An Ode To Manual Labor. Work-Life Integration and a Tour of the Wheel of Health

Executive Summary

Work-Life Integration is the concept of not letting the things you are obligated to do interfere with the things that fulfill and define you. Sometimes the distinction isn’t so clear. This post is about how something I had to do became something I want to do. In the process I propose that you can honor your goal to lead a healthier lifestyle by performing everyday tasks. As a bonus, we’ll get a quick walk through the Self Care portion of the Wheel of Health.

Ahhh, Springtime…

In the Mid-Atlantic. The flowers are blooming. The birds are singing. The tree pollen makes you feel like your inhaling razor blades. And this get delivered to your doorstep:


5 ½ cubic yards (4200 liters) of high quality Shenandoah hardwood bark mulch. That’s about a ton according to this site. And the mission, which we chose to accept, was to arrange that ton o’ mulch around here:


and here:


Yes, we can easily pay “the guy“* to do it. But what would we do instead on this beautiful day? And would whatever we choose to do have the same desirable effects on all aspects of the Wheel of Health as spreading mulch would?

Let’s look at the Wheel of Health and see how something as simple as spreading mulch can have so much positive impact on your well-being.

Movement, Exercise, and Rest

It’s pretty obvious how spreading bags of mulch hit this dimension of health. I personally choose to throw those puppies over my shoulder and carry them to where they’re needed. Yes, I could use a wheelbarrow, but people pay $60 for sandbags to get the same workout I get for free. But even if you do choose to use a wheelbarrow, you can get significant workout from lugging the bags around, opening them up, and spreading them where needed.


OK, this one will be a stretch. But, I’ll give myself credit on the Nutrition dimension because I did all this on a fast day that has all of the hormonal and apoptosis benefits I discuss in the series of posts on intermittent fasting . If you’re not buying that one than how about the fact that I’ll use some of the mulched planing area to grow some herbs and vegetables that would be nutritious for me if the darn squirrels didn’t get most of them.

Personal and Professional Development

This also might seem like a stretch but here is why the mulch project applies. I’ve got a lot going on right now in this dimension. By my own choice, my life right now is pretty much V1.0 maintenance (my current job), V2.0 development (my job as a health coach), and sleep. Sometimes, to make progress in our highest priorities we have to step away to stop to smell the flowers. And with this project I am literally stopping to smell the flowers.

Physical Environment

The application here is pretty clear.

Relationships and Communication

I did all this work with my favorite person. I don’t want to speak for her but we work well together in projects like this and the joint feeling of accomplishment is good for us. Even that shared feeling of muscle soreness afterwards. I whine above how v1.0 maintenance and V2.0 development pretty much have me spent. My wife is equally career focused at this time. There is nothing like the shared goal of a project we can do in partnership to re-enforce our commitment to each other. It beats sitting around on the sofa staring at a glowing screen. Although we don’t mind doing that too.


Whether you believe in a higher power or not, most people have a spiritual relationship with nature. For a couple kids who live in the city, the garden is our temple.

Mind-Body Connection

The mulch project doesn’t really advance the Mind-Body Connection but it would not be possible without it. There’s the shifting dead weight of each mulch bag as it’s lifted off the ground, flipped onto the shoulder, and carried to its ultimate destination. And the engagement of the body’s core as the unstable mulch within each bag seeks its maximum entropy. The smell of the already laid mulch. The fine work of spreading the mulch evenly from border to border and gently around the emerging shoots of spring. All that sensory input is brought to you by the Mind-Body Connection. Reading this last paragraph back, I’m reliving the entire process in my mind and feel the same sense of accomplishment and calm.

Mindful Awareness

It’s no coincidence that there are so many gardening metaphors in the writings of mindfulness practices. And now there is the emerging and separate research on both mindfulness practices and gardening and their impact on our brain and mood. Each morning as part of my own mindfulness practice, I leave the house, regardless of the weather and soak in the trees, plants, soil, and wildlife in our garden. It’s a great way to start the day.

Work-Life Integration

As you can tell, I enjoy the entire process of mulching. It’s not something I want to do everyday but the annual ritual is something I look forward to. This is why doing this on my own, instead of paying “the guy” is an easy decision for me. The benefits (as noted above) outweigh the costs. If I got someone else to do that work, what would I have done instead? Would I be able to engage in an outdoor physical activity with the person I want to spend the most time with and get a daily reminder of that activity every time I look out the window or walk out the door? I can’t think of what that activity would be.

I know that for most people, the activity I describe here would be pure torture. But there might be some other task that you’ve been outsourcing for years that you want to reconsider and put back on your own to-do list. If you find something, please let me know.


*”The guy” is that invisible person who handles undesirable tasks in your household while you remain oblivious. “The guy” is not necessarily someone you contract with to do work. For example, in my house, “the guy” is who does my laundry. It just magically gets done. My wife apparently has a guy who does her taxes. It seems like a waste, however, since I also do her taxes.)

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