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Why Work-Life Balance Is A Sham

In Blog by Matt KlinglerLeave a Comment

Mike is a 28 year old stock investor. He’s a single guy who has moved up in his company so fast that he is on track to be the CEO by age 30. He works out every morning and plans his meals for every week. The dude is ripped! He seems to have it all together. But, under the surface, he’s missing a few things. He’s so busy that he no longer has time for his friends and family or his church.

Then, take a look at Nora. She is a 40 year old mother of 4. She is super-involved in her church and has won the world’s best mom award 6 years in a row (congratulations, Nora!). Other moms envy her ability to be so involved and still raise such great kids. But, Nora hasn’t taken time to invest in herself in years. She’s 50 pounds overweight and her physician just told her that her blood pressure is alarmingly high.

Each of the aforementioned people excel in areas of their life; Nora with her family and her faith and Mike in his health and work. They both feel stretched to the max with their time and can’t imagine adding anything else to their life.

Imagine that your life is represented by a stove with five burners on it. Each burner represents an area of your life. In no particular order, the burners are the following:

  1. The first burner represents your family.
  2. The second burner is your friends.
  3. The third burner is your health.
  4. The fourth burner is your work.
  5. The fifth burner is your faith.

The Burner theory says, in order to be successful, you need to cut off one burner. In order to be really successful, you probably need to cut off two or three.

Three views of the Five Burners

When I first heard of the five burners theory, I instantly began to think of ways to bypass it. “How can I stay active in my faith, have a great family, exercise every day, make time for friends, and run an amazing business?”

The sad truth is I can’t.

I even tried combining burners. I try to do active things with friends to combine friends with health. I would try to turn Nicole and my coffee dates into subtle work-meeting to combine family with work.

Life is filled with trade-offs. Although you can dable in every “burner” of life, it’s not possible to be truly excellent in all 5. If you want to reach your full potential in your career and marriage, your health and friends may suffer. If you work 70 hours a week to move up the corporate ladder, your faith and family are likely to bear the brunt of it.

We are forced to choose. Would we rather live a balanced life, not reaching our full potential in any one area or neglect some areas in order to max out the ones we deem most important.

Here are a few ways to think about the burners theory.

Outsource and delegate burners

We outsource things in life all the time weather we realize it or not. If you grab take-out, you are outsourcing cooking food. If you hire a babysitter for date night, you are outsourcing caring for your child to invest time in your marriage.

When we outsource small portions of our life, it allows us to save time and spend it elsewhere. You can apply the same thinking to one burner in your life to free up time for other burners.

Work is often the best example. Work is were most people spend 40 to 60 hours per week. It’s often the hottest burner on the stove.

In the last month, we have hired three new employees at Village; two new coaches and an admin/cleaning person. It’s been amazing. Just having extra help has freed up so much of mine and Nicole’s time to focus on other burners in our lives. Nicole and I both now have more time with Cooper and each other each day. We’ve outsourced some of the work we have to do in order to free up time for another burner.

Daycare is another example. Some parents may balk at the idea of their kids going to daycare as outsourcing. But, it is. You’re paying someone to take care of your kids so you can focus on another burner, work.

With outsourcing, we can keep a burner going while spending focused time on another burner. Outsourcing helps us keep multiple burners running. But it’s important to make sure the burners are burning in a meaningful way.

In terms of health, here are a few practical ways you can apply this.

If you struggle to eat healthy and can afford to have pre-made or ready-to-cook meals (like Blue Apron), do it. Outsource the planning or the prep from cooking and you’ll be much more likely to eat healthy. You can even get services where they make your entire meal for you.

If you don’t have time to exercise on the weekend because you spend the whole weekend doing yard work and cleaning your giant house, hire someone or downsize. Your body will thank you.

Embrace limitations

The five burners theory highlights our limitations. We know if we had more time, we could be truly excellent at each of the areas in our lives.

Instead of dwelling on the limited time we have, we need to make our time spent in each burner as effective as possible.

For example:

  • Assuming I only have 1 hour at night with Cooper when I get home from work, how can I make the most of the time?
  • Assuming I can only devote 30 minutes to reading and prayer in the morning, how can I make the most of this time?
  • Assuming I can only exercise for 4 hours each week, how do I maximize this time?

First, eliminate distractions. If you want to intentionally focus on one burner, remove distractions to focus on other burners. Our phones are a great example of this. If you spend the only hours you have with your family each week checking email incessantly and looking at social media, you’re wasting your time.

You may also be surprised by how much you can get done in less time when you set limits on tasks. Parkinson’s law states that the task at hand swells to fill the amount of time you allow for it. If you give yourself 30 minutes to work out, you may find you get just as much done as others would in a 90 minute workout.

There’s a season for everything

The third way to manage your burners is to focus on breaking life into seasons.

I’ve spoken about this before in an article on seasons of “sprinting” in life. For example, an accountant may work 80-hour weeks from January through April and neglect all other burners except for work. Then, they are able to work 20 hour weeks the rest of the year and focus more on their family and health the other times of the year.

The importance of one burner may change throughout life. Our friend Mike from above may realize in a few years he wants to start a family. In order to make starting a family a reality, he will need to spend less time working and more time with friends.

Nora, like many clients who come to us at Village Fitness, may decide she finally wants to invest in her health burner. Nora may decide to “outsource” the care of her kids for an hour each day to a babysitter to focus on her health. She will devote an hour each morning working out and prepping her food for the day.

Maybe you’ll need to let go of something for a season.

With a 3 month old and a baby business, I’ve had to cut back in other areas of life. I never want my family, faith, or involvement in church to take a backseat, but sometimes it does. Lately, I’ve been exercising much less than normal. And I’m ok with that. I go running or ride my bike a few times per week and get in two strength training workouts at Village Fitness. I know I won’t reach my full health potential, but I need to be ok with that for the season we are in.

Sometimes you have to squeeze things in. Yesterday, I went for a run on my lunch break at Kaiser. It was short, but I felt great after and was so glad I made time for my “health burner”.

What season are you in right now?

Which burners are on?

We don’t like being told we can’t have it all. But, we can’t. You can do everything. You can have every burner running. But, you won’t reach your full potential in any area. And I think that’s ok.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this,


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