At the beginning of this month, I linked to an article probing what people have in their Docks. The comments revealed a plethora of popular applications, but also another user (Nathan Ladd) of one of my new favourite applications: Life Balance. At the time, I was just trying it out, but I've since taken the plunge and registered.
I first heard about Life Balance via the Mailsmith mailing list, and--like a pig after truffles--I had to check it out. On the surface, Life Balance looks like a common or garden to-do list/project manager, and I have other applications for that. iCal has a very basic implementation of to-do items (recently improved with version 1.5.1), but I have also really enjoyed using tasks which is extremely well-produced, and has the advantage of being web-based, so that you can depress yourself with the length of your to-do list wherever you might be. In fact, I still use tasks, but Life Balance has a slightly different focus.
Before I describe what it does, I should tell you that the manual which comes with the application is one of the most extraordinary technical manuals I've ever come across. I'm an avid reader of manuals, but I don't think that I've ever come across one that actually gives you very sound advice about your life, as well as telling you how to use the software. The ethos (yes--it actually has an ethos) is that it can help you balance your life (hence the name) by allowing you to disentangle urgency and importance. I'm sure that most people have encountered this kind of dilemma; you have something which is a bit trivial, but has a deadline coming up soon, preventing you from tackling something else which is more important for your career, but has no set deadline. If you then factor in all the things that are important to you in your personal life, but which compete with your work life, how do you go about resolving the conflict?
If you want more information, there's plenty on the website, but here are the main differences between Life Balance and traditional to-do managers:
- You are encouraged to enter all your tasks and goals in Life Balance. That means you need to put in things like "see a film" and "keep in touch with my friends" as well as the more usual "write that report". When you first do it, you feel a bit stupid, but it does really make you think about what's important in your life, and makes you acknowledge that just because you don't get paid for something (like blogging), it doesn't mean that it's unimportant. For the record, my top level goals are: Make a living, Deal with bureaucracy (lots of tasks in that one), Get a life, Deal with home chores, and Someday maybe.
- Next, you chose a balance between all these top level items. Once you have chosen how you want to balance them, Life Balance tries to help by presenting you with items which will best achieve your goals.
- You don't chose a priority for items, but set a fuzzy level for how important that task is for the level above it. So, you never have to weigh up the relative importance of your home and work life--only decide how important finishing this report is to making a living.
- The to-do list items can have a 'place' associated with them (which need not be a physical location), which has 'opening hours'. This means that work items only appear when you are at work--not at the weekend when you should be thinking about other things.
- To-do list items float to the top of the list according to some fairly opaque but effective algorithms. All I can say is that once you've set it up, it seems to accord with what you feel to be important.
It works very well, and I'm already finding that I get a little bit more done--and perhaps more importantly--feel that my life is becoming slightly more sane and manageable.
 I love manuals, and often just read them for fun. Mr. Bsag found this inexplicable until he saw my dad sit down while visiting us, and--with a contented sigh--start reading the manual for my DVD player. "So that's where she gets it", he thought.