Long Reads

“How using the Pick 3 method meant I could finally have it all”

A new book might just hold the key to our collective sanity, as Stylist’s Alix Walker discovers…

I’ve been about to launch my own business for around five years now. I’ve had ideas for apps and websites and products, all of which I’m convinced are game changers if only I had the time/confidence to launch them. Thing is, in those five years, I’ve also had three children in quick succession. And moved house. And gone to work every day at Stylist, which is pretty busy given that we publish a whole magazine every week.

Shock reveal: I still haven’t started a business. (I also haven’t been to the gym in about 300 years. Or to the dentist since Tony Blair was in power. Or read any of the books on my bedside table. To be honest, I’m not even sure when I last washed my hair…)

I have achieved one thing in those five years though. I have finally, finally gotten to the point where I don’t fall asleep berating myself for what I haven’t done that day. It’s taken years of trying to juggle babies and deadlines and nights out with friends, whilst working on business plans and projections at my kitchen table, to know that doing everything at the same time means doing it all badly. You cannot be the mum you want to be while launching the business you want and still know which restaurant is worth queuing at and which novel is a worthy winner of the Booker. Not if you want to sleep. Or eat. Or breathe. ‘Having it all’ is the biggest, fattest lie told to our generation (OK, maybe after Brexit), a giant guilt sandwich with layers of pressure and self-loathing and high blood pressure and it is the fastest route to a breakdown I can think of. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have the life you want. You absolutely can, just not all on the same day. That’s the message of the new, bestselling self-help book written by Randi Zuckerberg (sister of Facebook founder Mark). Pick Three: You Can Have It All (Just Not Every Day) was released in the UK in May and has surfed the New York Times’ best sellers list for months. It has also been carried around by half the Stylist team thanks to its ingenious message. Which is this: pick three of the five key areas of your life (see below) to focus on each day, and leave the other two alone. You can swap the chosen three every day, as long as you don’t let the other two creep into your day. 

You can have everything you want - just not all on the same day

Zuckerberg defines the five areas as following:

1. Work

2. Sleep (pretty essential…)

3. Friends (essentially a catch-all term for fun – so as well as socialising with friends, this can also mean hobbies and outside interests)

4. Fitness (think health and self-care – so meditation, emotional wellbeing, healthy eating, making it to the dentist more than once a decade…)

5. Family (the family you were born into or the one you create, however you define it)

Her idea for Pick Three was born when she was trying, and failing, to launch a business of her own after she’d just had a new baby. She tweeted that the entrepreneur’s dilemma was trying to fit everything in, which was impossible, so to simply “pick three”. It went viral and she soon realised that it didn’t just apply to entrepreneurs, but everyone trying desperately to achieve a balance in their lives. Which is basically all of us.

“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,” says Zuckerberg. 

It makes total sense. You have 24 hours in the day and most health professionals believe you should sleep for eight of them. Something has got to give – or you will. Choosing what you’re focusing on and what you’re actively not focusing on removes a huge chunk of guilt when you don’t tick off everything on your to-do list. The Pick 3 strategy makes you realise that not achieving one of your goals that day, or that week, or that month, doesn’t mean you’ll never do it, simply that you’re choosing to do it another time because you’re doing these other things so brilliantly right now. It also gives you permission to say no to things, which is perhaps the most valuable tool.

If you have a day (or in my case, a few months) where you’re not focussing on friends or fitness, for example, it feels much more permissible to turn down an invite to a friend of a friend’s birthday party for her dog. Or to accept that this week probably isn’t going to be the week you start choosing kale over curry. Because the reality is that when you’re knackered from investing everything into the other three, you probably do deserve a giant jacket potato. 

“Choosing what you’re focusing on removes a huge chunk of guilt when you don’t tick off everything from your to-do list”

The other brilliant thing about the book is that it’s in no way saying you have to pick between family and career. Have both. And you’ll definitely need to add sleep into that equation. Which means that friends (fun) and fitness (literally anything that’s just for you) have to be relegated. Whether or not that’s a choice you’re willing to accept is up to you. But trying to juggle all five is a path to madness.

For my money, the only flaw is that you have to pick three every day, which can feel like another add to my to-do list. I think choosing three to concentrate on over a month is probably more realistic, for me at least. Right now, I’m all about work, family and sleep. I would love to get fit but I know that adding gym/exercise into that equation would have the opposite effect of its intended purpose and make me more stressed and more knackered. And while I’m desperate for a bit more fun in my life - pigeons have a better social life than me right now - I know that adding more nights out with friends would mean less sleep, which would mean I’m so much less productive.

Women cannot have it all. And neither can men. At least they cannot have it all at the same time, right now, every day. And I think that’s a pretty healthy message. Having a goal to strive for - whether that’s the career of your dreams or simply the time to take up a hobby you’ve always fancied - while giving yourself the time and the energy to properly focus on a manageable number of things, is a far saner way to live. 

Images: Getty, Unsplash