And that just unnecessarily multiplies the code maintenance load, the documentation load and the support load.

    My removal of a few irons will be to ask which of those irons can be combined, and then rationalize.

    • Tom McFarlin

      I think half of solving this whole issue is knowing what your problematic “irons” are because they’ll differ for every person.

      Props to you for that and good luck and rationing them out :).

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