No matter what impossible, unattainable goals Hollywood tries to sell you, no matter how en vogue it is to claim a “healthy work/life balance,” no matter who says that every day they can hit their deadlines, train for a marathon, keep in touch with all their friends, get eight hours of sleep, and help their kids with homework—they’re lying. Doing everything well every single day is utterly impossible.
We are human. We make mistakes. We drop balls, we get sick, we need more coffee, we don’t have time to shave (just me?), we have bad days. The added pressure of finding perfect balance is eventually going to lead to over-exhaustion and burnout. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to know that stress leads to obesity, illness, and death—so why are killing ourselves for no reason? Let me introduce a way out: pick three.
There’s no way to hit upon all of the important aspects of our life—work, family, friends, sleep, fitness—every day with the same amount of focus and energy, no matter how hard we want to, how hard we try, or how much money we do or do not have. Peace and happiness comes from the choices we make and the sacrifices we take. The quest for balance is universal, but perfect balance is a myth.
Let’s say you’ve got early morning school dropoff, tickets to see a show in the evening, an afternoon presentation you haven’t started yet, you’ve gained seven pounds from who knows where, and you’re exhausted. Sound familiar? Me too. (This was actually taken straight out of my daily journal.)
Here’s what you do: Prioritize by picking three of those events to hit for the day. Is there anybody else who could take the kids to school so you can work on your presentation? Is the show playing on another night so you can get to bed a bit earlier? Could you walk or ride a bike to somewhere you must be to fit in a little exercise? The key is to pick three things to do really, really well each day.
Start by asking yourself what in your schedule is a must-do and what can be rescheduled to a different day when you can truly prioritize it. I know sometimes life deals us non-negotiables. Maybe we’re the only person we can rely on when it comes to taking care of our kids. There are moments when picking three seems impossible and like more of a luxury than a philosophy. We can get so stressed from one part of life that we are just barely scratching the surface in others. The pick three theory is not a one-size-fits-all program. It aims to help everyone find the best sense of balance that works for them, one day at a time.
Whatever you choose, don’t feel guilty about the things that fell by the wayside. The best part about picking three is that you can pick a different three tomorrow. If you know what duties you have for the day, prioritize them, write them down, and channel your energy into doing those tasks as best as you can. You can pick which three the night before in a daily planner, or in the mirror while you brush your teeth in the morning. As long as you make a plan to stay on track with each day’s goals, you are picking three.
Deciding on this philosophy has completely changed the way I live. It’s made me a more focused employer, a more present mother, a more reliable friend, a more disciplined sleeper, and, surprisingly, more fit than ever. I’m the happiest and busiest I’ve ever been. Who knew the two could go hand in hand?
When I wake up I feel energized. I radiate possibility and ease because I know I only have to nail three things instead of 100. Getting to a zero inbox? Not today, work, I’m going to the gym! Brunch with friends? No thanks. I’m taking my sons to the park. Sleep in Sunday? Nope. I’m calling my mom to catch up.
In Shonda Rhimes’ fantastic book, The Year of Yes she talks about how people always want to discuss how she diversifies TV. But in reality Shondaland normalized television. What we see in her shows is what real life looks like: All races, colors, creeds, religions, genders, and religions doing their thing, together. The same way Shonda showed our everyday experiences on screen, I want to acknowledge that we all live in the real world, not some fake world where our lives are perfect—let’s normalize our daily stressors in such a way that we can attain our goals.
I started touting my pick three philosophy in 2011 when my tweet about the “entrepreneur’s dilemma” first went viral. Since then I’ve realized this way of thinking works for more people than just entrepreneurs. It’s for parents, students, friends, lovers—each and every one of us who has a hard time finding balance.
Mainstream media has been shoving the need to have it all, be it all, and do it all in our faces, so of course you’re tired, unhappy, stressed, stuck, frazzled, worried, scared, and angry. You’re not going to be able to do it all. So stop trying. Pick three.
Randi Zuckerberg is the Founder & CEO of Zuckerberg Media and the author of Pick Three: You Can Have It All (Just Not Every Day), out now.