The Life Framework
Bring order to the chaos in your life by visualizing your life across 4 areas
As a child, everything is decided for you.
Where you stay, where you go to school, what you eat, what you study.
You spend the first 18+ years of your life being told what to do and are then thrown into the world to make your own decisions.
After college, life seemed shapeless to me. What should I do? Is *this* the best thing I should do? How do I decide?
I don't have a clear answer, but the fog has cleared.
Here is the framework I've used over the past 3 years to make sense of life.
The Life Framework
Everyone wants to feel loved,
everyone wants to be good at something,
everyone wants to spend time doing what they enjoy and
everyone wants a healthy body and a peaceful mind
1) Relationships: the need for Connection
2) Work: the need for Mastery
3) Personal: the need for Enjoyment
4) Health: needed for all of the above
Each bar represents the amount of time/effort you put into each area
Relationships you have with your family and friends
Work is anything you do for money and mastery
Personal is anything you do for fun, enjoyment, and/or mastery
Health includes mental and physical health, diet, and sleep
Everything you do in life will fall into one of these 4 buckets.
If something feels off in your life, it will be in one of these four buckets
The primary use of this framework is to help identify and visualize where to focus your time and energy to live the life you want
How to use this framework
Draw 2 versions of these graphs on a sheet. Each bar represents one area of your life.
1: Current State:
How much time and energy do you spend in each of the areas?
2: Intentional State:
How much time and energy do you want to spend in each of these areas?
If you find a difference between the two, that should be your focus area
The difference between the life you are living and the life you want
You may find two kinds of differences between the charts you draw.
Areas where you’re spending
1. too much time/effort
2. too little time/effort
1. Too much
If you’re too focused on any of the areas, it will come at the expense of other areas, which is fine if that’s what you want.
But if you’re focussing too much on one area out of compulsion or pressure from your parents/boss/society, then it feels like a burden. If you end up pushing past your upper limits in any one area, you will spend less time than needed in other areas
If you do not choose a day of rest, your body will choose it for you
Work is usually the 800-pound gorilla that crushes everything in its path for most people. I try and follow a simple heuristic.
If work leaves me no time and energy for anything apart from sleep for more than 1 month, I talk to my boss and get help
The only scenarios where it makes sense to work extremely long hours at the expense of everything else are
1) When you are fighting for survival - for yourself, your job, or your company
2) You enjoy it so much
For everything else, you’re better off trying to create and impose limits to prevent any one area of life from overpowering the other areas
2. Too little: Is that a glass ball or rubber ball?
Imagine you are juggling 4 balls: Work, Personal, Relationships, and Health.
Some are rubber balls and will bounce back up, others are made of glass, and will break
Which ones do you prevent from falling down at all costs?
"Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them - work, family, health, friends and spirit - and you're keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls - family, health, friends and spirit - are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life."
- Bryan Dyson, former President and CEO of Coca-Cola
While Dyson splits it across 5 balls, the core message remains the same: Work and Personal balls bounce back up. If you’re behind at work, you can almost always make up for it. If a personal project is stalled for a couple of months, you can always pick it up again
But if you drop the ball on Relationships or Health, they may be irrevocably damaged, or even shattered and you may not be able to patch them back up
A healthy man wants a thousand things,
A sick man only wants one
Apart from health, there is no biological necessity for a lower limit i.e spending a minimum amount of time and energy in other areas. But living life without spending any time with friends or family would be a special kind of hell.
In general, the priority should be clear, Health and Relationships should be non-negotiable unless survival is at stake. 30 mins a day is enough time to make sure you don’t drop the ball in those 2 areas
Balanced Life here I come?
Spend equal time and energy on all areas of life?
That may be an ideal state, in theory.
In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice,
in practice there is
- Yogi Berra
Balance is appealing. Society pushes us to strive for a ‘work-life’ balance.
But if you strive for perfect balance, you will never live the life you want.
Doing anything worthwhile requires commitment over a long period of time and all four areas will never be perfectly balanced
What is the solution?
Accept that the four areas will never be balanced on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, maybe not even yearly
You can however find a way to balance it the way you want on a life timescale
James Clear offers a solution: Think of your life in terms of seasons
A third way to manage your four burners is by breaking your life into seasons. What if, instead of searching for perfect work-life balance at all times, you divided your life into seasons that focused on a particular area?
The importance of your burners may change throughout life. When you are in your 20s or 30s and you don’t have children, it can be easier to get to the gym and chase career ambitions. The health and work burners are on full blast. A few years later, you might start a family and suddenly the health burner dips down to a slow simmer while your family burner gets more gas. Another decade passes and you might revive relationships with old friends or pursue that business idea you had been putting off.
You don't have to give up on your dreams forever, but life rarely allows you to keep all four burners going at once
It also does not matter that you lead a balanced life at all. Because the only balance that will satisfy you is the one you pick for yourself.
Some people care more about creative pursuits and less about relationships.
Some make money doing what they love and have no distinction between their Work and Personal lives.
Some people want to work 85 hours a week to get what they want.
Some people care more about family than work.
The only balance that will satisfy you is the one you pick for yourself.
So, how do I know I’m aiming for the right balance?
The only way to know whether the life you think you want is the life you actually want is to start living it and then keep shaping it the way you want
You learn who you are in practice, not in theory
The Life you want: Reference list
Here are some parameters that I consider useful for the kind of life I want. Feel free to change the parameters and add your own. If you find any of these missing from your life, you may want to dig deeper
A living wage, Mastery
Activities pursued just for fun (e.g, writing this post)
Physically fit, mentally fit, wholesome nutrition and restful sleep
Are you satisfied with your life in all these areas? If not, that is your cue to dig deeper and figure out the changes you want to make
How do you make those changes? The Arena may be able to help