Friday, August 13, 2010

Four Burners Theory: Back to School Again

In the midst of Back to School preparations, it seems appropriate to discuss the juggling act we call work-family balance. Sometimes we're juggling tennis balls, all the same size, all the same weight, all responding the same way. Then someone tosses us a watermelon, and the whole juggling act changes.

Another way to look at this is the Four Burners metaphor. Imagine a stove with four burners, each representing a task. Can you tend all four without burning a dish or forgetting to add an ingredient, therefore ruining the meal? Chris Guillebeau talked about this on his blog recently, and readers chimed in with comments and ideas of their own.

Is the four burners theory accurate? Realistic? If all four are equal, maybe it is. But life's tasks are rarely equal. The first day of school requires a bigger burner. Packing a child's possessions in the van for the big move to a dorm is a burner that simmers for a while, then comes to a quick boil. In my life, sending my kids back to school coincides with preparing to teach another new group of elementary students. Preparing my classroom, planning the first several days, I'll add ingredients that will marinate until the young ones arrive with their new notebooks and pencils in hand, hoping that their new teacher will like them.

On top of my school year starting, Chuck's workload changes in September, too. Working for a television station in an NFL market will do that.

We've learned to survive these chaotic first weeks of school by balancing and "cooking" ahead. Ever night I set the coffeepot, turn on its timer, set the table for breakfast, pack my lunch, and set out my (admittedly simple) clothes for morning. By planning ahead, slicing and dicing the ingredients for the next day, we can cut out one burner. Our family spends much of the summer catching up on routine appointments, too. Dealing with routine dental care and physicals and eye exams in June, July, and August means one less pot to stir come fall.

Filling the freezer and putting up foodstuffs is another step in maintaining the cooking - this time in a more literal sense. Each bag of healthy local vegetables in the freezer is one less that we have to buy. A shorter grocery list means less time at the store, less money out the door, and less pressure on us to produce the produce. Um, yeah. You knew what I meant, right?

Thinking of all this August and September busy-ness makes me feel stressed already. I think I'll go water the garden; that's a task that provides relaxation, not stress. Turn off the burners; I'm hooking up the hose to the rain barrel. And that, my friends, is balance.

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Anonymous Jen on the Edge said...

For us, September is the busiest month of the year by far. There's the start of school and all the extra-curricular activities. But the thing that sets us over the edge is all the birthdays -- everyone in my house except for me, 6-8 of my children's friends (more parties and sleepovers), and also the six other family members with September birthdays -- it gets a bit crazy. Let this be a lesson to anyone who is less than careful around the holidays -- all it takes is one particularly festive evening and I can promise from first-hand experience that come September, there will be a new baby in your house. :-)

8/13/2010 12:02 PM  

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