Slice up Life: How to Make a Pie Chart to Visualize Daily Living

Having a way to visualize your life can make a difference in seeing things more clearly and help you make changes. We do it with our diets. You list what you ate one day, and then you grasp why you didn’t lose weight. Oh, that bag of chips and ice cream cone must have made the difference, as did never exercising!

A pie chart can work as the perfect symbol to picture activities and map time allocated over a week, month or several months. The chart--a round circle--can be divided into any number of different pieces to display the relative size of various data such as how many hours of television you watched per day, how much time you spent in the grocery store, on Zoom or at the range preparing dinner each night.

Another pie chart might be financial to showcase your income and how you typically spend it—the biggest slice for housing, a smaller one for food and yet smaller ones for clothing, travel, medicines and entertainment.

Seeing any information in one visual—possibly different colors for different activities and various widths for different amounts--can help you to grasp ways to manage your time better and where to allocate your resources differently. Perhaps if you spent less on your home-related costs, for example, you might be able to retire sooner or take a long wished-for vacation.

You can even draw a pie chart to help get a handle on why your happiness quotient isn’t higher. Maybe if you didn’t devote so much time to work, you could allot more hours to goofing off with friends, exercise and see movies, all of which you enjoy but which have been only slivers in your pie chart in the past. 

A pie chart can vacillate from day to day, week to week, and year to year. It could even be used for a smaller measure of how you spent an hour. If there’s one friend who keeps sucking lots of air from the room and calling you with this and that problem, you’re happy to help but not every day. You look at your chart and see that she’s taking up too much daily time. When you add up the hours and add the activity to the chart, you know you need to take some action.       

Charting your time this way also requires revision of the amounts as your life and needs change and alterations of what represents the slices and their sizes. Here is a written snapshot of some of our personal pie chart changing stories. (See the visuals below that show our pie charts in 2017 v. today in 2021.)

After Barbara broke two bones in her hand and wrist almost five years ago, she had to redo her weekly pie chart after the first of two surgeries. She no longer could exercise, cook or drive and had little time to play, socialize and even help take care of her aging mother. She needed most of her hours and energy for hand therapy at home—with some for work still. The therapy consisted of multiple exercises with a panoply of “toys” to push movement, plus soaking her hand in alternate baths of cold and hot water, applying heat and ice, as well as two-hour visits to a certified specialist’s office five days a week.

Taking a shower and bath took longer and required help; so did doing most errands and walking anywhere since she feared she might slip and fall again. And then her mom had a small stroke and required more of her time, which took away time from Barbara’s own recovery. 

Fast forward one year, a second surgery and a switch to another therapist, and her surgeon announced that her hand and wrist were fully healed—“the X-rays show they are all better!” he said with a smile, she recalls.

The next day her hand therapist shared that rehab would end the coming month since she had regained so much mobility and strength, not complete but close. She was told to keep up her weight and strength training on her own, continue with the chiropractor she had started to see to work on her shoulder due to collateral damage and some numbness in one finger and go back to more of her favorite activities such as baking, Pilates and even painting. How did she feel? A bit unmoored. For months, her life had been reordered with her new pie chart focused on healing.    

Now what? she thought. It was similar to the sinking feeling she had when her husband walked out the door after 29 years of marriage. With the healing of her hand, she was experiencing the loss of all that had centered her on getting better. What would she do with all the extra time?

While a large slice of her pie chart activity now was missing, she saw a silver lining. She now had the gift of time to again start enjoying life more and in different ways. A talk with a psychologist pushed her to rejigger time allocated to her pie pieces to do more Pilates, consider a physical challenge such as a mini-marathon, swim and even return to tennis. Some activities such as Pilates and serving in tennis became too tough, since arthritis had developed, but the swimming as well as walking and tracking steps filled up time and brought more good age-defying exercise. 

Margaret has also made pie chart adjustments through the years, after her kids left home for college, when she went back to work full-time, when her parents aged and required more help, and as her kids moved away and she visited them in distant cities. But the biggest change was 15 years ago after her husband of then 37 years was diagnosed with cancer. She made certain changes in her schedule to fight by his side during his five-year illness. She continued to work as a diversion and tried to keep up walking, her primary form of exercise, to remain healthy mentally and physically. After he died, she literally froze in deciding what she would do with all that time she spent focused on him.

She had to craft a new life plan again without the one person whom she had always counted on. With help from others who had suffered the loss of a spouse or partner through a support group she attended, she decided to return to work, which represented a familiar routine that would keep her busy. She also walked to lessen stress, filled in gaps with freelance work to earn more money, socialized with friends who were willing to accept a single into their circle and started to entertain solo, which was empowering. 

Two years after her loss, she added in more activities—she began cleaning out her home of 37 years after she decided to sell it, moved into a new home, began volunteering and started dating an old high school boyfriend, which meant more time for him and less for her work or reading at night.

After 3 ½ years, they parted ways, which left a new gap. And she instinctively knew that she had to recraft her pie chart once again to fill the void. She did so by being with girlfriends, tackling more freelance writing assignments, and doing additional volunteer work with kids. All seemed to be humming along smoothly, until her eldest son, the only one of her three kids who had moved back to his hometown, announced he was relocating for a new job in New York City.

At that point, Margaret had lived most of her life in St. Louis around family. For the first time, she was going to be without any immediate relatives close by. Eventually,  she decided it was time to uproot herself and move to New York City to be near that son and her two sisters as well as living closer to Barbara. After two years and one pandemic spent there, she’s still settling in—devoting more time again to meeting new people and redoing her pie chart in the time of covid. 

We all experience the need to make adjustments in our schedules and life choices due to sudden jolts like a move, fall or death, or slow-moving changes due to someone’s or our own illness, change in work, divorce, a death, loss of a job or financial windfall.

Sometimes the change is due to less dramatic reasons. You simply hear about something that sounds fun—taking piano or photography lessons—or learning to bake the perfect pie filling and crust.

How do any of us restructure our time and resources? It can be exhilarating to embark on a new path, but also tough and scary and require several starts and stops. 

When the pandemic struck, our pie charts were once again thrown off course. Many of us struggled with not enough time for fun and with friends and too much for work and aloneness, watching TV, baking and worrying about our health. We tried to make time in our charts to pay attention to friends as they talked about their challenges of feeling lonely, too.  

Not everyone handles change easily. We aren’t the poster kids for that. We sometimes find our fingers stuck in our pie chart choices, unable to move forward. However, out of necessity, we persevere, are resilient and eventually find the right measurements so enough of our time is spent enjoying a big slice of our favorite pie—maybe tomato, blueberry or peaches? 

Here’s how we see our pie charts right now and how it looked four years ago.







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