How to use the biggest project challenge to improve life balance

The Project Management Triangle as a tool to plan and review your daily activities.

Those of you who follow personal development and productivity writers here on Medium, will have come across the four burners theory. To sum it up, it says that in order for you to get the most out of an area in your life, e.g. career, you will have to accept that one or more of the other burners (health, family, friends) will have to take a backseat.

I have found another model that also talks about trade-offs in life and adapted it for myself to find balance as a remote worker: the Project Management Triangle.

The Project Management Triangle posits that there are 3 factors influencing the your project results: the quality and scope (what you want to achieve?), the time (by when should it be ready?) and the cost (how much should it cost?). The point is that I will never be able to maximize all 3: If I decrease cost, I do not necessarily decrease scope or quality, but it will take longer. If I give more value to time, and want to get my work to my clients fast, then I have to limit the scope or increase costs.

Faster Time + Higher Quality = Higher Cost
Faster Time + Less Expensive = Lower Quality
Higher Quality + Lower Cost = Slower Time

How does this apply to finding balance as a remote worker?

This model gives you 3 great questions to ask when you plan or review your activities. It not only helps you see what you want to do and how much time it takes, but the cost side, will make you realize what trade-offs you have to make in order to reach your objectives.

I use it to plan my day

What do I have to or want to achieve today? How much time do I have to work on these things? What are the costs? Costs might be financial costs, but can also be opportunity costs (things you have to forego to work on your tasks), e.g. I cannot look after my kids and work on a blog post. I cannot exercise and finish that presentation today. That is unless I am willing to sacrifice quality.

I find it particularly effective when I take this exercise out of my head. Writing down the answers helps me become more conscious about my choices. Plus I have a written plan, I can use to pull myself through the day, and to celebrate once I have achieved my goal.

I use it to review how I did

Many people do weekly reviews. For me a good interval is about once a month (which roughly corresponds to “whenever I feel like it”).

What have I achieved in the last week/month? How much time did I dedicate to this? What did it cost me, what did I not do to get these things done?

If, like me, you have the tendency to cheat yourself about how you actually spend your time, then make sure you are being really explicit about all the activities you do on a daily basis and then write down how much time they get on average. Do not forget things like aimlessly surfing the web, or Facebook, watching Netflix or Youtube, your commute, and other things you might not do consciously enough to think of them immediately.

Then I apply the questions above and see how effective and efficient I have been. Good follow-up questions to feed into the next planning are: What do I want to continue doing the same way? What do I want to change? What was missing?

Combine the two and create an effective planning system

If you are more disciplined and structured than me, you could also combine the two. Do the exercise to plan your week or month, and make sure you note down your answers. Then at the end of the month, reflect on your performance, and compare your answers to the plan you made.

Go wild and combine with the four burners

Once you get a clearer idea of the trade-offs you typically make to get your work done (e.g. exercise to little, spend to little time with important people), or to do things other than work (e.g. too much time on Facebook, Netflix), you can start to adjust how much time and energy you put into the different burners and if you are feeling adventurous, check if the burners are the ones that work for your life. Maybe you want to lump family and friends into one bucket and add some new category like nature, or learning.

Are you new to remote work and need help to get organized? I help you navigate this new world of work. Depending on your needs, I can help you improve your virtual meetings, communicate more effectively through email or in online team spaces, conduct difficult conversations, or lead a remote team.

If you liked this article, click the💚 below so other people will see it here on Medium.