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Using «Life Balance» to implement GTD

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  • Using «Life Balance» to implement GTD

    I have been using «Life Balance» for a couple of years now. But only since I read GTD recently, can I fully take advantage of this wonderful tool. Therefore, I'd like to encourage you to look at this tool (definitely not a toy), if you haven't done so.
    The great advantage of «Life Balance» over Outlook is, that you can organize your task hierachically in an outline style overview. This is where I organize my projects and loosely coupled tasks.
    Each project or subtask can then be assigned to a place. For each place «Life Balance» automatically provides me with a separate todo list.
    So I use places such as @home, @office, @phone etc. I also use places like "meeting-abc" or "contact-abc" and also places @waiting for... and "sometime/maybe".
    The great thing about this method is, that I can easily assign task to lists, because lower tasks in the hierarchy automatically get assigned the project place (e.g. @next steps). But I can as easily reassign places when a task in @next steps has to go to @phone or @waiting for... without moving the task in its project context.
    «Life Balance» even helps me to prioritize my work lists by balancing my efforts in the various projects according to my own weight settings.
    Of course, «Life Balance» supports mac, windows, palm and lets you synchronize the palm with the desktop editions as well as with your calender, todo-lists... and thus, indirectly with Outlook and Lotus Notes. Check it out at www.llamagraphics.com

  • #2
    Using Lifebalance with GTD

    I have to add my similar comments here - I have been using Life Balance for 3 years (and in fact was introduced to some GTD concepts originally on the life balance user forums), and now that I have recently sat down and actually read "getting things done" from cover to cover, I am really starting to fly with Lifebalance, and use it as a very effective tool.

    I had picked up some bits and pieces of GTD over the past 3 years, but I can see now that I was missing some very important parts of GTD - for example, I have almost got my blackbelt in the "collect" step, but was oblivious as to the true importance of "process". In effect, I created an inordinate amount of stress for myself, constantly seeing lists of collected, but unprocessed "stuff" that I coudn't release my attention from.

    4 weeks later, and 4 weekly reviews later, my wife wonders who has taken her husbands mind and body over....

    I will share more, as I gain even more mastery over "process" and ultimately "do".

    Thank you to all, I have been following these forums for a few weeks now....


    Jeff

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    • #3
      Using «Life Balance» to implement GTD

      Would either of you be willing to share your LB outline? I have tried GTD in LB (Ratz's system) and find it too complicated, too unwieldy.

      Any other ideas would be welcome

      Thanks

      Bill

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      • #4
        I used Life Balance when I was using a Palm PDA, but does anyone know of a similar program for Pockt PC?

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        • #5
          I have seen a handful of posts regarding lifebalance and GTD. I used lifebalance for a couple of months awhile back and have since dropped it in favor of GTD. I did not find the systems to be compatible with each other. I'm sure others have had very different experiences in merging the two, but here's my experience:

          What I liked about LifeBalance:

          It captures every todo item with powerful means of scheduling them (start time, recurrence, etc.) In doing so, it accomplishes GTD's objective of getting all the todo meta data out of your head so you can focus on actually doing things.

          Why I ended up dropping LifeBalance:

          It places a lot of emphasis on prioritizing todo lists, which the software attempts to do for you. The idea of todo prioritization is frequently disparaged in Allen's book, and I have found this largely to be good advice. While I may have offloaded all my todos into the lifebalance software, I was constantly reassessing it's fuzzy-logic prioritizations of my todo items. This all seems antithetical to GTD's "mind like water" philosophy. This feature, which is at the core of lifebalance software, proved to be burdensome and ineffective for me. If I'm not spending enough time with my family, my intuition will tell me and I'll adjust. This type of cognitive overhead is not the stuff that Allen advocates offloading to paper and software.

          The slices of the life balance pie graph could potentially each reflect a project, but the software really doesn't seem suited to more than six or eight of these categories, so the net effect is to add another layer on top of one's project lists.

          Its integration with a calendar also seems kludgy. I have since abandoned trying to find a single software solution for project lists, action lists, contact lists and my calendar (more below).

          Also, LB is expensive, though it's adherents feel it is a bargain for its effect. You are required to buy separate desktop licenses for each machine you'd like to use it with, plus one for your PDA. They do have package deals, but as I recall, installing at home, work and on my Palm would have come close to $125.

          What I do

          The system that currently works for me was to set up a wiki on my website (I'm the only one with read and write, unless I grant read access to specific pages and send others the hyperlink). I use it for project lists - each project gets its own page, with task list at the top, then a purpose statement, notes, etc. The wiki is also a compendium for every random note and thought I need to capture. While it helps to have some organization to all these free-floating thoughts, the search function works very well to access text in the archive. I then use PIM software for current action lists, calendar and contact management. It all works quite well, and by syncing the PIM to my Yahoo! acct., I have access to absolutely everything wherever there is a web browser.

          Like I said, I'm sure that others have had good experience with LifeBalance. But try the demo and be critical of whether it fits in with GTD before buying a copy.

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          • #6
            Cool Idea

            This is a cool idea in terms of defining the wiki use more carefully but still using the PIM where it works best. Do you mind telling us what wiki software you are using and what kinds of PIM software you decided on?

            This sounds like-- after a lot of digging around-- the way I will probably end up going...

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            • #7
              I used lifebalance for a couple of months awhile back and have since dropped it in favor of GTD. I did not find the systems to be compatible with each other.
              I respectfully disagree that Life Balance and GTD are incompatible. GTD is a system design, basically a set of habits. Life Balance is a tool that can be used to implement an important component of GTD, where you process and organize your projects and actions lists. In fact, Life Balance is a tool that seems to be tailor-made for implementing GTD lists (though I believe it was developed long before GTD was published). I honestly can't imagine a *better* tool.

              It is obvious from reading posts on these forums that many people struggle with certain aspects of GTD. For example, people struggle to link projects with next actions, or to know if a project has no next action defined. People also struggle to choose the most important next action from a long, long list of them; "trust your intuition" doesn't work well for everyone. Life Balance can handle both of these problems beautifully.

              Because my experience has been different from yours, I just want to present another point of view for those who may be considering LB.

              It places a lot of emphasis on prioritizing todo lists, which the software attempts to do for you. The idea of todo prioritization is frequently disparaged in Allen's book, and I have found this largely to be good advice.
              I didn't get the impression that prioritizing is "frequently disparaged" in the book. My impression is that many ask how to prioritize their actions lists, and DA's answer is that rather than use a traditional, clunky, soon-out-of-date, not-too-useful 1-5 prioritizing scheme, just trust your intuition.

              However, a lot of people aren't comfortable with trusting their intuition when they have to scan a huge long list. Actually, my intuition is not too bad, but I really dislike having all my action items in totally random importance. Yuck.

              In fact, I have always felt that "trust your intuition" contradicts one of the most useful and central principles of GTD: get everything out of your head and into a trusted system. "Trust your intuition" means to keep all that prioritization in your head.

              I agree with DA that the traditional Day-Timer-type prioritization is lame. I agree that trusting intuition is better than constantly attempting to order and re-order (subsets of) your lists. But Life Balance has a powerful, elegant, and flexible mechanism for prioritizing. Now that I have learned how to give it the right information, it routinely puts my most important actions at the top of my very long lists.

              While I may have offloaded all my todos into the lifebalance software, I was constantly reassessing it's fuzzy-logic prioritizations of my todo items.
              I don't understand. Why abandon the software just because the priorities don't look exactly right? Is totally random order really better than not quite right?

              It took me a little while to get used to how the software works. I had 2 main problems:

              1) Without realizing it, when I entered a task's priority, I was really thinking about its priority in relation to my life as whole -- the traditional way of prioritizing. It felt weird to think about importance only in relation to the task's immediate parent. When you do this at every level of the outline, everything magically falls into place -- roughly.

              2) And "roughly" was my second problem. The perfectionist in me wanted to figure out how to get every single item listed in the exactly perfect order. I eventually realized that there is no such thing. For 2 tasks that are roughly equal priority, if they appear close to each other on the list, that's good enough.

              There's no advantage to be gained in having a "perfectly" ordered list, even if such a thing existed. But I have found it extremely helpful to have a list that's in pretty good order.

              If I'm not spending enough time with my family, my intuition will tell me and I'll adjust. This type of cognitive overhead is not the stuff that Allen advocates offloading to paper and software.
              Aside from LB, I know of no tool that really helps with priorities. There's no point for Allen to advocate offloading priorities to Outlook, vanilla Palm, or PDA lists -- the software doesn't give you any help. You do it all manually. It's more trouble than it's worth, because you have to consider everything on the list in relation to everything else on the list, which is hard. And as soon as you do it, new information could force you to re-do it. No change would propagate, so you'd have to re-prioritize everything manually. Ridiculous.

              But Life Balance really can add value to your prioritizing. It can give you reasonably ordered lists with little effort. You never have to prioritize a task compared to every other task, only in relationship to its parent, which is easy. And you never have to re-order the whole list when things change. If the importance of a project, or area of focus, changes, one little adjustment propagates down to everything underneath it.

              Life Balance's prioritization has helped me in 2 other major ways:

              1) The feedback from LB as to how much time is spent in different areas of focus is much more accurate than intuition. I do scientific research for a living; so I see constant proof that human intuitions are faulty. In fact, it's a foundational premise of science that human intuition is unreliable. Humans are poor at estimating how well they know or remember something, how much they have eaten, how much money they have spent, or how they've spent their time. How often do you hear advice from a financial planner to just trust your intuition about how much you're spending? Most people keep checkbook registers; why not just trust their intuition that they need to put more money in the bank? To me, time is more important than money, and feedback as to how my time resource is being used is valuable.

              In fact, the pies showing how I've spent my time often surprise me. I can never believe how much time it takes maintaining stuff (house, cars, ROSES!). This shows that my intuitions are faulty. The accurate feedback from LB is better than intuition.

              2) I tend to focus too much on one area of focus in my life, like work. Eventually my intuition will realize that I've neglected other areas, but only after I've neglected them for awhile. And there's always a price to pay for that neglect. This leads me into a vicious cycle where I then focus on a neglected area to catch up -- but then of course the original area gets neglected.

              LB prevents this from happening by putting a task from some neglected area right at the top of my list. Intuitively, "Call my sister" never looks important next to "Revise proposal," but a look at the pies shows LB is right! My relationships with the people I care about have become better thanks to this nagging from LB. I have refined my importance settings and recurring intervals to the point where, if my "Actual" time spent is less than "Desired" time spent, that's when I start hearing complaints.

              I recognize that not everyone has this same problem with balancing areas of focus, but for those that do, LB is a beautiful thing.

              The slices of the life balance pie graph could potentially each reflect a project, but the software really doesn't seem suited to more than six or eight of these categories, so the net effect is to add another layer on top of one's project lists.
              GTD really has extra layers too -- "areas of focus," "30,000 feet," etc. Life Balance allows me to integrate all those layers into one tool. I don't have to pull out a separate areas of focus list, for example. The relationship of my projects to the 50,000' is clear and explicit in my Life Balance outline. In pure GTD, you have to keep that in your head.

              Its integration with a calendar also seems kludgy. I have since abandoned trying to find a single software solution for project lists, action lists, contact lists and my calendar (more below).
              Life Balance developers saw no need to reinvent the wheel by implementing another calendar, but it is true that the built-in calendar on the Palm is kludgy. All the built-in Palm software is kludgy. This is why many upgrade to a calendar like DateBook5. My calendar needs are simple enough that I don't need the upgrade. And three quick taps pulls up contact information needed to accomplish an action. Everything's all in my PDA, which is always with me.

              Also, LB is expensive, though it's adherents feel it is a bargain for its effect.
              I hate spending money for software. I hardly ever have to because of university licensing and grant money. But this is one of the few programs I've shelled out the money for.

              Like I said, I'm sure that others have had good experience with LifeBalance. But try the demo and be critical of whether it fits in with GTD before buying a copy.
              I recognize that Life Balance is not for everyone. But since there is a learning curve, people might abandon LB because they haven't learned to take take advantage of its powerful abilities. The developers were quick to help me while I trialed the demo -- pretty impressive. Support does not get any better. The forum there is a fabulous source of help as well.

              I would certainly never want to be without Life Balance now. I use it to implement GTD and more.

              I don't know how many times I've read a question posted here and thought, "Oh, I don't have to worry about that. Life Balance takes care of that for me."

              -andersons

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              • #8
                sharing my LB outline

                Originally posted by willym
                Would either of you be willing to share your LB outline? I have tried GTD in LB (Ratz's system) and find it too complicated, too unwieldy.
                Ratz has developed several different outlines; one was designed to implement bottom-up GTD collect-process-organize as quickly as possible, but at the same time, it abandoned the high-level (e.g., 50,000') life balancing. I've never tried it. His most recent outline retains some of the GTD conveniences but also reverts to high-level goals for the TLIs. His most recent thread about this (on the Life Balance forum) is an inspiring read.

                I suggest that you develop TLIs first by working backwards. Think of the pie charts: what areas do you want to balance? What areas do you tend to neglect? If you want to spend more time in a neglected area, make it a TLI so that you can get priority boosts from the algorithms and feedback on the charts.

                How do you naturally group tasks in your mind? Look at a comprehensive list of all your actions, and try dividing them into major categories. And keep it simple - it's easy to subdivide TLIs later. I started with a few basics; others evolved later as needed.

                It may work well to subdivide different work responsibilites. For example, an academic researcher needs to 1) manage contracts and grants like some kind of an accountant, 2) manage employees, 3) come up with great ideas and develop them into research, and of course 4) write and publish papers. So an academic may benefit from 4 TLIs just to handle work-related stuff, especially if certain activities ("write papers") get neglected.

                My top-level items in the outline (TLIs) are conceptually similar to Ratz's current TLIs and the software's default ones. Here they are:

                > INBOX (a nod to the importance of bottom-up inputs addressed by GTD, this is at the very top for rapid entry. Things will get moved to appropriate sections as soon as possible.)
                > Research (create new knowledge)
                > Teaching (earn income)
                > My spouse
                > Finances (maximize our money)
                > Maintain health & appearance (you can probably guess my gender now)
                > Home (create and maintain a beautiful home)
                > Music (direct inspiring music)
                > Friends & Family (build bonds that last a lifetime) - stole that sentence from ratz
                > Communicate (develop communication skills, especially public speaking)
                > Enjoy life

                Pretty basic stuff. I have never liked the lack of elegance in my outline, but nevertheless it has worked well. I've admired some of the clever outlines of Life Balance users, but I remind myself that the only thing that matters is if it helps me get things done. I think many Life Balance users get caught up in revising their outlines to be more clever or creative or elegant. ("Gee, that is so cool, I've got to rearrange my outline that way!") I rearrange or redesign only if I have a problem that clearly needs to be addressed to improve my future productivity, or when life changes demand it (e.g., I don't teach in the summer). I will probably never become a Life Balance power-user, but I am more productive and balanced than ever before in my life.

                Hope this helps. If not, be sure to ask at the Life Balance forum.

                -andersons

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