By Nicola Warwick

As a busy IT professional, I’m an ardent fan of the Palm V—it’s the one gadget that goes with me everywhere, often in lieu of my laptop. As a novice Palm user, I was a rapid convert to DateBk4. Combined with the built-in “To Do” application, the floating events, the templates, and the icons are especially useful. I thought I had it made until I read about Life Balance, a personal productivity software system designed by Llamagraphics for the Palm OS. In this article, I’ll talk about how Life Balance works and how it can increase your productivity as a consultant, as well as in your personal life.

Not all work and no play
All too often, we IT pros concentrate our effort and energy on our work, to the detriment of other parts of our lives. Life Balance provides the tools to identify all of the important elements of our lives, assigning tasks within each of those elements so that no area is neglected. It enables you to prioritize tasks and check your progress against original targets by looking at a pie chart that summarizes that data.

Life Balance also integrates DateBk—or your preferred Date Book application—with your To Dos, replacing the built-in To Do list with a much more powerful tool.

The Life Balance system’s Outline feature allows you to create a list of headings—such as Business, Career, Home, and Leisure—then list associated tasks beneath each heading, as seen in the graphic below.

Life Balance’s Outline function

When you first download Life Balance, you can import any existing To Do items. (You should then delete the To Dos from the built-in To Do program.) You can also link items from your DateBk, but you’ll need to organize these initially beneath your Outline headings.

You then assign a level of importance—from “none” to “somewhat” to “essential”—for each item (see graphic below). For example, a project to be completed at the office might denote an importance level of “essential.” You might see picking up the dry cleaning as less imperative and set it at “somewhat.” Thus, the general list of things to do on that day would show the work project at the top and going to the dry cleaners farther down. However, Life Balance allows you to set a variety of parameters for each task to determine how and when they will appear on your To Do list.

Life Balance allows you to assign a level of importance to a task.

Getting your priorities straight

The Time tab allows you to schedule tasks by indicating whether they will occur one time only or routinely. For example, if you need to review a project on an intermittent basis, you could schedule the task to repeat every couple of weeks. Alternately, you could schedule a task by a single due date within the Time tab or opt to put the appointment in your DateBk. A convenient feature of Life Balance is that each task created in or imported to Life Balance is assigned a code that enables updates to be made from within either DateBk or Life Balance, and each imports the changes to the other.

You can also assign each task the level of effort you think will be required to complete it by choosing “none,” “average,” or “maximum” on the Effort tab. Life Balance then prioritizes tasks by rating them both on importance and required effort level.

The Places tab within the Life Balance application allows you to create place names, such as Office, Home, Client Site, and so on. Each place name can then encompass other places, if needed. For example, when you go to a shopping center, all the tasks that you can complete (or each store you need to visit) in that vicinity would be included as a subcategory. For Work, I have subcategories such as “Work—phone calls,” “Work—e-mail,” and “Work—pending.” I do the same for home, breaking down tasks into various subsets. If I was spending time in London, I might create a new Place called London, then create various Place subsets of London. Usually I go to London on business, so I would also include Work as a subset. I also sometimes try to pick up gifts in London, so I might include Shopping, too. When I get there, I can select “London” as my Place, and all the tasks I need to do there will be displayed.

Life Balance also includes two pie charts that allow you to specify the amount of time you want to spend on tasks each week, the idea being to enable you to achieve better balance in your life. On the first chart, you might choose to give a large chunk of time to work but also allocate a reasonably sized chunk to your family. Then, as you complete tasks over the course of the week, your progress will be mapped on the second pie chart, showing how well you’re doing. So as your priorities in life change, so do your pie charts.

Pie charts allow you to compare the amount of time you’ve planned to spend on a task against the actual time it took to complete.

Getting started with Life Balance
Life Balance is available for a variety of handheld devices running Palm OS 3.0 or above, with desktop versions coming soon. The software occupies about 300k of storage and is backed up each time the handheld device is synchronized.

The Llamagraphics site provides additional information about using the software, including an online manual that can be downloaded locally, and new versions of the software are available on the site to registered users as free updates. (Since I started using Life Balance, I have uploaded a number of updates, and the product continuously improves.) The site’s User Forum is indispensable for learning more about Life Balance and provides tips for enhancing its use. (The creators of Life Balance also frequently offer tips in the forums.) The forum’s Wish List also offers a place for users to post requests for improvements and new features for Life Balance.

The list price for Life Balance is $39.95, and it can be downloaded from the Llamagraphics site. I recommend taking advantage of the 30-day free trial. To get started, read the online user guide and the Forum postings to familiarize yourself with the variety of approaches to tailoring LifeBalance so that it fits your needs.

Nicola Warwick is product marketing manager for World Online—a leading pan-European Internet network company, where she promotes Internet products for small and midsize enterprises. She has also worked as an Internet consultant, with particular focus on intranets and business strategy. In her spare time, Warwick is a columnist for One Woman’s Writing Retreat and recently completed a research project on Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. She is based in Manchester in the Northwest United Kingdom.

Do you use Life Balance on your PDA? Would you recommend it to your peers? Is there another productivity tool you’d recommend? Post a comment below or send us a note.