How to Improve Your Work-Life Balance Using the Four-Burner Theory

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

We all struggle with work-life balance. But by focusing on our vision and plan for our lives, we can make better decisions and feel more at peace.

If your work-life balance constantly stresses you, this guide offers a few ideas for reassessing and improving your personal life and work.

I use the four-burner model to explain a vital truth regarding work and life: we cannot truly succeed without sacrificing something.

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What's the Four-Burner Theory?

Picture a four-burner stove, with each burner representing an important area of your life.

Burner 1 represents your work, 2 your family, 3 your health, and 4 your friends.

The four-burner theory states that to succeed you must switch off one burner, and to really succeed, you must switch off two.1

The theory highlights a crucial fact: life is full of tradeoffs, and to succeed at something, we must be willing to sacrifice something else.

Admittedly, the theory is imperfect, and your life may not fit perfectly into this four-burner model. 

For example, you could have more than four important areas in your life. 

But the main idea behind the theory is valuable for understanding why achieving work-life balance is so challenging: we have limited time and energy, and it’s almost impossible to achieve the same level of success in all areas of our lives—at the same time.

Choosing to succeed at something means you’re foregoing something else.

But if you choose intentionally, you can succeed at the things that really matter to you while eliminating everything else.

Here are four ideas for improving your work-life balance.

Four Strategies for Improving Your Work-Life Balance

1. Embrace seasonality

Embracing seasonality means prioritizing different things at different times in your life.

For example, when you’re in your twenties and just starting out in your career, it’s understandable for work to take a large chunk of your time and attention.

Same thing applies when you start a family and find yourself devoting a lot of time to that aspect of your life.

Life is full of seasons, and we need to embrace this seasonality.

By understanding this, you’ll learn to service different aspects of your life depending on the season you’re in.

The problem arises when you expect to succeed in all the important areas of your life at the same time.

For example, if you start a business, it may be unrealistic to expect to have enough time for your business, family, friends, health, and even hobbies—at least in the beginning.

You’ll need to accept that you must prioritize a few things during a certain season in your life and let the rest go.

This doesn’t mean you’ll ignore the rest forever, but you’ll be able to return to them in another season of your life. 

2. Embrace constraints

One of the most challenging things in life is accepting that you’ll never have enough time to do everything you want to do or others want you to do.

But this challenge comes with an upside: it frees you from wanting to achieve everything you want and allows you to focus on the things that matter most.

In essence, you have to choose a few things and sacrifice everything else.

By accepting you have limited time and energy, you’ll be amazed by how much you achieve in the things you actually choose to do.

We all complain that we need more time, but if we stopped complaining and worked to maximize the actual time we have, we can achieve incredible things in less time.

The following are a few questions you could ask yourself to help make the most of your limited time:

  • How can you maximize your time and earning potential if you can only work from 9 am to 6 pm every weekday?
  • How can you maximize your workout sessions if you can only exercise for up to an hour three times a week?
  • How can you maximize your family time if you only have the weekend and public holidays to spend with them?

You need to confront your limits and decide how best to use your finite time.

More importantly, make it a habit to pause and ask yourself whether what you’re doing with your time is worth it.

3. Embrace vision-centric life planning

Imagine your life five years from now, ten years from now, twenty years.

What do you see? What do you see yourself doing? Are you working most of the time or spending time with family and friends? 

Do you even work at all? Where do you live? How do you spend your free time?

Embracing vision-centric life planning means designing your work-life balance based on the vision you have for your life.

It means looking inside yourself and asking what kind of life you really want to live.

Vision-centric planning helps you look at the long term and plan your life according to what you want.

Your work-life balance may not be what you want right now, but you can work toward your ideal life in the near future.

This strategy is powerful because it enables you to look past short-term distractions and make decisions that align with your vision for your life.

If spending time with family is important to you, then you can work toward having more free time to spend on that aspect.

If traveling and financial independence are important to you, you can move in a direction that’ll give you the money and options to achieve those goals.

Vision-centric planning means looking past your current work-life balance and working toward the actual work-life balance you want.

4. Outsource everything else

And as a last-ditch plan, you can outsource everything else that someone else can do that you really don’t want to spend time on.

By paying someone else to do something you’d rather not do, you free up time for the things that matter to you.

In your work, you can delegate nonessential tasks while working on the things that actually make you valuable to your employer.

In business, you can hire employees to take care of the day-to-day tasks while you work on the business’s overall direction and strategy.

In your life, you can outsource your laundry or grocery shopping or house chores.

Not everything can be outsourced, but the idea is to consider outsourcing when:

  • you don’t want to do something, 
  • someone else can do it just as well as you,
  • you have the cash to pay for the service, or 
  • you can spend the time doing something else that’s more profitable or important to you.

Outsourcing can be a great way to get rid of small tasks while making more time for the things that matter.

Conclusion: How Will You Improve Your Work-Life Balance?

After reading this post, how do you plan to improve your work-life balance?

Achieving a perfect work-life balance may be unrealistic, but it’s absolutely possible to achieve a balance that works for you—depending on the season of your life.

Further Reading:

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  1. The theory originated from a New Yorker article by David Sedaris

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