As founders we constantly struggle with dozens of things we want to have at once:
→ You want to grind hard to make your startup succeed
→ You also want see your friends and socialize
→ You also want to have a six pack and sleep 8 hours a day
The Four Burners Theory by James Clear has helped me a lot - I hope it can help you too.
So what's the Four Burners Theory?
The four burners metaphorically represent life's major areas: family, friends, health, and work. The theory suggests that to achieve success, one must deactivate one burner, and for exceptional success, two.
Just merge all four burners at once, duh?
Clear initially tries to merge burners, like combining family and friends, or health and work, but realizes this is an avoidance tactic. Life demands trade-offs: excelling in one area often means neglecting others.
This leads to a dilemma: should one aim for an unbalanced but high-performing life, or a balanced life with unmet potential in some areas?
The three strategies to manage life's burners
1. Outsource Burners: Delegate areas of life to concentrate on others, like hiring employees for work tasks or using daycare for parenting. This method maintains a burner with less personal involvement, but the depth of engagement is compromised.
2. Embrace Constraints: Focus on maximizing outcomes within existing limitations. It's about optimizing time and resources available, even though it means acknowledging that one's full potential isn't being reached.
3. The Seasons of Life: Life is divided into periods focusing on different priorities. Not all burners can be high all the time; some take precedence over others at different life stages.
My personal strategy
Adopting this theory has been a game-changer for me. It resonated deeply, giving me a sense of permission and awareness that it's impossible to excel in every aspect of life simultaneously. This approach has been liberating, allowing me to focus on what I value most at different times. After my business achieved a significant revenue milestone mid this year, I consciously dialed back the 'business burner'.
This shift enabled me to prioritize socializing and health, aspects I had previously set aside. This theory has provided a framework for understanding and accepting the ebb and flow of life's priorities, making it easier to navigate the trade-offs and dedicate myself fully to what matters most in the current 'season' of my life. If you are curious I talk about this here in my 2023 recap video (10:20min).
How do you handle your life's burners?