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How I Prioritize – The Four Burners Theory

28 July 2021

To Our Valued Clients and Friends:

Someone recently suggested – knowing I believe in maintaining a work-life balance – that I look into The Four Burners Theory.

In brief, the theory suggests we look at our life as represented by a stove with four burners:

  • Our family
  • Our friends
  • Our health
  • Our work

  • It further holds that to be successful, we have to be willing to cut off one of them, and, to be very successful, two. 

    Now, if what you want is to write a Pulitzer-prizewinning book, maybe you do need to get away from everything, go to a cabin in the woods, and just write. Maybe for months on end. The same if you’re working on a cure for cancer, only in that case it would be your lab you sequester yourself in.

    But I can’t go with that – it wouldn’t work for long for me in my own life – though I am a fan of turning off distractions to focus deeply. Everyone’s different, and we need to make our own choices about what’s appropriate for us, based upon the life we choose to lead, but it’s a little unbalanced, for my life. 

    I know for a fact that maintaining good relationships with my family and friends, spending quality time with them, makes my work better when that’s my focus.

    Nor can I dispense with my health – I try to maintain a healthy diet, and to exercise, from running to bike riding to skiing – I’ve very much enjoyed the latter, especially, during the time I’ve been blessed to spend in Park City, Utah. I simply can’t believe that making myself less healthy serves any good purpose.

    And since I do need to eat, and love what I do, turning the work burner off for any significant length of time is out of the question.

    But it is true that we can’t focus deeply on every aspect of our lives simultaneously. 

    So, even if I can’t buy into the whole theory, the image of four burners is useful. A cook doesn’t keep all their burners on high all the time. What if, instead of turning burners off, we think about lowering and raising the flames?

    When I get up and go exercise in the morning, it’s my health burner on high; when I hit the office, that lowers, and the work burner gets turned up.

    When I go home at the end of my workday, everything else turns down, and the family burner gets turned all the way up.

    No, I really can’t see fully turning off any of my burners – certainly not for days, let alone weeks or months, on end.

    But turning the various flames up and down, depending on time and circumstance – that works for me – that, I can get behind.

    Still, every one of us has to gauge what’s the best balance for our own lives – it depends on our own natures, our priorities, and choices.

    How do you manage your four burners? 

    Please click here to email me directly – I’d love to know how you prioritize!

    Until next Wednesday – 



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