Thing-a-Day 08: Charted Life Balance Thoughts

Thing-a-Day 08: Charted Life Balance Thoughts

Life Balance Rough Diagram

Today’s November “thing-a-day” project falls under the “process” category. The onset of cold weather has put me in a foul reflective mood as I itemize the accomplishments of the year, and weigh them against my feeling of irritation. This has driven me back into a hermit-like state of mind, which I recognize as not being healthy in the long run.

This got me thinking today, as I grouched around the house, about what the key elements of a good life for me (as in, the life I am not experiencing at the moment) would be. The result was a strange diagram that might be the key to something. It could be a new form, a piece of writing, or maybe a new direction. I just don’t know what it is yet. Details follow.

A terse ingredients list

I have had two recent insights:

  • I really dislike any inconvenience at all, to the point of ridiculousness, because I feel that I am so short on time and energy. In fact, it is my attitude toward time and time pressure that seems to contribute to a lot of my negative attitudes. I know this, but I nevertheless keep falling into the cycle of having them, because I continue to feel time pressure. These days, ANY demand on my time at all generates enormous clouds of toxic attitude. This is noteworthy.
  • I really have cast myself in the outsider role, and because of this I have a tendency to disconnect from community. A recent conversation with a Christian friend of mine opened up an interesting line of thought: I don’t like asking people for help, because I assume they don’t want to help me because it is an inconvenience. In the context of our conversation, it was me realizing that I didn’t want to inconvenience GOD by asking for anything, which was kind of mind-boggling. Of anyone to ask, you’d think God would have the resources to provide. Anyway, I think that I need to resolve this issue, because I think it is a kind of limit that prevents me from living a full life WITH OTHER PEOPLE.

Today, when I was in my foggy state of being grouchy and not wanting to work, I managed to pull myself to a standing position and write on a blank piece of paper some key balancing ideas: stuff that I thought might be important to live a “balanced” life that felt “good”, whatever that might mean. This is a very rough pass. Thoughts Here’s the text of each thought bubble, numbered in the order I wrote them down. They are elements of a kind of balance, I think…I’m still figuring out what it means:

  1. External Shared Positive Commitments with People (Connection) – A form of external motivation, a source of connectedness? This is important, I think, because I’m strongly motivated by the people around me. When I don’t have that, I don’t want to work. I want to work when I see people smile.

  2. Timelessness or Refined Time Awareness, not based on polling (Timeless Space) – Instead of being concerned about HOW LONG activities take to complete, I think I need to adjust my expectations to a realistic level. Watching the clock (what I called “polling” here) doesn’t help, and neither does management by reminding myself how fast I should be. I suspect using speed as a metric for creating “quality of life” is self-defeating, although I do love speed. I must remember speed is not everything.

  3. A Question to Resolve in Timeless Space (An Answer) – A single question is really all I need to have at any single time. In fact, it’s that reduced scope that finding the answer possible. I get caught up when I worry how LONG it will take to find the answer, or whether there are other Questions and Ill-Defined Uncertainties piling up in my in-box. I have noticed that not thinking about time seems to help me fall into the “flow state”.

  4. An Experience that anticipates Positive Motion, Reaction, Newness (Desire and Pursuit) – There are some things I look forward to and some things I don’t. Today I was feeling very anti-work, and life seemed to grind to a halt. Having something to “look forward to” might help. Or possibly learning to let go of the negative emotions…again, getting over my toxic attitude.

  5. An Accumulation of Desirable Accomplishments that support the Existence of the Self – This is about the need to accomplish and create, which feeds my sense of self-worth. It also is about actually HAVING stuff of worth, which is a currency of social interaction with creatives. Crass but true. Thanks, Cal Newport!


p>After writing this down, I noticed that four quadrants seemed to arise from them:

  • Quadrant A (1, 3, and 4) – Humanity? Community? God?
  • Quadrant B (2, 3, and 4) – Productivity? Competence? Desire? Drive? Will?
  • Quadrant C (1, 3, and 5) – The feeling of success? Material happiness?
  • Quadrant D (2, 3, and 5) – Wisdom? Perspective? Satisfaction?

I don’t know what this chart is, but I do recognize elements of it as themes that have bedeviled me for years. There is something about this that I think informs/limits the direction of my work. Perhaps it is the basis of a new Day Grid Balancer, or it is a particular answer to a particular question asked by people who are in my situation.

I think this is some kind of clue, so I am compelled to lay it out there to be seen to see what happens.


Upon waking this morning I had a number of new interpretations:

  • It’s an “attitude pacemaker” or “attitude stabilizer”.
  • It works by catalyzing negative emotions (e.g. feeling time stress for no logical reason) into fruitful reminders that good things are possible that contribute to material growth or human connection (e.g. one of the letter results).
  • This particular one is attuned to my current set of neuroses: time pressure, unresolved questions, isolation. There are likely other ones, which I could probably make into a cool board game!
  • OR it’s an “executive function spare”, for when my brain is particularly fuzzy.
  • It works by focusing attention on to a small subset of truths and desires, rather than let the brain run wild
  • It forces the selection of something simple to do, connecting the unruly brain with a single question to focus on, resulting in productive activity

About this Article Series

I'm challenging myself to create something new every day for the month of November 2014! The November Challenge Page lists everything in one place...check it out!


  1. Nancy 10 years ago

    David, I send you my appreciation for your courage to express your truth in your blog. Reading your entries this month has really helped me feel more connected to the world. We, who share a sensitivity and awareness mixed with creativity and drive often find ourselves bewildered when we are tired or feeling that our introverted nature somehow isolates us. It is through sharing our stories with others like us that we reconnect and the energy begins to return and flow. Many continued blessings to you for all that you contribute to the world, and for all the help you give by just being you!

  2. Author
    Dave Seah 10 years ago

    Thanks Nancy! This was a hard one to write, and I really appreciate that you reached out to remind me that I’m not the only one thinking through stuff.

    Your observation that “it is through sharing our stories with other like us that we reconnect” is a wonderful reminder, too. I had been of the feeling that it was not fruitful because of a poor interaction recently, but I think that it’s important to keep sharing. Thank you for the burst of energy!

  3. Cherry Jeffs 10 years ago

    I feel your pain when it comes to time, Dave. I think it is one of the biggest puzzles for those of us outside of cubicle nation! I have discovered several things:

    That time really is relative and that what most conditions the quality of it is focus and we can’t focus if we are overtired.

    In Tony Schwartz’s book, The Way We Are Working Isn’t Working, he says top level violinists never practice for more than 1.5 hours at a time and for more than 4hrs a day i.e. More hours does not equal more productivity.

    By trial and error I had already worked out that 1.5 hours was my optimum focus time for any single activity so now I program my day with slots not longer than this and I really feel a big increase in my productivity and less angst that I am not doing ‘enough’.

    Switching tasks also reduces burn out but there are days when I realise that I must rest because the quality of my focus has gone. Normally when I get to this stage, I also feel grouchy!

    My mantra from all this has become Energy = Focus = Productive use of time

    Energy comes from all sorts of sources – the stimulation of community (as you say), good food, adequate rest, exercise, time to muse, filling the creative well, doing projects we’re passionate about, breaking down self-limiting beliefs…Yes it’s a dance of balance – but at least we get to choose how we dance :)

    And yes, there is all sorts of help out there, we do need to ask. We’re much less likely to get it if we don’t.

    Good luck with what ever new plan emerges from your insights!

  4. Deb 10 years ago

    Re not asking for help, a friend gave me an enlightening moment when she told me that people who won’t ask others for help are denying others the opportunity to be charitable. It actually does create connections to let people help you occasionally. You seem too aloof and superhuman otherwise.

  5. Author
    Dave Seah 10 years ago

    Cherry: That’s an excellent finding! Although I’ve lived “outside cubicle nation” for over ten years now, I never really adopted a clear new metric for productivity. And then there’s the whole wrinkle of being a self-employed person charging billable hours to cover overhead expenses. You’ve inspired me to make a diagram to LAY DOWN THE LAW once and for all as a formalization of “Dave’s Way”. Awesomeness!

    Deb: That’s a wonderful observation!!! I like how it fits in with themes of allowing one’s self to be vulnerable and authentic as well. I think the past me would have thought that asking for help was a sign of failure and weakness, but the flip side of that was also being prideful when I felt I was strong. It would be much better, I think, if the model of asking and giving help that I adopt was a continuum of sharing energy, rather than the transaction-by-transaction mentality I sometimes have.

  6. prasad 10 years ago

    wu wei or Akarma comes to mind on reading this post. I am trying to have a 50/50 ratio of optimised structured routine tasks and the creative activities either in work or life dimensions. THis is due to the influence of Chaord principle of VISA founder. Now the 50% creative tasks need to be done without multitasking but probably task switching smartly… That would help create a timeless space with better outcomes…