We grow professionally. In doing so, we get success, maybe gain a promotion you get faced with a huge challenge which is work-life balance. let’s talk about a balanced life. In our modern society, we want to do it all, we want to be great at work we do, we want to be healthy, we want to have great friends all while being the best parent or best spouse we can be. this is something many people want but rarely achieves.
The question here is why it is so hard to achieve all those things? Well. A balanced life is only an illusion. One way to look at a balanced life is through a concept known as the four burners theory. According to a 2017 Gallop poll on the state of the American workplace, approximately 53% of employees said, “their job role allows them to have personal work-life balance and personal well being is very important to them.” So, it is clear evidence that work-life balance is valueble in the eyes of most people and here I am telling you that it’s bull shit.
Personally, I am super competitive, I want to win at everything, I hate losing, well who doesn’t? Say it work, life, sports, coding skills, I always wanted to win it and do it better than everyone else. I want to be the best at everything. I know probably you wanted to do the same, but the problem is you can’t be the best at everything. The limitations here are, we have only 24 hrs in a day and a limited amount of time and energy. If you are excelling in one area, then you are pulling down in another.
Humans were lucky to have an alternative to everything. The alternative approach to work-life balance called the four burners theory, which will help you to achieve better productivity, health, happiness & satisfaction.
Four burners theory:
Imagine that your life is represented by a stove with four burners on it. Each burner symbolizes one major quadrant of your life – family, career, friends & health. Imagine the hypothetical condition where you have a limited amount of power to use them. This means if four burners have the same power none of them is burning strongly, instead they are burning at 25% capacity.
In general conclusion of the four burners theory is – “To be successful you have to cut off one of your burners and in order to be really successful, you have to cut off two.”
When I first heard about the four burners theory, I was looking for a way to bypass it and thinking of success by keeping all four burners running. So, I thought of combining 2 or more into one single bucket. Perhaps I can combine family and friends into one single category or maybe I can combine health and work. There are many studies which say sitting in one place all day isn’t healthy and maybe I can get a standing desk or move regularly although practically it isn’t possible. After all the thinking and debates many productivity gurus come to the sullen realization that we are actually not ready to do trade-off any of these four burners and life is filled with trade-offs.
If you want to excel in your work, marriage, and friends your health is a trade-off. If you want to be a successful parent or spouse and healthy, then you might have to rethink your career ambitions. But, always remember, one of the perks of being a human being is free will. So, you are always free to divide your time equally among all four burners. But the trade-off is you will never reach the full potential in any given, aspect.
We all know the term, Success is relative and it means different things to different people. But, whenever you look closely, someone you consider as successful, you will find that they live a highly imbalanced life. There is usually one area that is dominating their life and there are other areas that are left hanging by the side.
What about other famous people?
I haven’t come across any person who got to taste success without sacrificing one or two burners. Even Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla & Space X had stated during an interview that he works at least 100 hours a week. In order for musk to achieve such a work ethic and his current level of success, Musk had to sacrifice his family burner. (spending time with his 5 sons.) In an interview in 2013, at South by Southwest, Musk mentioned even the time he spends with his sons, also replying to work emails. Musk says, “Because they don’t need constant interaction, except when we’re talking directly. I find I can be with them and still be working at the same time.”
An average employee works for 8-9 hours a day and Elon Musk outranks with 14-16 hours a day. So, whatever decision you make, we are forced to choose one out of the four. “We have to live a life which is unbalanced and with high-performance in certain aspects.” or “Living a balanced life, in return, you will never maximize your potential in any respective area.” Accept that to achieve success in any given area. The four burners reveal that every choice has a cost as there are limits to our time & energy.
Handling Work-life balance
Now we did learned the basics of what and how this four-burner theory works, lets dive more into how to handle these work-life problems. The ways which were mentioned below aren’t perfect but this is just one of many ways to think about it.
Think of it as renting one of the burners. There are certain things in our life which we can outsource. for eg. If you want to eat Chinese, instead of struggling with how to cook with a recipe book, you can order it online. You can give your clothes to the laundry, going out to fix your car at a car repair shop instead of you struggling time in your garage. Outsourcing small portions of your life give you a little more time where you can spend on the other three burners. For many people work is the most important, and clearly, we cannot sacrifice. One of the perks of being an entrepreneur is, they can outsource their work by hiring admins & managers. Parenting is another big example, dropping kids at daycare centres or hiring a baby sitter.
Outsourcing is good. It has some of its own advantages. You will be getting time so that you can concentrate on building something good in the other three quadrants. But, unfortunately, removing yourself completely from the equation is a disadvantage. Even cooking by yourself seems fun. Repairing your own car, doing your own laundry or spending time with your kids sound great. In the end, we will have to live with trade-offs.
Strategizing Personal & Professional life.
Most of us are really good at strategizing and planning our businesses or to-do work. By using time-blocks, we are efficient at work. In turn, we failed to do so when comes to other areas like family, health, and friends. You have to apply the same to our personal life, time-blocks.
We come home & we are very reactionary for some reason for our family & friends. There isn’t any strategy involved, we are just kind of there. Why do we not apply the same effort and strategy to our family & friends? It helped us professionally and for some reason, we don’t apply them personally. If it works professionally, then it will work personally as well. You need to think, How can I be a better Son? or a better father ? or a better Spouse?
A proactive approach & planning Vs coming home from a long day at work and just popping down on a couch and not putting the effort in family or friends.
Seasons of Life
This is one of the better ways to manage work-life balance by breaking life into seasons. Instead of searching for a perfect work-life balance all the time, dividing your life and focussing on one burner at a time. Importance of burner changes throughout your life. When you are in the age group of 20 to 30, you don’t have children or family. So you have time to go to the gym & concentrate on health and chase your career ambitions. The health & work burners were in a blast. A decade later, you might have a family with children. But, your health burner might dip down and the family burner gets more gas. Another decade passes, you might revive relationships with your old friends
We don’t have to give up our dreams. But life rarely always allows us to keep all four burners keep going at once. You need to let go of one thing. We can do it all in a lifetime, not at one time. Nathan Barry, founder of ConvertKit says, “Commit to your goal with everything you have—for a season.”
The four burners theory reveals the truth that everyone wants to deal with. But nobody likes to being told that “you can’t have it all.” Everyone has constraints on their time & energy. Everything you do is a choice and there is a cost involved.