Dividing your life into different areas can give you a great deal of clarity and focus, and can help you get more done. As you may know, I’ve divided my life into lucky number 13 areas, such as academic life, financial life, health life, etc. Pretty simple concept so far. However, there’s an important concept that you need to keep in mind when thinking about life areas. Life areas have essentially two modes: growth mode and maintenance mode.
Growth mode is pretty simple: It’s when you’re putting in greater amount of energy to reach a new level to hopefully maintain. For example, say you make 30,000 dollars a year and you want to go upto 50,000 dollars. You need to put in more energy than you are in just maintaining that 30,000 dollars, which might be working 40 hours a week. To go upto 50k, you have to change things, such as either start to keep for another job while still working the 40k and thus bringing up your time invested to 45 hours a week in the “Work” area of your life. The point is not to have temporary growth here, of course, but to go upto a whole new level. You don’t want to make 50,000 dollars this year, and then go back down to 30,000 dollars next year. Growth should thus be down in a sustainable and scalable way, but that’s a whole different blog entry.
You cannot be in a perpetual state of growth in all your areas, as there’s just too many and you have too little time or energy. Pavlina suggests choosing an area to focus primarily on for a year. I prefer a primary focus for a month and tend to focus more on specific projects for one month, and especially habits. It’s a matter of preference, really.
If you’re fast on your feet, you’ll notice there can also be a time when you just go backwards, a sort of regression. The point of maintence mode is two fold: To maintain a new, higher level that you reached after a period of growth and to prevent regression. It’s sort of like a handbrake, it’s there to keep you up a hill at a certain point and to prevent you from rolling backwards down the hill.
Maintenance tends to be habits, although you can have growth habits as well. Running for 20 minutes a day may maintain your health, but applying to three new jobs a day can create growth.
Maintenance can, however, require a lot of energy, too. This can become a real problem if you end up like this:
“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else â€” if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
– Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol
So, when choosing a level to maintain, you have to be careful of getting the right balance of time/energy invested and results. This is really where automation and elimination come in, two important concepts from the 4 Hour Work Week, and you can read up more about them in the book.
As an example: Let’s take my appearance (which I put under Social life). Recently, I was involved in some growth in this area and bought some new clothes. However, since that period, I’ve come back to maintenance mode which includes showering, shaving, getting a hair cut, doing the laundry, ironing clothes, etc. A maintenance mode which required me to spend an hour and a half to get ready would not work for me, because that would just require too much time and energy.
Similarly, while implementing a new habit, it may require a lot of energy, such as a 30-day trial of meditating for 15 minutes daily after waking up, but once its become habit, it takes a lot less energy to maintain.
Here is another example: One of the key things I do in my financial life is monitoring income and expenses. I used to do it by hand and then in the Google Spreadsheet program (sortuv like Excel but online). Recently,t hough, I’ve made two key changes: I’ve started using my debit card for most purchases, and then downloading my transaction history into Quicken. I’ve setup Quicken to automatically recognize most of the places I’ve spent money at and categorize them according to certain spending categories. Every two weeks, I perform some maintenance functions, such as checking how much money I’m spending where (eating out was a bit expense for me, and bringing that down is important and resulted in savings of at least 50 dollars a month), and ensuring I have enough money in my chequing account for my expenses.
I have a feeling Pavlina has written about this, too, but in passing and in an off-handish manner. In case you’re a Getting Things Done fan, the 20,000 feet level of roles and responsibilities is what I would correspond to this life area method. It’s not any higher because its current areas, but they are subject to change as time goes on (ie, I will stop being a student at some point).
Edit: Link fixed. Thanks to the anonymous person who contacted me and let me know. Edit Again: Contact me link don’t work in this blog entry, I give up. Thanks anonymous.