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On the Domains of Life

Last updated in Summer 2021

Meaningful terms for the various areas of our life helps us map where things go and how to decide what next to do.

Recently, I've been trying to wrangle the different areas of my life for the purposes of task/time management. The goal was inspired by Oliver Burkeman's 4,000 Weeks, where he suggests drafting 4–5 domains of life and each day choosing the most impactful thing you can do relating to each one. To that end, I thought of the following domains in English:

  • Home life
  • Work
  • Creative pursuits
  • Self-development
  • Leisure

These categories weren't right though. Home life is really broad. Is it just the building I live in? Or family? Or personal matters? Things not work? Work was nebulous as well. What even is work? Creative pursuits felt wrong, because what wound up there were things like "Continue Shift/Nudge course", "Complete Three.js Journey course", "Build [name of side project]", "Watch category theory lectures", et cetera. Self-development corralled all philosophy-related reading, history reading, Latin and Attic Greek study, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Lastly, leisure was a catch-all for anything else.

Since my studies of philosophy led me to studying Latin and Greek, and since even Roman Stoics spoke of their philosophy in Greek more often than not, I felt using Greek terms might help me find terms I might be more comfortable with.

Oikos (οἶκος)

Oikos means "home" or "family". This felt appropriate for the types of tasks I put under "home life". They are mostly things that need fixing around the house or tasks that I need to do for my wife or son. Oikos covered all the bases for me.

Ergon (ἔργον)

Ergon translates to "task". These are things that have been asked of me—not things I'm doing for myself or for my family. They are things to be done at my day job or as part of my side job that I do in the evenings and on weekends. These are things I'd rather not do, but do in order to support my family.

Arete (ἀρετή)

Arete means "virtue" or "excellence". It's used by the Stoics when referring to the venerated sage. Someone who is wise, courageous, temperate, and just. My studies of philosophy, history, languages, and physical training in jiu-jitsu feel right at home here. I do these things to enrich my mind and body—to live a fuller life.

Tekhne (τέχνη)

Tekhne means "craftsmanship". These tasks are related to self-improvement regarding my craft: software development. These tasks are often learning related to programming or design along with various side-projects and tinkering done with workflow. They aren't the sorts of things that improve your soul.

Scole (σχολή)

Lastly, scole (from which the modern English word "school" is derived) means "leisure" in Attic Greek. Lesiure, for the Greeks, was anything not strictly work, like going to school, and discussing the heady issues of the day, wasn't work. I use this term in the sense of leisure—a catch-all for fun activities that aren't work, but aren't activities that enrich my soul.

On a side note, the more I play with this concept of life domains, the more I struggle with using Ugmonk's Analog cards. The Someday and Next cards are growing cumbersome. I feel a desire to simplify things even further, calling upon Burkeman's idea of an Open/Closed List system, where you keep one longish list of things to do (your Open list) and pipe no more than five things at a time to your Closed list. This limits what you're committing yourself to doing at once (while giving you a touch of freedom to jump around from task to task).

I want to avoid the dumping ground that is Someday/Never lists and focus on impactful things that can be done in the short-term. As with Basecamp's Shape Up methodology, the hope is that if something's truly important, it will resurface in the future, negating the need for a backlog/Someday list.

Since I've got a stockpile of Analog cards, I'll keep using them—limiting my usage to essential tasks going on Next cards and only tasks important to me going on the Someday cards.