There is a common saying in construction that for every project, you can pick two of three attributes: speed, quality or price.

For example, if you want a project to be done quickly and at a high quality, that will cost you more. You can also have a project done quickly and cheaply, but you’ll be sacrificing quality. Finally, you can get high quality work for a lower price, but you’d better be prepared for a long wait.

This Pick Two Rule of the construction world underscores a basic truth: while we can have everything we may want, we typically can’t have it all at once. Many things in life are a tradeoff and when we try to make everything a priority, nothing gets our full attention.

The Pick Two Rule is a great way to contextualize the tradeoffs we make in our daily lives. Specifically, this applies to how we manage our time across competing objectives – from family, work and what bestselling author Ryan Holiday calls “scene.” Our scene is whatever we love to do for ourselves; it could be travel, concerts, working out, dinner with friends, or otherwise. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to give full focus to work, family and scene at the same time.

Many people’s 20s and early 30s are dominated by work and scene, which works well with the Pick Two Rule. However, once kids come along, or if you become responsible for your aging parents’ care, that family bucket starts to require much more time, which puts a strain on the time available for work and scene.

Assuming that family becomes a non-negotiable priority, we then have to choose between scene and work. Oftentimes, scene takes the biggest hit—which should not necessarily be viewed as a bad thing, but more of an acceptance of a new reality that comes with parenthood or new family responsibilities.

The Pick Two Rule is a big reason why I have never liked the term work-life balance and instead prefer the concept of work-life integration. The reality is that nothing will ever be perfectly balanced in a given day or week; what matters is making the pieces fit together overall. No one wants to be doing work with a baby on their lap; they want to dedicate time to being fully engaged at work and still be able to spend quality uninterrupted time with family.

We also need to view the Pick Two Rule from both short-term and long-term perspectives.

No matter what your job is, there are occasionally workweeks that are all-encompassing and will limit your time for family and scene. Similarly, if you take a vacation with a week of quality time with your family, your work, and possibly your scene, will be deprioritized. If you take the day off to attend a concert with friends, your family and work will take a temporary backseat. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s a good illustration of how having a truly full life means not trying to have everything at once; each week might have a shifting set of priorities.

Rather than feeling guilty about these short-term tradeoffs, we should embrace that our use of the Pick Two Rule will be different depending on the circumstances of the day or week.

Beyond those short-term variations, we also need to be cognizant of our long-term choices. When we zoom out to a 10,000-foot view of a quarter or year, we need to be honest with ourselves that work, family or scene may need to play a backseat role over a longer period of time. Depending on where you are in life, 2021 or 2022 might be a year where your scene, family or work can’t be a priority, and that is both okay and expected.

What’s most important is that your narrative and your schedule are one and the same because at the end of the day your schedule reflects your priorities. What does your schedule tell you about the two priorities you’re choosing?

Quote of The Week

“You can have it all, just not all at the same time.”


– Betty Friedan