24 Boxes and Asymmetric Grids

24 Boxes and Asymmetric Grids

Grids My quest for work-life balance continues this week as I continue to ramp up on personal projects while stirring the business development pot. Although I’m not quite sure exactly what I want to balance, I do know that there are general categories that have contributed to my sense of well-being in the past. So, starting from the basic idea that I need four hours of billable work a day, I made a list of the other things that help me feel centered:

  • productive work by myself
  • productive communication with creative, positive people
  • making sure that the crap isn’t piling up at home
  • putting time into health and the gym
  • adequate sleep

There’s a purposeful resemblance to something I read about 5 contributors to happiness via my friend Senia, which are:

  1. sleep
  2. exercise
  3. nutrition
  4. incremental actions
  5. alone vs. social time balance

Thoughts The tracker form that’s developing in my mind is based around all these principles, and what I’d like to have is some kind of nice weekly form that will both show me at a glance and remind me what the work-life balance should be. I’ve also been liking the idea of using the asymmetric grids I mentioned last week, so this morning I had a chance to make a first pass at what it might look like over my morning Starbucks.

Asymmetric Grid DR01 The basic idea is to have a kind of three-part stack of boxes, with room for overflow. The names and assignments of the categories are preliminary, so I’m open to suggestions on this. Here’s what I have so far:

  • The bottom stack is sleep. For me, I like to get 8 hours, though sometimes I sleep a bit more. Without adequate sleep, the rest of my day is kind of hosed, so that’s why I put it on the bottom as a foundation for the rest of the activities.
  • The center stack are core maintenance. The home category covers stuff like cleaning, dishes, laundry, doing bills, and other responsible things that we should be doing for ourselves. It’s on the left, because I think of this as “left-brained” pragmatic thinking. The arrangement is a kind of little box, and there’s a couple more boxes available for overflow. The center, which about heart or happiness, are for things that you do that make the day worthwhile. Maybe everything you do makes you happy, but I put the box here anyway to remind me that this is the point, to find a center of joy somewhere in the rest of what you do. On the right side are health type things. This is more about taking care of yourself, and under this I would include feeling and romance. It’s that L-shape because it kind of is an encompassing gesture around the heart, and it’s more open than the closed-up logical side. Plus, this introduces an asymmetry that helps break up the grid further, providing some eye relief that a straight grid design would not generate. You may notice that this center grid is offset from the top and bottom slightly to, to further create some visual interest.
  • The top stack is about making stuff. For me, that’s creating–the four boxes at the top are the four billable hours I want to seek. The two supporting elements on either side are for conversation, which is the creative dialog that’s important to me. It’s split in two to accentuate the idea that there are two people in a conversation, plus it creates a kind of neat super robot head shape. The whole stack is reminiscent of a giant Japanese robot comprised of smaller ships, combining in different ways.


p>Some other subtleties are the provision of extra boxes, because sometimes you’ll spend more than the “ideal” number of hours. The stack of boxes is vaguely humanoid in shape, as I mentioned, to make it a little more personable in a way that a pile of boxes are not. There are also actually 26 boxes, because the two in the middle are extra. Maybe these will be bonus boxes when you do something that feels particularly awesome, a kind of bull’s eye.

When I get a chance later this week I’ll put together the rest of the worksheet, which I’m thinking may resemble a marriage of the Concrete Goals Tracker and the Emergent Task Planner. In the meantime, work beckons!


  1. Avram Grumer 14 years ago

    The colored shapes remind me of Tetris.

  2. Scott 14 years ago

    Hi David
    Love the idea of the asymmetric day!
    i have turned your diagram into an Excel 07 worksheet for quick’n’easy filling.
    i have sent it to your email :o)

  3. Kelly 14 years ago

    I like this incarnation.

  4. Christine 14 years ago

    I really like the boxes!  It’s like your own version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, except prettier, and more modern.  And more roboty.  :)

  5. Carsten 14 years ago

    Like the diagram. Looking forward to see what you come up with.

    What program do you use to make the diagram?

  6. Kelly 14 years ago

    This inspires me to think about doing something three dimensional. Blocks, perhaps. A representation of the week ahead.

  7. Amanda Pingel 14 years ago

    I love your forms; I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it.

    I think I’m going to modify one for me that shows a week at a time.  Since I’m currently an employee, I don’t have the freedom to make every day balance all these areas, but I can try to keep it balanced across 7 days.

  8. Dave Gallagher 14 years ago

    Neat idea.  :)

    Just a note from my personal experience with exercise.  It’s important to have rest days where you do no exercise to allow for your body to recover.  Otherwise you can run into a situation where you’re over-exercised.

    This creeps up slowly, usually over the course of a few weeks, but can become obvious after feeling kinda crappy after a few days, or weeks, in a row.  You tend to be tired more, can’t perform as well when exercising, and become irritable.

    To avoid this, “consistent” sleeping patterns are key, leaving in some breathing room for those days when you need a little extra zzz’s (like you did in the diagram).  Taking the weekends off from exercise (or any 2-3 day period) helps considerably too.  And getting “enough” sleep is very important.

    If you exercise intensely, or for a prolonged period of time (beyond 45 minutes), you’ll notice that you may need even more time for sleep.  Most people don’t need to worry about this, but those training for something like a 1/2 Marathon or longer definitely have to keep it in mind.

    So after writing all this, I would add an asterisk to “Exercise” on your list, mentioning that it needs to be coupled with a proper amount of rest (not including sleep).

    I’d also throw sex on that list.  It’s kinda important to most.  ;)

  9. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Avram: I was actually thinking about Tetris as I started making the shapes fit together. Someone at the coffee shop was peering over my shoulder and thought I was playing a game :)

    Scott: Cool! I haven’t gotten it yet, will keep an eye out.

    Christine: Heh, that’s a good observation regarding Maslow’s Hierarchy. Sort of a personalized version of perhaps the upper levels of the hierarchy, or maybe embodying actions that lead to actualization.

    Carsten: I use Adobe Illustrator to create all the forms. This one is based on shapes from the Resource Time Tracking, because it already has the little box things.

    Kelly: That would be an interesting approach. Sort of like a 3D road?

    Amanda: I’m thinking of doing a week of these blocks, so one can see the balance at a glance, the way that the Concrete Goals Tracker does.

    Dave Gallagher: That’s an interesting wrinkle, when balance doesn’t mean daily practice. I have noticed when I was doing daily exercise that I’d get kind of worn out feeling.

  10. Kelly 14 years ago

    Perhaps. I like the idea of arranging blocks to see what the upcoming day/week looks like.

    Not that there’s anything out there like that—I’d have to make my own. Something durable I could write on.

  11. Katrina 14 years ago

    This is soooo cool!

    I have a weekly form I print out on 3×5 index cards that tracks things similar to this for me.  Lemme see if I can put it up somewhere so you can see it.

  12. Katrina 14 years ago
  13. spirilla 14 years ago

    This is awesome! I’m looking forward to adopting the coming new version.

    This is meant for keeping daily track, shall there be a weekly log as well?

  14. Tanya Steinberg 14 years ago

    Love this! Who couldn’t use more work life balance? Can’t wait to see the finished product. When do you think it will be available for download?

  15. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Kelly: I’ve had the idea of actually having a bunch of different blocks made, and stacking them on a tray of fixed size, one for each day of the week. They’d be sized according to the ABCDE scaling time chart, and when you get a task done you’d put it in the DONE pile and make a nice sculpture :-) Each block = task key, with physical weight. If you make one, send me a picture! :-)

    Katrina: That’s a great weekly index card! Maybe all I need are checkboxes as well.

    Spirilla: I’m thinking it would look like a weekly sheet.

    Tanya: I’m hoping to get to it this weekend; this week was unexpectedly upset by some unplanned project work.

  16. deb 14 years ago

    I love this idea, but have two questions…
    1. how about making it per week since maybe that balance can not be accomplished in a single day…but the balance at the end of a given period shows some… ehem balance!

    2. stupid question, each box is an hour right?

    3. what can you suggest to those whose work is not necessarily creative…or maybe it is but is not the creation aspect we all yearn…is it a given that creation is the same as the billable work you do. if so you are lucky! but I guess the feel is not the same in terms of free creation to the one up on a tightdeadline…would love to hear your thoughts.

    And thanks again! I love your search, your ideas, layouts and blog!

  17. Katrina 14 years ago

    Okay.  Can you tell this has captured my imagination? 

    I have put together my own exploration of these ideas tailored to my needs of course.  Since I either am creating (writing/designing) or sharing (teaching, preaching or counseling) I needed a similar balance between these two areas as you needed between creating and conversing. 

    As a mystic, I need to keep my spiritual practice at the core of my day.  This is where I put my walking and yoga along with my prayers and meditation.  But I need a similar balance between health (meal prep, medical visits, etc.) and home ( chores, finances, etc.).  And heck we all need sleep…

    So here are my boxes so far …http://www.katrinamessenger.com/my_boxes

    Okay, now I have to stop and let this stew a bit.  These are very deep areas you are delving into here, Dave.  Thanks so much for sparking my own exploration!


  18. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Deb: I just posted a complete sheet, and it explains it a bit. I haven’t made the transition to “doing creative work” to “billing” entirely, but by making more things like this maybe it will become self-fulfilling :)

    Katrina: Cool! You’ve given me an idea to make some kind of Flash Balance Robot Builder application :-) Just the thing I need to get back into Flash programming!

  19. Alvin Soon 13 years ago

    Beautiful work Dave! Really love the thought process behind this design, together with your Satisfying Things I Want To Do list.

  20. nicole 12 years ago


    I used to use this form when my baby was really little. I loved being able to keep track of the amount of sleep I was actually getting (which was a LOT all things considered) and even though I didn’t use the other boxes as time indicators but more as task indicators (sometimes a load of laundry and a frozen dinner is all you get done in a day with a newborn) I liked the flexibility of those work sheets. As a mum (especially a new mum) your brain is a little fried, holding a thought is a bit challenging (you get used to it though, and you use a lot of post it notes) so a spot to jot down notes is absolutely essential, bonus points if you remember where you jotted down the note, so having it all in one place was perfect.

    I stopped using the sheets for a while and I can’t even say why. Probably because my printer ran out of ink or something else equally stupid ;-)

    I’m back to using this sheet and a modified Task Progress Tracker sheet. I eliminated all the white space at the bottom and just filled the sheet with more “bubble” rows, in another version I edited I grouped 5 bubbles instead of 4 because I usually don’t measure time, I measure how many times I’ve done something (folding a basket of laundry, doing dishes, vacuuming the house,…) this way I can keep track of where I’m at in the never ending dance of Laundry (is there still a load sitting in the washing machine? Check the list, if there are more filled in bubbles in the “wash one load” row than in the “dry one load” row I should better get moving on that one) and more accurately predict when we’ll be running out of dishwasher detergent pellets (ah the joys of being a mum). I use this sheet as a TO DO List and a reminder list and LOVE it.

    Combined the two sheets are the perfect fit for my disorganized, aging mum brain.

    Thank you for making them available :-)

  21. Author
    Dave Seah 12 years ago

    Nichole: Thanks for sharing that wonderful story about using this form as a new mom. That really is inspiring to me…I like the idea of using the bubbles to check things off as a multiple of times, rather than time itself, in a context where it’s endless!