We’re always on the quest to find the perfect work-life balance and free up our time to do the things we love. Children, family, friends, health and activities are some of the areas we enjoy directing our attention towards. The downside is we only have 24 hours in one day. The average human would spend 8-10 hours a day as a full time worker, not to mention the time spent commuting. Add on 6-8 hours of sleep, and it leaves us very little time and energy to focus on everything else.
The Four Burner Theory: Balance Work and Life
The Four Burner Theory is a different way we can look at to find the right balance we need. Imagine an old stovetop in your house, like the one above. Now imagine four of them, where each burner represents the below:
Burner #1: Represents your family
Burner #2: Represents your friends
Burner #3: Represents your career
Burner #4: Represents your health
It’s interesting to see what areas of our life we might focus on and the possible repercussions. Here are a couple of examples;
-A business owner may focus solely on their career, working overtime while simultaneously neglecting their health.
-A friend may focus on their mental wellbeing, so health becomes a priority and career aspirations turn right down.
-A young adult may travel overseas, focusing on creating new friendships. Health and friends may become a new focus, where a distant family and career opportunities slow right down.
-A couple may have a child together, so the family burner gets turned up. When they begin to focus on being parents, their friends’ burner is a little slower.
I’ve thought about whether I could run with a few burners on full blast at the same time? The more I thought about it, the more I realize that life has tradeoffs. If I were going to run all four, I’d never reach my full potential in all areas. The tradeoffs force us to choose whether we live life balanced or unbalanced. Trying to find what works best for us requires options. We all live differently, and all share different values of what’s important to us. Here are a few options you can use to help you balance work and life.
Option 1: Outsource Your Burners
We outsource minor parts of our lives all the time:
Taking public transport to work because it’s quicker than sitting in traffic.
Buying ready-made meals from the shop to save time on cooking.
Hiring a personal trainer so we can become motivated.
Finding a babysitter to spend quality time with friends.
The advantage of outsourcing is you can keep the burner running without spending a lot of time on it. Just be sure it’s meaningful and doesn’t jeopardize the future performance in the area you’re outsourcing.
A question to ask yourself: “Is my life balanced? Can I outsource one of my burners to focus on something else?”
Option 2: Embrace Your Limitations
A lot of our lives are spent wishing we had more time to do XYZ. “I wish I had more time to get to the gym”. “I wish I had enough time to make dinner”. A way to manage this problem is to shift your mindset to a new location. Instead of wishing there was more time, maximize the time you have. How much time are you limited to, and how can you be as effective as possible?
“I only have time to exercise two hours a week. How can I get in the best shape possible?”
“I only have 1 hour to spend with my partner each night. How can I make it meaningful?”
“I only have time to write for 30 minutes every second day. How many articles can I publish?”
The mindset shift becomes focused on getting optimal results out of what’s available to you instead of worrying about never having enough time. Well designed limitations help improve your performance and productivity.
The disadvantage of embracing your limitations means you’re operating your burners at an average rate. If you’re looking to build a business, it may take you twice the amount of time. We all have 24 hours in one day, and where you spend your time matters. You have to find what matters to you.
Option 3: Work In Seasons
To help balance work and life, you can divide your burners into seasons that focus on a particular area. Imagine a fighter who spends 12 weeks in a training camp preparing for a fight. They train 2-3 times a day in the gym, get adequate sleep, eat strictly, and put themselves through rigorous training for the camp’s duration to make the weight limit required. Once the fight is over, the fighter relaxes and focuses on other areas of their life. They start to make time for their friends and family and don’t train as much. it’s highly likely their diet would be different than it was in training camp. The burners are working in seasons.
The importance of your burners can change throughout your life. That’s where priorities come in. In your early 20’s, it might be easier to make more time for exercise and partying every weekend. The friends and health burners are peaking. When you get into your 30’s, you might have children, so the health burner and friends burner gets turned down, while your family burner gets more gas. Another ten years pass, and you may decide to take action on a business idea you’ve had thought about, so it changes again.
Balance work and Life: Something To Think About
Additionally, there’s also a multiplier effect that comes into play when dedicating yourself to any given area. You can achieve more by going all-in for a few years instead of applying yourself at a moderate level for ten years. Life rarely allows us to keep all four burners running at once. You don’t have to give up on your dreams forever because there will be a time in life where it works for you. You can’t do it all at once.
Maybe it’s best to rotate our burners in seasons, considering our lives are continually evolving, and our priorities change. Some seasons may go longer than others- You have to manage your energy well.
David Sedaris initially wrote the Burner Theory in a New York Times article, where James Clear adapted these options as a downside to the work and life balance problem. Although they present themselves as downsides, we can use these options to make more informed decisions on what’s important to us. We can’t have it all (right away), where every choice has a cost associated.
Is your choice worth the cost?