Article first published on CoachingActuaries blog in September, 2014.

When people talk about work-life balance, actuaries talk about work-life-exam balance. Finding that optimal balance in life, however, is not easy; it involves a continuous process of learning, experimenting, and trial-and-error. I want to share with you three apps that I found useful in this process of finding balance.

aTimeLogger : Log your time, Carpe Diem!

Why?  “One study of a year-long weight loss program, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2012, found that women who kept a food journal lost about 6 pounds more than those who did not. Writing down what you eat keeps you accountable for what you put in your mouth. Likewise, writing down how you spend your time keeps you accountable for the hours that pass, whether or not you’re conscious of them.” – What the Most Successful People Do at Work by Laura Vanderkam

How? In the aTimeLogger app, simply begin the timer for the activity you are about to start and stop when you’re done. The app will automatically create statistics and a visualization of the data collected.

What? According to Laura Vanderkam ,“You don’t have to log your minutes forever, but even doing it for a few days gives you a mindfulness about time… That mindfulness can lead to more productive choices by itself.”

For actuaries who are believers of 1 hour exam time = 100 study hours, this app is perfect for you to quantitatively access the efforts you put into exam preparation.

Priority Matrix: To-do list, on steroids!

Why? “Time Management Matrix” utilized in this app is the essential focus of what Stephen Covey described as the “Fourth Generation of Time Management” in his The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (one of the “The 25 Most Influential Business Management Books”). This tool will empower you to prioritize effectively.

How? Unlike a traditional to-do list, the Time Management Matrix allows you to divide your tasks into four categories based on importance and urgency:

quadrant-4-time-management

Quadrant 1 – “Critical & Urgent” is what Covey described as “crises or problems”; tasks in this quadrant consumes many people both mentally and physically.

Quadrant 2 – “Critical, but Not Urgent” deals with things like relationship building, long-term planning, exercising, preparation, preventive maintenance, and is what Covey emphasized as “the heart of effective personal management.” If you can focus more on Quadrant 2, crises in Quadrant 1 can usually be prevented.

Quadrant 3 – “Urgent, but Not Important” often delude people into thinking they’re in Quadrant 1, but as Covey revealed, “The reality is that the urgency of these matters is often based on priorities and expectations of others.”

Quadrant 4 – “Not Important, & Not Urgent” is usually where people beaten up by the crises in Quadrant 1 escape. You should avoid Quadrant 4.

What? Use the time log you developed aTimeLogger to see how much time you are spending in Quadrant 2 Vs. other quadrants. If you find yourself routinely stuck in other quadrants, try to do Quadrant 2 items in the morning before your work/school day begins (you will be surprised to find out it’s quite common for successful CEOs to wake up before 5am).

BodySpace:  Stay fit, both intellectually and physically!

Why? “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” – John F. Kennedy

How? BodySpace has a comprehensive database of fitness programs developed by professional personal trainers for individuals of different fitness goals and levels (and all FREE to use). It will tell you how many times a week you should work out and what types of exercises you should do. If you think strength training is only for men, then you are a victim of gender stereotype; strength training is safe and effective for women and men of all ages. (Google “benefits of strength training”!)

What? Perhaps you received some motivation from this article, but as Elliott Hulse, a personal trainer, once said “Motivation is nothing – it doesn’t get anything done. It only keeps you going, but discipline, commitment, and strong habits are what get things done.”

The fitness programs on BodySpace are disciplines laid out for you, what you need to do is to commit and use strong habits to execute!

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