One of the core philosophies here at Brewing FIRE is the idea of continual improvement. I am always looking for ways to make small, incremental adjustments to my life in the expectation that it will lead to major improvements over time. So when I recently came across the Health Work Love Play Dashboard in a book called Designing Your Life, I was instantly intrigued.
I found Designing Your Life to be an excellent, short read on the process of… you guessed it, designing your ideal life. Bill Burnett and Dave Evans are both career product designers, who now teach design thinking at Stanford.
The authors take you through the process of applying the design thinking framework to life. This includes taking inventory of your current situation, wayfinding to determine your path, brainstorming to find the things that drive you, and building a team to bolster your chances of success.
To me, the most interesting portion of the book was at the beginning, where Burnett and Evans introduce the Health Work Play Love Dashboard as a metric for measuring the fullness (and balance) of one’s life.
The Health Work Love Play Dashboard, Explained
Think of the dashboard as a set of fuel gauges, measuring four core facets of your life: health, work, love, and play. Each of these areas is integral to leading a full, meaningful existence. It’s important to occasionally take inventory of these areas, to ensure that we are not neglecting some part of our life.
To complete the exercise, start by filling in your dashboard as it currently exists. Use the guidelines below to determine how you stack up in each category. What do you observe? Where are you doing a good job? Where can you make the biggest improvement?
Next, formulate some small changes you could make that would bring your gauge closer to where it ought to be. If you could make these revisions, how would it change your life? Visualize that potential cascading effect of these improvements.
Your health gauge should encompass your physical, mental, and spiritual health. Of course it’s important to get some exercise and eat well, but it’s also important to take care of your emotional well-being. Do you feel relaxed and positive most days, or are you anxious or feeling burnt out? Is there one aspect of health that is struggling while another is thriving?
Your work dashboard includes everything you are doing in your daily life. This could be paid employment, as well as unpaid work such as homemaking and childcare. It also should include any volunteer work or helping others achieve their goals. Work gives us a sense of purpose, and is critical for our feeling of self-worth. How would you rate your engagement, enjoyment, and the meaning you derive from your work?
The love dashboard is measure of the strength of your relationships and social cohesion. Think about your role within your family, and within society at large. Are you committing adequate time to your spouse, children, family, friends, and other people within your social network? What relationship could you immediately strengthen with a short email or a Zoom call?
The play dashboard, simply put, is the measure of joy in your life. This includes the activities you pursue purely for enjoyment, and not tied to compensation or competition. It may be a hobby or creative outlet, or it may just be laying down in the park and staring at the sky.
I think this is the category that is most often neglected, because it doesn’t seem as vital to our daily functioning, and some may write it off it as “wasting time.” In fact, it may be the most critical area for our overall feeling of completeness and well-being.
Here’s how I would rate my Health Work Love Play dashboard today:
My health gauge is closest to full, at ~80%. I’m by no means in perfect health, but I created a habit of running at least 3 times a week in July 2009, and I’ve stuck to this routine for over a decade. I’ve also gradually improved my nutrition, eliminating most processed foods and refined carbs, and eating mostly whole foods, cheaply bought and prepared at home.
My mental health has also been a work in progress for my entire life. In my young adulthood, I was anxious, impatient, and lacked self confidence. I let exogenous events run (and ruin) my life. With the help of much reading and self-reflection, I’ve gradually developed an awareness of self and lowered my feeling of stress. I haven’t felt this relaxed ever before in my life, even at a time that my responsibilities keep growing.
I’d rate my love gauge as 75% full. I’m thankful to have always maintained healthy relationships with my family. Mrs. BF and I will celebrate 10 years together later this year. Since our daughter was born in 2017 (and our son earlier this year), parenting been a primary focus for me. This is probably part of the reason that I’ve lost the passion for my job. I would rate my social ties as relatively few, but strong. I need to do a better job of reaching out to my friends and maintaining relationships, but the double impact of children and the pandemic have made this more challenging.
Based on outward appearances, my work gauge might appear to be full, but I’d put it somewhere around 70%. I’m arguably an expert in my field, and well compensated by most standards. I’ve achieved mastery and autonomy, but lately I feel a lack of purpose. I struggle to derive meaning from my nine-to-five job, which may be for a few reasons. After we Coast FI, I would like to shift my focus to more meaningful work and volunteering for issues that matter most to me.
My play gauge is somewhere around 50%, and stands to be the place where I can improve most. I’ve actually been making a concerted effort to relax and have more fun lately, but there is still work to be done. One new-ish routine has been going on daily walks with the kids, which I really enjoy. As soon as I can carve out some more time, I’d like to spend more time on my hobbies, including homebrewing, woodworking, and writing music. Finding time, though, is the hardest part.
Maintaining Balance: The Quest for “Enough”
As is often the case, the key here is balance. If we lose sight of our values, we can tend to overdo it in some areas, while completely neglecting others. By taking time to reflect and fill in your Health Work Love Play Dashboard, you can understand the areas that need more attention in your life.
The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80-20 rule, states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the inputs. Another way to say this: “by devoting 20% of your time and effort to each area of the dashboard, you can achieve 80% of your stated objective.”
The goal is to be mostly full in all aspects of you life, because it’s exceedingly difficult to max out all four gauges. If you spend 5 hours at the gym every day, your health gauge could be completely full. But you will most likely suffer elsewhere, such as your relationships (love) or your other hobbies (play). Likewise, I’ve encountered many coworkers and colleagues that are a model of career success, but their kids resent them for traveling 30-40 weeks a year. They chose career over a balanced life.
Mr. Money Mustache recently wrote on the topic of The Sweet Spot: finding the proper balance in each aspect of your life. His post fits in perfectly with the concept of the Health Work Love Play Dashboard.
Here’s your homework assignment. Go fill out the Health Work Love Play Dashboard for your life as it currently stands. Then think about the improvements you can make right now, over the next few weeks, and long-term. Start putting in place a plan to begin making those adjustments. And finally, check back in periodically to evaluate your progress.
Continual Improvement is a never-ending process of tinkering and making small strides, but the payoff can be immense.
What do you think of the Health Work Love Play dashboard? Are your gauges full, and balanced? Do you play enough? Let me know in the comments.