An Unbalanced Life is Not Worth Living

Alright kids, it’s time to get personal.

Let’s rewind 2.5 years. I just ended a serious relationship, and being the mature adults that we were, we both decided to pursue our own careers.

In actuality, it couldn’t have gone better. No resentment, guilt, or even any childish name-calling. Completely respectful, and very healthy for both of us. In fact, it went so well that I got completely absorbed in my work with very little emotional distraction from the whole experience.

So there I was, working pretty much non-stop, single, and loving it. I kept telling myself that I didn’t want to date anyone and that my career was the most important thing in my life. And truthfully, for a while it was.

I eventually came to realize however that I was just using that as an excuse. I didn’t want to have to go out and date again. Because, you know, that would take a lot of time and effort.

I finally admitted to myself that I was feeling lonely and that my life was out of balance. *Sigh*

Not so long after this realization I stumbled upon a class by Scott Britton, where he mentioned his 6 Box Method to increase productivity. Loosely paraphrased, it calls for you to take the 6 most important areas of your life, and break down individual tasks to accomplish within each of those areas.

What I liked about it was that it was very proactive, and inherent in its design was an easy way to maintain a balance. After all, if a box was left blank it was very easy to notice. Kind of like your notebook saying “Um, you missed a spot.”

I also saw a talk about gamification as a tool for achieving more, which I found quite helpful. There, Jon Guerrera mentioned the software Goalscape which uses a pie structure for goals. The beauty of that setup is that you can’t make everything a priority. There are only 360 degrees in a circle (last I checked), and when you add more of one thing, you inevitably have to give up part of something else. It forces you to really examine everything very closely.

I decided to create my own daily habit… with a slight twist

The first step for me was to determine which 6 areas of my life were most important.

I used Scott’s example as a starting point, and then I also came across a blog post by Erica Douglass of Erica.Biz. There she writes about the Perfect Day Exercise in a post called Finding Your Path Towards Your Perfect day. It helped me figure out which areas were really important to me.

My first version looked a little something like this:

  1. Money
  2. Exercise
  3. Dating
  4. Friends (social)
  5. Learning
  6. Other

Once again, I used Outliner to record my daily entries. Cuz really, when you think about it, everything is outlinable.

I wrote down individual achievements I wanted to make for the next day in each area. I thought of it like an action plan. It looked like this:

  • Money
    • Improve Shir Dating Survey
    • Work on RentFreeNYC prototype
    • Record & post VLOOKUP approximate match video tutorial
  • Exercise
    • Take a walk in the neighborhood
    • Or practice some swing / salsa in my room
  • Dating
    • Watch body language video
    • Stop people on the street to ask for the time
  • Friends/Family
    • Enjoy thanksgiving with my parents and younger brother
  • Learning
    • How to record and post Excel tutorials using Camtasia 2
  • Other
    • Set mom up with mint.com
    • Open a free checking account for mom with Charles Schwab

I kept that up for about a week, and then realized that I couldn’t always predict or plan what I was going to accomplish in each area a day in advance. How am I supposed to know if a friend will be free for coffee, or if I’ll decide to start listening to an audiobook all of a sudden? Exactly.

So I switched gears

By the way, I can’t overemphasize how important it is to embrace these kinds of adjustments. They’re going to happen no matter what, so you may as well come to expect them, and handle them with grace.

You know, roll with the punches. That sort of thing.

Alright, so the very next night I started writing about things that happened earlier during the day. No more planning things in advance that I couldn’t even predict. And I thought to myself “Self, why not give each of these areas a rating or a score?” Otherwise the only quantifiable component would be the total count of how many things I did in each area. And just having a tally/count like that doesn’t really tell the whole story, ya know?

Since by this point I had already started rating my sleep quality with a 1-5 scale, why not use the same scale for the quality of the day?

To give you a sense, 1 means absolutely nothing accomplished, and I would have been better off laying on a velvet sofa, popping Doritos until my skin turned orange. On the other hand, scoring a 5 means knocking my own socks off with how much I accomplished in that particular area. Impressive, I know.

At this point I also tweaked around the 6 areas. This is how they have stayed since then. And yes, they are sorted in order of priority.

  1. Money/Career
  2. Exercise/Health
  3. Dating/Romance
  4. Social: Friends/Family
  5. Personal Growth
  6. Helping/Volunteering

It’s been going really well so far, and even though I haven’t analyzed anything in Excel yet…

I have noticed a couple things.

When I felt like I had a crappy day, I could identify exactly why that was. Almost always it would be the direct result of only accomplishing a little bit in each area, scoring mainly 2’s and maybe a 3.On the other hand, when I had a terrific day, it was when I accomplished great things in 3 or 4 different areas.

What usually happened though, is I’d do really well in one area (most likely Money/Career), and then the other areas would tend to get lower scores. On the other hand, when I scored high on Money/Career, also exercised, and spent time with friends, while learning something new, and helping out some strangers…now that would be an amazing day!

Analyze This…

As for the analysis piece, I tried to dump the OPML (Outliner Processor Markup Language) file from Outliner into Excel, and made some progress, but then didn’t ever finish. When I have something there I’ll be sure to share it with everyone. I’ll also provide more specifics on how I set mine up. It’s already looking fairly involved.

In the meantime, I’m curious, which 6 areas are most important in your life?

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. I will say however, that it does provide a great level of perspective and focus. For me it was the difference between being swept away in the current of life, or grabbing hold of the oars and steering myself in the direction I wanted to go in.

Or something like that.

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