You MUST have everything: A response to the four burners theory.

A heart

I remember one day sitting at my desk pounding away at the keyboard and shuffling papers, when I noticed that I had chest pain.

I didn't go away.

"That's odd." I thought, as I continued to check in patients at the medical clinic.

The next day, I checked myself in to the same clinic freaking out about the pain I had. I remember one of the nurses looking at me and saying, "Paul, you are too young to be having chest pain."

And I remember thinking, "Now I have done it. I've pushed myself to my limit and now I am paying the consequences."

It was one of the many consequences of living in a constant state of stress.

The age of stress.

Stress changes me. I usually become quiet and internalizing everything. Then suddenly something disturbs my thoughts, and I snap.

Here are some of the life events I was attempting to jungle in that season of life:

  1. My wife and I had our first child who was under a year old.

  2. I was taking 5 classes at a time online trying to finish college.

  3. I was working full time at a job I was not fit for.  Therefore I was miserable at work.

  4. I was working part time at a job I wanted, but had to drive 40 minutes there and 40 minutes back during my lunch break just to teach one class.

  5. My sister in law and her 4 kids were living with us as she was relocating from a different state.

  6. I was the principal breadwinner of the house.

Too much on a plate

It was no one's fault but my own. All the people in the above situations were incredibly patient and kind, but I still was stressed.

I was juggling too much. I needed to learn a thing or two about time management.

I was managing my time the way most people manage their time. I slowly added things to my plate until I couldn’t add anymore. Then something would mess with the balance, and everything would fall apart.

It wasn’t just back then that I have struggled with time management. Even lately, I have been catching myself falling back into the same trap.

As a teacher, I am sure that you can relate. During the school year, you have lesson plans to make, papers to grade, and sports to coach. Maybe you have a part time job to supplement a “teacher’s salary.” The list goes on and on.

The Four Burners Theory

Recently, I heard a way of visualizing time management from an article written online. The idea is that you have four stove top burners: Family, Friends, Health, and Work.

The point of the theory is to prove the following: “in order 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.”*

The above mentioned post was not where the original idea was presented and the author of the blog, James Clear, has some interesting insights to the Four Burners Theory. However, after reading the article, I felt uneasy inside and a little angry.

The problem with the theory:

The problem with the four burners theory is that it portrays our lives as mechanical with separate segments and no overlap. It is over simplification. For example, the theory does not take into account that if my health is struggling, so will my career and family life. So health must be a priority. But also, if my family is struggling, then what is the point of having a career if I can’t enjoy the benefits with my family?

I'll continue to say the same thing until I'm blue in the face. Life isn’t simple.

I get the concept.

I also categorize my life for the sake of making goals, but the point of the 4 Burners Theory is that you can’t have everything, and I just cannot agree with that.

On the contrary, as far as friends, family, work, and health are concerned, you MUST have everything.

We are organic beings. Although time is a limited resource, it is not healthy or wise to sacrifice any one of the burners for another part.

Here are some solutions to the problem:

  1. Seasons: The above article mentioned, suggested this solution, and I agree. There are seasons of life. If I have newborn in the house, I am going to focus more time on the newborn, but work quickly to find some balance and add attention to the other areas of life. If I am in a job transition, I will focus on work until I find some stability, and then focus again on re-balancing. Life is all about balance.

  2. Hacks: There are hacks that can be used. We are given limited time, so we need to use daily hacks. Example:

    1. Exercise: You really only need 12 - 15 minutes a day to be healthy (example: Hiit Training)

    2. Cooking: buy a crock-pot and make the meals ahead of time.

    3. Child time: Instead of spending 2 hours watching TV with your child, spend 30 minutes of quality interactive time.

    4. Reading: Listen to audio books while doing other activities

 There are hacks to activity. Use your creativity!

3. Plan: In order to maintain balance, you are going to have to plan, plan, plan. You might have to wake up earlier and say no to certain people or events. However, with planning you will feel more of a sense of control.

So, the 4 Burners Theory is actually correct in the sense that time is limited, but it is incorrect in the sense that you have to turn off burners in order to be successful in other areas.

Life is organic and integrated. You MUST give attention to all the important areas of your life because…

...Life simply isn’t simple.

What to do if your child says, "I'm bored" this summer.

The following post is mainly for parents. Teachers: pass this info on.

This is going to sound crazy....

And just by saying this I'm running the risk of you closing my blog and throwing your laptop or smartphone across the room.


So here it goes.... are you ready?

"I don't like summer break!"

The problems with Summer Break

The problem with Summer Break is that it is TOO LONG. Another teacher once told me that it would be better for kids to have school year round with 2-3 week breaks dispersed throughout the year. I hear some school system do this......pure genius!.

When students go through summer, they come out on the other side having forgotten not only what it is like to be in a classroom, but much of the material.

Then teachers spend at least a month catching students back up.

That's not even the worst of it. If you are a parent, you know that by week 2 (or possibly even hour 2) of summer break, your kids are already saying things like, "I'm bored!" or "What should I do?"

What a shame!

Students need a break (happiness actually improves productivity). However, in light of the long summer break used by the current popular school system, we should do something to keep students' minds active.

So here are a five websites you can show your child to keep his/her mind active during that long summer break.

Online Classes for Students

1. DuoLingo - I'm biased here because it is the language learning site that I use in my classroom. DuoLingo is a great language learning website and app. Your students will not only see the language, but the software also speaks the language. As always, I have had some students complain about Duolingo. At the same time however, I have had students become addicted to this fun and easy way to learn languages. (BTW- They are working on adding Klingon to the list).

2. Khan Academy - You can learn just about anything on Khan Academy. I enjoy this site because it maps out your learning path so that you can see where you have come from and where you need to go to reach your goal. This website used to be known for just math, but now offers all the the following:

3. Codecademy - Software developers are in high demand these days. If your child enjoys technology, have them try Codecademy. This step by step coding website makes it easy to learn the basics of computer programming. It is easy to follow and offers a kind of lab through each lesson.  As your child codes, they get to see their code in action.

4. HippoCampus -  This website gathers videos from outside resources and organizes them into subject material. Learn about Science, Math, and the Humanities from middle school level to college level.

5. - This is a website that I still use to sharpen my skills as a teacher. Although some of the humor is adult humor (you'll need to monitor) , TED talks will not only teach students about interesting concepts, but will also give them examples of how to publicly speak. You could watch these with your child and discuss the topics afterwards. Have your student give their own "TED talk" at the end of the summer.

Try it out!

So whether your are a summer enthusiast, or agree with me that the break is too long, the above websites can keep your child sharp through summer.

Pick one, try it out, and observe the difference it makes when they are ready to re-enter the school year.

How about you? What do you do to keep your child busy through the summer?


How to use unusual notes to help you focus

I am not the best student. Here's an example:

I was sitting in a classroom in Mexico at 6:30am stressed out of of my mind. The dark classroom, the short, middle aged man who was obviously passionate about his topic, but not passionate enough to stand up, and the feeling that I was wasting my time where all too much for me to handle. I started doing what I have done since grade school when I am stressed and stuck. I started messing with my hair and wriggling in my chair.  

I was counting how many more years I would have to put myself through this torture. 

I guess it was notable on my face (and probably my hair) because after class my friends where inquiring about what was wrong. I explained how I couldn't believe I had 5 more years of school left. The boredom was too much for me to handle. I didn't know how to handle boredom in the classroom, and so eventually I dropped out of school.

As far as boredom goes, not much has changed since then.

Facing my nemesis again:

This past weekend I went to a conference for my current job. I was looking forward to the conference since I knew there would be many talented public speakers there. I also knew that my weakness is sitting still and paying attention. The irony that I am now a teacher never ceases to amuse me.

I decided that I would take a notebook and observe the public speakers. I will be teaching public speaking this next school year and thought I could at least gather some content for the class.

The accidental discovery:

Well, I was able to take notes, but not the notes that I thought that I would take.

I started taking notes on the public speakers, but found myself becoming more and more bored. I should have been fine! The speakers where engaging and funny, but after about 30 minutes, I couldn't pay attention.

So I decided to switch my strategy and learn a way to take notes and stay engaged.

I was skeptical. I have tried for years to pay attention in a classroom setting and have failed multiple times.

However, to my surprise, I learned a lot of tricks that actually helped me pay attention!

Here are some things that helped me take notes at this conference:

4 tips to take notes and pay attention

1. Don't follow the lines. I read Switch on your Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf. In the book, Dr. Leaf suggests journaling in a notebook without lines. The idea is that your brain doesn't necessarily think in lines. It thinks in pictures, textures, sounds, word associations and more. We shouldn't limit ourselves to the lines on our paper. Although there were lines in my notebook I didn't use them all the time and found that helped.

2. Use Metacog: Again, as Dr. Leaf mentioned in her book, group ideas together. She calls it "Metacog" in her book. It is a way to take notes using a central ideas, lines, pictures, and color. I have seen it used in schools before as bubble notes. For me, the details of the method where not important, it was the lines and arrows that I used to group ideas that helped me connect ideas. Write a central idea and from there draw connecting branches to other ideas. To see an example click here.

3. Write down your rabbit trails: One of the reasons that I have trouble focusing is that my mind will suddenly start thinking of something else. Usually what I am thinking of is not even related to the topic. Then I start paying attention to that thought instead of what the speaker is saying or I focus on resisting the thought so much that my fight distracts me from the speaker (I'm complicated....I know).

This time, I decided to pay attention to those thoughts. Even if the thought wasn't necessarily on topic, if there was something that was on my mind, I wrote it down. It was amazing to see how having documented that thought helped me bring closure to it, and I was able to focus again on the speaker

4. Doodle: I am not sure if this will work for everyone, but doodling helps me to focus. I am an auditory learner, so I can pay attention by just listening, but my mind also has to be doing other things. For example, I can't just sit and listen to an audio book. I have to be doing something while listening like mowing the lawn, washing dishes, or driving. So this time I decided to doodle. Again, I doodled whatever was on my mind at the time. Here are some pictures of my doodles. As I doodled I wrote down important points that the speakers said, and it worked. The doodling helped me stay engaged!


There is hope!

It's no exaggeration when I say that my battle with attention has been going on for over 20 years. However, I was extremely encouraged after this weekend. I finally found a method to help me focus that actually worked.

I know that us as teachers, students, or parents either struggle with focus or know someone who does. Tell them to try some of the above methods. If it can help me, it can help them!

What about you? What do you use to help you focus?