The Taco Salad Principle


There I was with an enormous serving of taco salad staring back at me. It was one BIG salad! No one seemed to notice, the family chatter continued around me like everything was normal. I suppose in some ways it was. This wasn’t the first time I’d faced an immense serving of taco salad.

You see, my family is a diverse crew. Some eat dairy, some don’t. These two love tomatoes, the others prefer to skip them. Some eat more like bunnies, others more like carnivores. In order to appeal to the many preferences, I place all the taco salad ingredients on the table in separate serving dishes so that each person can prepare their own taco salads just the way they like it.

The trouble for me is that a little of this and a little of that soon ends up being a serving that has the potential to feed half my family. Let’s just say my eyes are a whole lot bigger than my stomach! I call that the “taco salad” principle.

Believe it or not, the “taco salad” principle applies to life, personally and professionally, as well. Leaders are famous for adding more and more. That wouldn’t be so bad except that often times delegating is a struggle as well. I find this to be especially true when leaders move up in an area where they previously did the work. It takes a strong leader to allow those under them to grow and expand their skills in areas where you’ve previously excelled. If you’re going to successfully lead, however, you must make sure that what’s on your plate is what only you can do and that it’s a wise use of your time.

So if hats represent your roles and responsibilities, then plates represent your capacity for tasks. As an ambitious, driven leader, it’s easy to add one more thing, and another thing (it’s small!). Pretty soon you’re overwhelmed by the sum of tasks on your plate and compromising the quality of your work in the process.

How can you be more realistic about your portion size when it comes to the tasks you take on and what makes it to your “to-do” list? Here are a few important items to remember…

1. Use Smaller Plates

One trick to eating smaller portions is to use a smaller plate. Be honest with yourself. How much are you really able do? Your capacity is limited. Each ingredient might not seem like much, but together it quickly adds up. For example, I like to focus on one big goal each month and identify my top three most important tasks (MIT) for the day. This keeps my plate small and limits what I take on.

Metabolisms vary from person to person, so resist the temptation to compare your capacity to someone else’s! As a teenager, consuming a massive plate of taco salad was no big deal. At this stage of life, my metabolism is not what it used to be! In the same way, your capacity varies depending on your season of life.

2. Drink Water and Eat Fiber

In other words, keep the things that are essential for your health as a regular part of your life. Some of those essentials are frequently the first to be skipped such as sleep, exercise, or healthy meals. What’s slipping off your plate that would be advantageous to your health?

3. Eat More Slowly

Slowing down and savoring your food makes a meal considerably more satisfying and enjoyable! Did you know that putting a halt to the hurry and focusing on one task at a time changes your experience when it comes to work as well? The more your rush, the more likely you are to make mistakes and experience stress. It also crushes your creativity, not to mention having a less than positive impact on your relationships too.

Just for fun, this past week I decided to try an experiment. While facing several big project deadlines this week, I decided to work on a task for an hour, then pause, switch gears, and do whatever I wanted. Because I work from home, switching gears for me might be doing something like washing the dishes or folding a load of laundry where I could move around and instead of sitting in front of my computer. Other ways I chose to “switch gears” were to spend a few minutes reading a book that I’m currently captivated by or snipping a few of the beautiful hydrangeas blooming in my yard and arranging them in a vase.

The point was for me to take a break and do something I wanted to do. The big surprise: this has not only been one of my most productive weeks, but it has also been a satisfying and delightful week in spite of a few surprises.

You might not have the same freedom that I enjoy working from home, but I promise switching gears and giving yourself permission to do something you’ve been putting off, never get to, or just taking a quick break will make a substantial difference in your level of productivity.

I dare you! Slow down!

4. Quit the Clean Plate Club

It’s easy to feel obligated to eat everything on your plate. The truth is that whatever is on your plate will never help the starving person on the other side of the world. The same is true with the tasks and responsibilities you’ve allowed to fill your plate except that in many cases, allowing someone else to take on some of your tasks just might enable them to grow! You don’t have to do it all!

What tasks do you need to eliminate, delegate, or just let go of altogether? How can you make sure you‘re piling your plate with activities that utilize your skills and abilities in the very best way?

Here’s the bonus to partaking in a smaller portions: it leaves room for dessert! It frees up space for what you love – people, hobbies, learning, travel, etc., without the calories or negative sugar effects! It re-energizes you so that you are able to tackle your work with fresh zest leading to a more effective leader!

Have you been “overindulging” as a leader? What if you could make more room for “dessert” while focusing your efforts in a way that actually increased your productivity? Wouldn’t that be sweet?

How have you experienced the “taco-salad” principle?

NOTE: This post that was originally posted on 10/14/2013 & has been updated & revised! Enjoy!

Marvae Eikanas

Marvae Eikanas is an author, entrepreneur, ICF certified coach, Career Direct Consultant, DISC consultant, and HBDI practitioner. She helps her coaching clients sharpen their skills, face their fears, eliminate funky mindsets, hone their habits, and cultivate clarity so they can THRIVE personally and professionally. Schedule a consultation with Marvae here.


  1. Guest on October 14, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    This is great! Such a good analogy! Loved reading this.

  2. Michele on October 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    So true! Everything is manageable, until you put that last thing on your plate. But once it’s on there, it’s hard to pick it back off. That’s when it gets unmanageable.

  3. April on October 14, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    This is excellent– a different (and more complete) take on not letting the urgent replace the important in our priorities, and painted in a way I’ll easily remember.
    Thank you!

  4. Cher on October 14, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    I LOVE the analogy, Marvae!!!! PERFECT!!!! And as I come closer to becoming a Pastor, I am very thoughtful as to what that will look like for me!!??? BUT GOD!!!! I am totally continuing to rely on HIM, as HE has directed EACH step of my schooling, I am ssooo going to rely on HIM alone for what my ministry life will look like!!??!!

    • Marvae on October 14, 2013 at 9:20 pm

      There is no place better to lead from than relying fully on Him. In the whirlwind of life many things will challenge that if you don’t fight to keep Him the priority and keep putting Him on your plate first.

      But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33. I know this is your heart, Cher!

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