Inner Space

Life Balance

The perfect nag

Life Balance is just a to-do list, computer enhanced—an extremely smart to-do list. It is to normal to-do lists what word processing on a PC is to writing on a typewriter. The cynical, ultra-critical nerds at VersionTracker rain praise and thanks on the program— “cannot recommend enough;” “superb;” “elegant and ingenious;” “it’s a way of life.”

The “life balance” part comes at the start of using the software. You define a half dozen or so major life activities within which all your activities and tasks can be hierarchically outlined. Mine happened to be: Consolidate Long Now; Expand Long Now; Earn money; Keep fit; Maintain home; Explore. Then you break everything down into projects, tasks, and subtasks. The program keeps a tally of what you actually do (ie. check off your lists) and keeps you informed how your overall balance is developing. That’s fine, though to me it’s the least interesting feature of the program.

What’s interesting is how dynamic and nuanced the whole operation is. Tasks can be defined as repeating, with definable lead times. Relative importance is definable; so is relative difficulty. Subtasks can be made sequential (so only one at a time appears on your daily to-do list). Location is assignable, so you don’t trouble with home or shopping chores while at the office. Date-specific items appear on your calendar. And so on.

I thought at first that the program was too fussy. Now I think it’s just fussy enough. I make use of nearly all the features. The instructions with the program are rich and terse, worth reading closely. For instance, one is advised to define subtasks that take no more than an afternoon’s work.

Life Balance synchs happily with any Palm OS device, so I do the chore checking on my Treo 600 as readily as on my Mac. (The software works on Windows 98+, Mac OS 9/X, and PalmOS 3.0+)

It’s a fair amount of trouble to maintain a detailed to-do list like this. Is it worth the trouble? Probably not for everybody, but it sure is for me. Several malfunctions in my work life instantly got better. I no longer have to derive and re-derive what I should work on next. That’s huge. Also my desks got totally cleared, because I no longer need the piles as reminders of things I’m supposed to work on. That’s even huger—those piles were oppressive to the point of inspiring arson. I now can clear all sorts of backlogs—incoming email, pocket written and voice-recorded notes, unexamined new books, etc. just because I have daily check-offable items like “Clear day’s email.”

I do more and stress less. Can’t ask for more than that.

Writing this review was on my sequential subtask list for Kevin’s Cool Tools. I might not have gotten to it if it weren’t there. Now I can go check it off. One less thing in my head; one more thing in the world.

— Stewart Brand

Life Balance
$80, downloadable, one free trial month


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