Have you ever tried cooking on a four-burners stove? I mean four dishes concurrently , using all the burners. I have tried, and the results were not good. At least 2 of the dishes got burnt or under cooked or lost flavor, just because I couldn’t juggle them all at the same time.
Another question. Have you ever felt jealous or wonder-stuck about your friend or colleague, looking at some facet of their life? Would you exchange your soul to get the kind of life they have?
I have toyed with the thought. After analyzing the lives of a lot, I concluded that I would never want anyone’s life regardless of how glamorous it may appear from outside.
Here’s my reason. Mere observation of one facet of one’s life is too misleading and presumptive to conclude that all the other critical aspects of their lives are great. It is also statistically impossible to be productive and successful in all areas of life.
The Four burners theory, helps to sort this issue out. What does it say?
Imagine your life represented as a stove with 4 burners, each representing four major quadrants of your life. The four burners are – Health, Work (Career), Friends and Family. The theory says that 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.
If you think it is absurd, look deep in to your or anyone’s life. It is extremely likely, that they are either average or about average in all 4 burners. Sure enough, they may lead a normal life, but may not be exemplary in any one area. There may be sparks of achievements in a few areas, but likely not consistent in all four areas.
If you focus on achievers and celebrities, you can notice that they focus on any one or two things and are extremely successful at it. When I say successful, I mean they really make a mark and attain positions of extraordinary eminence and get recognized widely.
However, if you carefully observe their candid interviews, you can also notice their expressing that their lives are not where they like it to be. In fact, they may even feel jealous about “normal” people.
I have come across many friends who are extremely successful in career and finances — yet wanting in either family or health or friends. Friends who have great families, and health, yet unhappy about their career and friends. Many combinations. I am sure you can find examples in your circles too.
Even celebrities are not immune to this theory. Take the life of Steve Jobs – he focused on his work maniacally. Got Apple to the Top Spot, yet his family life or health barely had much to write about.
There are only a few ways to work around this theory. For e.g. you can decide to delegate or outsource most aspects of your one or more quadrants and juggle the rest, to succeed. However, there are limits to delegation. You can’t delegate or outsource your health to someone else and hope to be healthy.
Similarly, you can’t delegate some of your core family responsibilities (barring a few things) and hope to be successful about your family. Further delegation requires wealth and/or position, which is not something that everyone is born with.
The other way is to time-slice is the four areas and just like a computer processor, try and process one area at a time, or a phase of life. This is not a practical recipe. For instance, you can’t work in a certain phase of life, and hope to recover your health at later point in time. You can’t focus on family, and delegate work to a later phase of your life.
Another way is to lead an essential life and reduce your expectations of what is essential in all the four areas of your life. That way, you keep the number of goals to a minimum, stay focused on those. Feel happy about achieving or having achieved them.
In other words, do a few things, but do them well — to your heart’s content in as many areas. Simplify your definition of success, get critical things done and let the process do its magic. This is my favorite, mainly because it is appealing, simple and works.
Do you agree with this theory? Which burners would you cut off? Do you think you can beat this through other ways? What are your thoughts?