Techniques: Off the Shelf: Software

Is your life all you want it to be? Personal-achievement software may be just what you need to eliminate clutter and sharpen your focus

The Product: LifePeak, from Personal Performance Software Inc., in Wellesley, Mass. (888-543-3732; $79.95)

Requirements: Microsoft Windows 3.1, 95, or NT; 386 or higher processor; 8MB of memory; 8MB of free disk space

Reviewer: Joseph D. Freedman, president of Amicus Legal Staffing Inc., in Nashville

About 10 months ago, as I watched my sister-in-law complete her fifth triathlon, I thought, "I'd love to do that." But how and when? I have a daughter who was then two and a wife who said I was already away too much. I have seven offices scattered around the country, I was finishing up my law degree, and I'd never run more than 6 miles. Could I train for a triathlon and also fulfill my obligations? I settled for a marathon. What's 26.2 miles?

My wife might be right: I overdo. That's why I begged off when Inc. first asked me to review some software--until I found out that LifePeak helps people improve their lives.

After completing a glitch-free installation, I contemplated LifePeak's main menu. Its colorful icons represent six domains of life: relationships, finance, spirituality, health and fitness, emotions and intellect, and career. In deference to my family I opted to examine my relationships.

The second level of each domain displays five additional icons: vision, diagnostic, goals, plans, and measures. I pressed the vision icon and proceeded to deal with such questions as "If you were living your relationship vision, what three adjectives might people use to describe you?" I chose two--loyal and supportive--from the pop-up menu, but the third descriptor--steadfast--I added on my own. Subsequent questions challenged me to examine family relationships from various angles, and after instructing me to "live" my vision, the software recommended that I specify a date on which it should remind me, via a little box that appears whenever I boot up my computer, to revisit that vision.

I found the diagnostic section an effective tool for self-evaluation. Using my wife's terrific relationship with members of her family as a model, I considered such concerns as conflict resolution, quality time spent face-to-face, and expression of affection. And using a sliding arrow I rated their importance to me. Then, based on my responses, the software helped me assess such relationship skills as patience and an ability to listen.

By the time I was ready to tackle goals, I was convinced that life would be much more satisfying if I were able to spend more quality time with my family. (I imagine my wife won't be surprised to learn, as I did, that we would communicate more easily if I were more patient.) Prodded to select "action verbs" appropriate for attaining each goal, I indicated that I wanted, for example, to "increase" both my patience and the amount of time I spent with my daughter, Rachel. The planning section, which had incorporated my earlier work, then used my goals to guide the creation of a "blueprint for success."

Like the first four sections, the final level--measures--was built on previous work. Now, ever since I answered that I wanted to spend four hours a day with my family and indicated that I wanted the software to track that measure, every time I boot up my computer, another little box appears asking me how many hours I've really spent with them. I guess it's up to me now. I wonder, though: if I used the health-and-fitness aspect of the program to improve my marathon time, how well would those goals harmonize with my relationships goals? But despite its potentially life-complicating temptations, I recommend LifePeak to others who are struggling to improve the balance in their lives.