Categories of Life: A Python Tool for Strategic Life Design

The Categories of Life framework guides my quest for balance. Inspired by a Harvard Business Review article, I created a digital tool for strategic life planning, streamlining assessment and prompting adjustments.

The Categories Of Life

4 years ago I started this blog with a post about The Categories of Life and later followed up with a post on Time Tracking Categories of Life. I still use this concept to this day for organising my life and managing my time effectively. The Categories of Life framework has become an integral part of my daily routine, providing structure and clarity. Whether it's allocating time for work, leisure, family, or self-care, these categories serve as a compass, guiding me towards a balanced life.

The HBR Article

After being recommended a video on Youtube about strategic thinking for your life, video link, I thought I would read through the accompanying article. I was surprised to see that the idea of grouping you life into 6 categories was something both the author and I had both landed on. The article goes into a deep process to build out a life strategy asking 7 questions, but there was one question that really resonated with me.

Use Strategic Thinking to Create the Life You Want
In corporate strategy projects, executive leadership teams work through a series of questions to determine how their businesses can succeed. Individuals can use a similar process to figure out how to live a meaningful life. It starts with defining what makes a great life for you and then outlining your purpose and vision. You must also look at your current “portfolio” — the areas in which you spend your time and energy — to see if you’re investing the best of yourself in the activities most important to you. You should consider what research says about how people tend to find meaning and joy in life. Finally, you’ll want to identify areas where you need to make changes, and then ensure you follow through with objectives and key results. This program, Strategize Your Life, has been tested with more than 500 people around the world. With a few hours of work, you can develop a personal life strategy and summarize it on a single page.

After reading the article I wanted to expand on question 4 "How do I assess my life portfolio?" where it suggests that you sketch a 2x2 matrix of the 16 strategic life units. I really liked the idea of this exercise, however, I wanted something more accurate than a hand drawn sketch. This gave me the idea to digitise the process, the rest of this post covers the tool I built and the journey building it.

The Tool I Have Built

The webpage contains the 16 strategic life units discussed in the article as rows in a table on the left hand side. For each row you can adjust the satisfaction, importance and how much time you spend on it each week. Once you are happy with the values you can update the plot using the button at the bottom of the table (feel free to tweak the values and update the plot as many times as you need).

Once you are happy with your plot you should then assess which life units are in each of the 4 quadrants and think about them using the guide below:

  • Top Left: Areas of high urgency, these are life units which you have deemed important, but you are not currently satisfied with, focusing on these should bring quick wins.
  • Top Right: Keep spending time on these, these are life units which are most important to you, and bring the most satisfaction.
  • Bottom Left: Make sure you are not wasting time here, you want these bubbles to be as small as possible.
  • Bottom Right: These are life units which you don't think are important, but bring you satisfaction, try to keep these small.
Key Areas of Life 2x2 Example Matrix
Strategise Your Life
Built upon the concepts in the HBR article Use Strategic Thinking to Create the Life You Want,I have created a digital tool to aid with the completion of step 4.

Lastly the download data button exports the values from the table into a csv file.

How I Have Been Using The Tool

Although I haven't fully implemented the process described in the HBR article, I've begun using the tool to gain a preliminary understanding of my time allocation. Examining my personal 2x2 matrix, I was astonished by the placement and size (time allocation) of certain bubbles on the plot. While the overall findings validated much of what I already knew, there were a few surprises. For instance, I realised I need to shift time away from the online entertainment bubble to the offline entertainment bubble, as it had a lower importance and satisfaction.

Technical Stuff

While I dedicated several months to working through The Odin Project last year and found satisfaction in completing its activities, I realised that I hadn't yet applied my newfound web development skills to create anything original. Despite the enjoyment derived from the process, I missed the opportunity to innovate and bring my own ideas to life.

The tool I built is completely in Python and uses the following libraries:

  • Matplotlib for building the visualisations.
  • Flask for the web page abilities.
  • Pandas for the manipulation of the data frame.
  • Bootstrap for HTML and CSS formatting.

Yes I know you could probably do this in excel (but I didn’t have it on my mac, and numbers was not powerful enough to colour the scatter plot by a 3rd dimension). Another option would be to use BI tools and I am sure they could also create a better looking visual, but once again I could not get Power BI or Tableau on Mac.

If you have made it this far, then I have also included a link to project on my GitHub where you can feel free to fork the code and make any improvements.

GitHub - DavidOForrester/strategise-your-life-project-python
Contribute to DavidOForrester/strategise-your-life-project-python development by creating an account on GitHub.