Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

by Bill Burnett, Dave Evans

A step-by-step guide for all who want to learn how to use basic design tools to improve their life. Full of proven techniques and real-life stories, this book shows you how to identify the life you desire and take action to create it. Regardless of age, status, or income, Designing Your Life sets you on the path of innovating a life you can be proud of.

Summary Notes

Start where you are

“Deciding which problems to work on may be one of the most important decisions you make because people can lose years working on the wrong problem”

Design thinking is meant to help you solve whatever problem you’re facing so that you can build your life forward. However, before you can identify which direction to move toward, you first have to know where you are. You must also identify the design problems in your life that need solving. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to understand what your problems are.

The reason is that we create layers of rigid stories that surround the real problem in our lives. These fixed narratives cause us to waste years working to solve the wrong problem, thus ending up frustrated and confused. Furthermore, we tend to get caught up in “gravity problems.” These are problems that you cannot fix no matter what you do.

The only way to design your ideal life is to be realistic and focus on the problems that you can solve. You can start by assessing different areas of your life. To do this effectively, you have to be curious and self-aware. This will help you identify specific problems you’re facing so that you can find actionable solutions that improve your life.

Actions to take

Build a compass

“It’s not hard to imagine that if we added up all the hours spent trying to figure out life, for some of us they would outweigh the hours spent actually living life”

We all obsess over our lives, wanting to know what our purpose is and whether we’re moving in the right direction. We often spend years asking ourselves such questions. Life design can help us answer these niggling questions. Once you’ve evaluated the different areas of your life and identified the problems you’re facing, the next step is to build your compass.

Building your compass means finding the right path for you. To identify your unique path, you need a Workview. A Workview is a unique perspective of what work means to you. Once you articulate your Workview, you can make better decisions for yourself instead of allowing others to design your work for you. Building a compass also requires a LifeView. A Lifeview is your unique perspective about the world and how it works.

These two views tend to change as you grow older, so don’t worry about coming up with a long-term perspective. The aim of building your compass is simply to gain clarity for this present phase of your life. If your values change in the future, then your compass will also change. This is an invaluable tool for living a coherent life of integrity, meaning, and satisfaction.

Actions to take

Find your way

“Work is fun when you are actually leaning into your strengths and are deeply engaged and energized by what you’re doing”

There is a prevailing belief that work is not supposed to be enjoyable. As a result, most people who hate their job don’t know how to handle their situation. To make matters worse, lots of people out there will give you varying advice. They’ll tell you to go back to school, start your business, or just suck it up. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself lacking direction and a destination in your life.

If you’re struggling to find your way, the best step to take is to look for clues that are right in front of you. Two of the best clues are engagement and energy. You have to identify the activities that make you feel engaged and which ones leave you bored or restless. You also have to track those activities that sustain your energy and those that drain it. Sometimes highly engaging activities can also be energy-draining, so pay attention to this.

You can track your engaging and energizing activities using a Good Time Journal. This will help you know how to juggle your schedule so that you can prioritize work that puts you in a state of flow. Focusing on creating a state of flow can help you reignite the passion you once had for your career.

Actions to take

Get unstuck

“Being stuck can be a launching pad for creativity”

Whenever you’re feeling stuck in life, you tend to look for one perfect idea that can solve all your problems. However, by searching for the ‘right’ solution, you’re ignoring many other potential ideas that may be valuable to you. Thinking that there’s only one idea to solve your problem creates a lot of pressure and indecisiveness.

The key to getting unstuck is to embrace creativity. You have to generate as many wild and crazy ideas as possible because there may be multiple paths to creating an amazing life. However, you need to banish any judgment during the idea-generation process to avoid inhibiting your creativity. It’s also important not to choose the first idea that comes across your mind as it’s probably a simplistic or uncreative solution.

An effective technique for idea generation is mind mapping. This is a graphical way to capture ideas and their associations. All you need to do is pick a topic, use it to start the map, and then make secondary connections to your initial topic. Make your map as large and as visual as possible so that you have many good ideas to choose from.

Actions to take

Design your multiple lives

“The plain and simple truth is that you will live many different lives in this lifetime”

One of the most common dysfunctional beliefs is thinking that you have one version of your best possible life, and once you find the blueprint for this life, you’ll be fulfilled. The problem with this belief is that if your current life feels off, then you end up frustrated. You need to realize that you have multiple lives and plans within you.

You have many talents and abilities within you that you can use to build variations of your current life. There’s no need to ask yourself which life is best because all your potential lives can be authentic and productive. You can design multiple versions of yourself and then plan how each version will live for the next few years.

This is known as an Odyssey Plan. It’s an outline of a possible alternative life journey with specific hopes, goals, and experiences. You can develop several Odyssey Plans for yourself. Each one is a Plan A and there is no hierarchy of plans. Also, make sure that each one is as different from the others as possible so that you can flex your imagination to the limit.

Actions to take

Prototype your ideal life

“Prototypes help you visualize alternatives in a way…that allows you to imagine your future as if you are already living it”

When you want to solve a problem, you tend to look for data to help you learn more about the problem. Doing comprehensive research can help you understand the causes of the problem and its potential solutions. However, when you’re dealing with a life design problem, you don’t have much data available. You don’t know what your future will look like, and you cannot be sure how your potential solutions will affect you down the road. This is where the concept of prototyping comes in handy.

In life design, prototyping means identifying a desired future and then acting as if you’re already living it. A prototype isolates a problem and creates an experience that allows you to test a potential solution. This way, you’ll know what your future may look like if you choose to follow a particular path. If your idea fails, then at least you’ve learned your lesson early enough before you’ve overinvested in it.

For this process to be successful, you need to ask good questions, expose your biases and assumptions, and then take quick action. Once you find something you’re interested in, start with a simple prototype that answers only one question. You can even collaborate with others to share ideas and experiences. This is how you gain the data to solve a life design problem.

Actions to take

Finding a job online

“Even though the job descriptions posted on the Internet are pretty much useless, they still represent a potential starting point”

The standard model of searching for a job is to look for a job listing online, identify the perfect job description, send your resume and cover letter, and then wait for a response. Unfortunately, this approach rarely works. About 52% of employers say that they respond to less than half of the candidates who submit their resumes. It’s no wonder that the majority of online job seekers end up frustrated.

The truth is that there is no perfect job out there waiting for you and the internet is not the best place to look for a job. Most of the best jobs available are never publicly listed. Some companies post their most interesting jobs internally. Others only post their jobs publicly after they’ve identified their preferred candidate. Many jobs are often filled via word of mouth or social networks.

However, if you want to use the Internet as your primary job-hunting tool, you need to understand the nature of online job descriptions. Most of these descriptions are generic and are not written by someone who understands the job. They do a terrible job of explaining what is truly required of the candidate. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure that your resume gets to the top of the hiring pile.

Actions to take

Choose happiness

“The secret to happiness in life design isn’t making the right choice; it’s learning to choose well”

We all want to be happy, so we spend our entire lives doing things that bring us closer to happiness. However, we often fail in this because we’re chasing happiness instead of choosing happiness. We have this dysfunctional belief that to be happy, we must make the right choices. However, what we need to understand is that there is no right choice. There is only good choosing.

When it comes to designing a career and life, the secret is to learn how to choose well. This means identifying as many good options and alternatives as you can. Once you’ve settled on one good choice, you then live out that choice with confidence. You accept all outcomes of that choice and avoid second-guessing yourself.

It doesn’t matter how hard you work to prototype your life or come up with great alternative plans. You may get the life you wanted but still be unhappy because you’re still agonizing over the alternative options you didn’t take. The only way to avoid this is to choose well and embrace that choice fully, and move on.

Actions to take

Become immune to failure

“A perfectly planned life that never surprises you or challenges you or tests you is a perfectly boring life, not a well-designed life”

At some point in your life, you’re going to experience failure. There’s no running away from this fact. However, just because failure is inevitable in life doesn’t mean you cannot become immune to it. You can still experience all kinds of setbacks without allowing the negative feelings of failure to weigh you down needlessly.

As a life designer, it’s important to achieve failure immunity because you’re going to experience a lot of failures. Remember that you’re constantly taking bold action to create an uncertain future. Therefore, you’re guaranteed to fail by design. The good news is that you cannot be a failure if you’re designing your life. Even when your goals fail, you’re still learning, getting more creative, and moving forward.

Life design is about failing more often in small experiences so that you can achieve faster success in the more important things. You soon begin to enjoy the process of failure because you’ve reframed it as just another prototype experience. Once you understand that life is a process and not an outcome, you take the sting out of failure.

Actions to take

Build a team

“Life design is intrinsically a communal effort”

When it comes to solving life’s problems, you can take the traditional approach such as strategic planning, career development, or even life coaching. Alternatively, you could choose to design your life. The biggest difference between the two is that life design is an act of radical collaboration. Whereas the traditional approach presumes that the individual has all the answers, design thinking focuses on building a team that can help you build your way forward.

Designers appreciate the role of a community because they understand that life is a process of co-creation. If you’re constantly engaging with diverse people, then this means that they are involved in building your life to varying degrees. You co-create your future based on the ideas that are in the hearts and minds of others—some of whom you’ve not met yet. This mindset is what makes life design so successful.

Look at the people around you to identify who can support you on your life design journey. If you already collaborated with others in creating your Workview, Lifeview, and Good Time Journal, then you already have a pool of people to choose from. It’s time to identify those who will form a core part of your community.

Actions to take

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