Practical PKM

⚖️ Work/Life Balance is a Myth

Published 2 months ago • 6 min read

In this edition of Practical PKM:

  • Why the idea of work/life blanace is a myth for the modern knowledge worker
  • How to live a more balanced life through the application of intentional imablance
  • A step-by-step walkthrough for setting up the Wheel of Life in Obsidian
  • A cool new Obsidian plugin for taking notes on YouTube videos
  • My book notes from The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly

The whole idea of work/life balance is a bunch of baloney.

Maybe in the past you could establish firm boundaries between your work life and your personal life. But for knowledge workers (who now make up the majority of the global workforce) who don’t go into a physical office, it’s becoming increasingly hard to tell where work ends and life begins.

The result? We end up working all the time.

Even when we’re not working, we’re thinking about work. We grab our phones and check email as soon as we wake up. We feel compelled to drop everything and respond the second we get a Slack message from a coworker.

Notification by notification, work is whittling away at the work/life boundary.

For the modern knowledge worker, there is no work/life balance. There is just life, and it is up to you to manage all the different aspects of your life with skill & intention.

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. We can (and MUST) protect time and energy for the things that matter.

But doing so successfully requires a different approach: intentional imbalance.

What is Intentional Imbalance?

The idea of intentional imbalance comes from the book The 12 Week Year by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington.

The premise of the book is that setting annual goals doesn’t work. So instead of goals in January and procrastinating on them for 11 months before you try to cram it in at the end, you can actually accomplish more by setting those goals for a shorter time period (12 weeks) and making as much progress as you can. Then at the end of the 12 weeks, you take a step back to see how you did and set some new goals for the next quarter.

Following this method, you can get 4 cycles completed instead of 1. And because as humans we underestimate what we can get done in the long term and overestimate what we can get done in the short term, you’ll make a lot more progress as a result.

But in order for these shorter sprints to work, you need to focus.

So instead of trying to set goals in every area of your life, you pick the one that needs the most attention right now. Think of it like putting your thumb on a particular scale for a short period of time.

You don't achieve balance by doing a little bit of everything. Focus on one area at a time and put in enough effort to move the needle. Then next quarter, after you’ve made some progress, you pick another area and focus on that.

In other words, you’re intentionally imbalanced as you focus on one area and neglect the others (but only for a short period). Over time, the net result is that nothing falls through the cracks and by focusing your efforts you are able to make considerable progress across the board.

But how do you know which area to focus on when they’re all important?

That’s where the Wheel of Life comes in.

The Wheel of Life is a simple but powerful tool that helps you quickly understand how you’re doing in the different areas of your life.

You simply identify the areas of importance and rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 based on how happy you are with that area currently.

When you view each area as a slice of a pie and fill the rings out from the center, it ends up looking something like this:

This wheel of life example is actually from a personal retreat I did several years ago. I used to do this in GoodNotes on my iPad using the PDF workbook I created as part of the Personal Retreat Handbook video course.

But about 2 years ago, I decided to try and do this in Obsidian. It took me a little bit to dial it in, but now I’ve got it down. By far the hardest part was figuring out how to do the Wheel of Life exercise since it required a special kind of graphing plugin,

So let me save you some time and show you how I did it 🙂

How to Set Up the Wheel of Life in Obsidian

There are several different graphing plugins available for Obsidian. And I’ve tried them all.

The one I finally landed on is called Obsidian Charts. Here’s what it looks like:

Here’s how to set this up:

  • First, install the plugin from the Community Plugins directory and enable it.
  • Next, insert a Polar Area chart in the note where you want to use the Wheel of Life. This will create a code block that you’ll have to modify to get it looking the way you want.
  • In the code, you’ll need to label the different areas you want to be represented in the chart. These labels are comma delimited (without spaces) and placed between square brackets. For example, my areas look like this: [Spirit,Mind,Body,Friends,Family,Signficant Other,Career/Work,Mission,Money].
  • After you’ve got the labels, you can add the values. This is a little tricky as they are added via data: which is nested under series:. The values have to be added the same way the labels were, and get applied to the labels listed above in the same order. So for example, my values look like this: [8,6,8,8,9,9,7,9,5]

The rest of the code block you can leave as is. But it’s probably easier to just copy/paste than it is to build from scratch 😉 So here’s the code block I use in my personal retreat template:

type: polarArea
labels: [Spirit,Mind,Body,Friends,Family,Signficant Other,Career/Work,Mission,Money]
- title:
data: [5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5,5]
tension: 0.2
width: 80%
labelColors: true
fill: true
beginAtZero: true
rMax: 10
bestFit: false
bestFitTitle: undefined
bestFitNumber: 0
legendPosition: right

One of the things I like about this is that the number of areas you can use in the chart is flexible. For example, you’ll see I actually have 9 areas (instead of 8) based on some changes I made recently after reading Feel Good Productivity by Ali Abdaal. You can customize the areas simply by changing the labels in the code block for yourself.

If you prefer to just use my entire Personal Retreat template for Obsidian, you can download it here. And if you want to see this whole thing in action, I actually recorded a whole YouTube video about it a while back.

Something Cool: Media Notes plugin

Speaking of YouTube videos, I came across a cool plugin this week that allows you to view a YouTube video in Obsidian while you’re taking notes on it. It's called Media Notes and it embeds the video by adding a media_link property with the YouTube URL, and there are keyboard shortcuts to both play/pause the video and insert timestamps into the note. Inserting a timestamp creates a clickable link to that part of the video so you can go back later and review alongside your notes in Obsidian. Just click the timestamp to instantly jump to that position in the video without having to leave Obsidian.

The way to create the note in Obsidian is pretty clever too. You can install a Javascript bookmarklet in your web browser which grabs the URL of the video you’re watching, opens Obsidian, and creates a new note with the tab title automatically. So if you’re watching a video and you decide it’s worth keeping and taking notes on, you can add it to your Obsidian vault with a single click.

I haven’t historically watched a lot of videos on YouTube, but it’s because the type of content I watch doesn’t allow me to easily take notes while viewing. I can see myself using this plugin a lot in the future as it enables my ideal YouTube video workflow.

My Book Notes From The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly

This week on Bookworm, Cory & I read The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly. Cory picked it because he was curious about the direction of generative AI, and Kevin Kelly seemed to have a more sensible grasp on technology trends than a lot of the newer books that we found. It’s kind of amazing to think that this book was written almost 10 years ago. There are many things here that the author nailed, and most of the book feels like it would be more relevant today than when it was written back in 2016.

If you’re curious about understanding how technological trends will shape our future, this is a good one. And if you want to download my mind map notes for this book, click here.

— Mike

P.S. I’m just about ready to open the doors of my new community! But before I do, I’d love to hear from you — what would YOU like to see in an online community focused on PKM and personal growth? If you could take a minute to reply to this email and let me know, I’d really appreciate it 🙂

P.P.S. If you want to be the first to know when the new community is available, click here. We’re getting close, should just be another couple of weeks 😉

Practical PKM

by Mike Schmitz

A weekly newsletter where I help people apply values-based productivity principles and systems for personal growth, primarily using Obsidian. Subscribe if you want to make more of your notes and ideas.

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