If you’re struggling to fit your goals and priorities into your day, let’s discuss the 4 burner method and how it can work with block schedules to create a streamlined and productive path to feeling accomplished.
This is a transcript of Episode 5 of the Simple Systems with Sam podcast. If you prefer to listen, the audio is below.
See below for the Block Schedule Template
Productivity Planner: Link here, use code ENGDOESEDU for a discount!
The 4 Burner Method Analogy
Have you hosted your first Thanksgiving dinner yet? It’s like one of those adulting rite of passages that I know scares the poop out of me, but I have not hosted a full dinner yet. I can probably give you an idea, though, of how most of these go for us first timers. I’m gonna go to the store, pick out all of the things. I’m going to have probably like 30 sides, because you don’t want to forget anybody’s favorites, and you want to make sure that everybody leaves full and happy and you pick up 20 pounds of potatoes, and you pick up all these fancy platters and you are going to make sure that everything is perfect.
And then the day of you probably put the turkey in the oven, because that’s where it should go, then you start getting everything else going. And you realize you only have four burners on your stove, but you have like 30 things that need to get done. At the time, though, you’re only gonna be able to focus on those four things. So you have to figure out what the priority is. And when you need to get things done.
The 4 Burner Method Decision
That’s actually the same exact way, we’re going to look at filling in our block schedules. While I would love to talk about food and planning out Thanksgiving, this episode, we’re actually going to flip over to talk about your life’s priorities, which might also include food. I was listening to the Minimal Mom on YouTube, and she talked about the four burner theory. The basics of the four burners is the same exact thing as Thanksgiving: I can only fit four things on my stove at a time I have to focus on those things. I have to make sure that nothing is burning that nothing is boiling over that everything is seasoned correctly. But everything else has to kind of sit on the sidelines and wait its turn.
So we’re gonna think about our tasks and our blocks in the exact same way. What are the different categories of burners that we can put our big prioritized tasks into? What do you want to focus on?
MY 4 Burners
Early in the summer, I was on Instagram and I walked through what my four burners are for this summer. I’m prioritizing getting settled in, spending time with my family, my health, and then also work. And by work. It’s mostly this; I wanted to start a podcast, I want to revive my YouTube, I want to make sure I’m putting out enough content that people feel confident on day one, going into their classroom and knowing that they feel in control. And so to do that, this is kind of a priority. And this is also how I relaxed so it works out really well.
Choosing your Focuses
And there’s different ways you can decide what your four burners are, but you want to make sure that you have only four priorities. In science, I would always tell my kids three is the magic number. You want three pieces of evidence, you want three trials, you want to make sure that everything works out in threes to kind of help you draw conclusion. But in life, we need a little wiggle room, sometimes we need a little force to put in a little bit of flexibility. Because if you hyper focus in on just three things, then eventually you’re going to get so burned out. Four is going to allow us a little bit of rotation and wiggle room.
I want you to think of what maybe your top four priorities are, what are the four things that on Thanksgiving Day you would prioritize on that stove? These can change out like, I’m not going to be cooking mashed potatoes the whole day of Thanksgiving. Also, this is still an analogy, please, please think of actual categories in your life and not just mashed potatoes, although maybe mashed potatoes are one of your categories. I’m not sure how that would work. But you could totally try it, you’re gonna pick four different focuses that you want to spend your time and attention getting under control or putting as a priority.
For this example, I’m going to pick service, health, family, and learning. You can come up with almost anything, you just don’t want it to be too specific. So I picked for this example, learning instead of “finish my master’s program”, I’m not currently in a master’s program. But for the example, if I was going to prioritize my master’s, I would actually want to generalize that down to learning because there are some days where you just need a break from taking a class. And you’re going to have that flexibility in here. And instead of maybe focusing in on running and like running a 5k, I don’t want that to be the burner that I’m focused on every single day, so I’m going to focus on my health. So try to make them a little bit general so that it gives you the flexibility within that category to still be making progress but not be overwhelmed.
Applying the 4 Burner Method to Block Schedules
Once you have these four burners decided you are going to try to fit those into your block schedule. And there’s a couple of different ways we can do this. Right now over the summer while my kids are in daycare, I can fit an entire block into each of my different categories. So for this example, I might have an entire block of time where I’m dedicated to service and maybe that’s finding a service project, volunteering my time somewhere or looking up different ways that I can serve in my community. Then I would have an entire block dedicated to health. That’s probably where I would work out and where I would go ahead and get some Mental Health meditation done; whatever it requires. Then I’d have an entire block dedicated to my family where I’m spending just time with my family probably unplugged away from the rest of the world. And then a learning block where I would spend the entire time; two to three hours every day focused in on my learning.
During The School Year
But during the school year, we don’t have you know, the eight to 12 hours that it would take to fit an entire block to each of these things. So you can do it a couple of different ways. In the school year, you’re gonna have your morning time in your evening time, mostly to yourself. The middle of the day is school, and we’re going to be focused on school for that chunk, so that we don’t have to worry about taking it home. What you can do is each day, you’re going to rotate the focus.
So maybe Monday service, Tuesday’s health, Wednesday’s family, Thursday’s learning. Or maybe you can combine a couple of those things. And you realize that you really like working out with your family, or that you can listen to a lecture while you go on a walk. Or maybe you want to take your family out and complete a service activity together, you can combine a few of those things. But what I do want you to do is focus on how we can rotate them throughout the week. If you don’t rotate your focus, you get a little burned out a little quickly.
Don’t Burn Out
I mean, just yesterday… So my office is in a closet, my husband’s desk is in the bedroom attached to the closet, I did not want him to hear me recording podcasts all day yesterday, because it’s, it’s already kind of weird. They just didn’t talk to myself, I really enjoy it though. I didn’t want him sitting there cackling or sending me messages in the background when he was listening to what I was saying. So instead, I decided to spend all day yesterday focusing on my house. Now getting settled is also one of my personal four burners. So I was like, This is great, I’ll have an entire day to devote to this. And you know what happened, I burned out so bad that my husband looked at me and said, “You look a little burnt out today”, because I was focusing on just the gravy making sure the gravy on the stove didn’t burn. But I forgot to season my green beans and my mashed potatoes are boiling over and I’m just ignoring it. Instead, you want to make sure that there’s a little bit of rotation between all of these things.
4 Burner Method for Focus
Once you have these four burners, you apply them into your block schedule, however you see fit. And it’s going to help you focus on those priorities and eliminate the fluff that aren’t actually moving your goals in the right direction, then you also can’t really avoid the tasks that you need to do to reach your goals. So maybe you’ve decided that for health, you’re gonna pick up running, and you just try not to do it. In a normal task list, you’d have all these other things that you could do instead, because they Oh man, I’m just too busy, I’ve got this and this and this going on. But if you have a whole block or rotation of blocks dedicated to your health, it’s harder to ignore the things that really need to get done, even if we kind of want to put it off.
And when you’re done, maybe not with your health. Maybe once you’re done with your masters, you don’t need that learning block anymore. I mean, I love learning all the time. But still, it wouldn’t be the top priority, there’s probably something waiting in the wings, maybe there’s some home improvement that you really want to work on. And you’ve been really excited about doing we’ve been putting off for a bit. Now that can take that burner spot, it was mashed potatoes are done, they are ready to go. And instead now I’m going to move on some sweet potatoes.There’s so many potatoes for Thanksgiving with this one I got for right now. And this is one of the magics of the block schedule.
I know that I’ve said it a lot. But I just think it’s so easy to give us an outline, that we can then figure out how to prioritize things within our day in fit all the areas of ourselves so that not a single area feels underdeveloped or underwhelmed. We’re applying focus to everything that we do.
School Day Blocks
Now you can do this for personal and at school, when you’re creating a blocks and mini blocks schedule for school where you have your time in the morning before kids get there, during specials, during lunch, during your planned period. Whatever it is, you’re probably gonna have the same four burners over and over again. You’re gonna have planning, grading, communication and professional development. Those are the main four blocks that I can think of, you might rotate out that professional development for something else that you’re focused on within your job. But you’re gonna keep those pretty much all year and you’re gonna be able to dedicate each of those little tiny block segments you have to those or rotate the week through those different blocks. And it’s gonna help you prioritize what needs to be done in when and that certain things can probably wait a little bit.
If you spend an entire week grading you’re gonna burn out. But if you only grade for an hour every single day, then you’re going to feel like you can handle it and it’s manageable. I want you to think through these priorities your four burners that you have an apply them to the block schedule that you’ve created for right now, right now might be like I said any of those three where you have your full block or you have a rotating block or we’re talking school blocks in once you apply those start filling in tasks from your to do list that fit each of those priorities in seeing if the others are actually necessary.
We’re gonna continue the discussion on how to minimize your to do list later on. For now, I think you’re really gonna find that this is going to cut down on a lot of the clutter and the noise that comes from an overwhelming task list. In the shownotes I’ll put a link to a block schedule page that I created. I think it’s just a little cute and I like to use it especially for school. And then also the code that I have for the productivity planner that I use by Jordan Page. (CODE: ENGDOESEDU) It’s the one that I use to set up my blocks all summer long in during breaks, and whether you choose to take advantage of those or not. I really hope that setting up these four burners are going to help you prioritize different things in your day and take that one small step forward to a better system. See you next time.