1/08/2004

I've lately been feeling like my life, and all the stuff I do on a daily basis, is spiraling out of control. I do things when I happen to remember them, and moreover, I'm not making progress on the bigger projects in my life that I know are really important (but might not be as "pressing").

So recently, I found this software called Life balance. It allows you to keep a hierarchical to-do list - a tree where to-do's can contain other to-do's, and you can break it down as finely as you want. Like, I might say that one item is "Print posters", which is under "Promote friday's concert" which is under "Promote my band". Then, by assigning each item a priority relative to it's parent task, it creates an ordered linear to-do list. So "print posters" might be extremely important to "Promote Friday's concert", but Friday's concert may be only moderately important to the bigger picture of "Promote my band". So all items compete for priority in the final to-do list by virture of the importance of their parent items.

I've been enjoying putting things into this list lately, and I'm coming close to feeling like "everything" is in there. I've got over 230 items in the hierarchy, which translates to some 75 tasks in the active list, ranging in importance from "Get a doctor's appointment" on down to "Enter friendster testimonials". You can assign due dates for tasks, make them repeat regularly, etc. You can also give them "places" so that they only show up on your list at certain times (like, for me, "practice piano" isn't going to show up while I'm at work because, well, there's no piano here at work).

The way that this program makes you think about your life is actually pretty interesting. Here's a very mundane example. One of my current "To Do" items has to do with this pair of brown dress shoes I'm wearing. They're nice enough shoes, but the right sole is coming unglued. Cheap to fix, I assume; but I've also been thinking about getting a new pair of brown work shoes anyway. In any event, I've got to do one or the other soon or it'll come completely off and that would be no fun.

On a normal to-do list, this might just be another item on the list, and would fall wherever you
Where in the hierarchy should I file this?

Well, my 3 top level categories are:
  • Be a loving person
  • Be a successful musician
  • Be a better computer programmer
(In that order.) The "Be a loving person" category is where stuff like cleaning the house goes - the thought being that if I let my dishes pile up, for example, I'm hampering my ability to love myself. I suppose I could make a "Do mundane stuff" category or something, but I'd rather think of the big picture and keep a sense of, really, why I am living. Anyway, under the first category, the next level down has:
  • Love Others
  • Love Myself
Shoes are my own problem, so they go under myself. Next down is:
  • Stay Healthy
  • Reflect and learn
  • Keep Organized
  • Have Fun
Ah, here's a problem. I've got no category here that these fit into. Shoes have nothing to do with my physical health, my mental peace and learning, my personal organization, or having fun. I suppose you could consider them part of house cleaning, which is part of keeping organized, but that seems like a stretch. So I ask myself, why do I need to fix the shoes? The answer is, because I want to maintain a comfortable and day-to-day life. I realize that being organized and being healthy are both actually just part of this desire. So I reorg it like this:
  • Reflect and Learn
  • Increase Comfort
    • Stay Healthy
    • Keep Organized
    • Improve Surroundings
      • Improve Home (moved from "Keep Organized)
      • Improve wardrobe
        • Fix Shoes
  • Have Fun
(In the program, you can just drag and drop items to move them around the tree, so this was an easy change.)

See what I mean? Something as mundane as fixing my shoes has prompted me to examine my priorities on a bigger scale and understand how things fit together.

The main problem with this software is that it takes a lot of time, especially to get started. One of my main activities this week has just been putting in to-do items. But the thing that takes all the time is figuring out where stuff goes, not actually working the software. And that's effort that should be expended anyway - the unexamined life is not worth living, right? I don't know if examining it this closely is always helpful (some might even call it compulsive?) but the main goal is to prevent the big, amorphous stuff from getting lost in the daily din. I'll let you know if it works.

Now I can cross of my top to-do item - write in my blog. :)

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