Designing Your Life: Build a Life that Works for You

by Bill Burnett (Author), Dave Evans (Author)
I quite enjoyed the book.  It has a very practical and logical approach to all the things it talks about.  I have enough knowledge about design to see where they are coming from and how the stuff the say make sense it would generally work.
There are quite a few activities within the book that I didn’t do, but think I will take inspiration from for some things in my own life in the future.
I took notes along the way in a mindmap, I’ve exported the results as a text list.  I use this mostly for myself and future reference, but maybe you will find it useful too.
There is also an official Design Your Life website.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Should be more like… Who do you want to grow into?

Life is about…

  • Growth
  • Change
  • Experiences

Life is not…

  • A destination
  • Static

Reality is…

  • People don’t really know what they want to be
  • Sometimes we think we know, but the paths are still varied

Design your life…

  • Curiosity
  • Bias to action
  • Reframing
  • Awareness
  • Collaboration

You are here…

Deciding which problems to work on is most important decision.
  • It could consume years of your life.
  • Problems that are not real.  If it’s not actionable, it’s not a problem: It’s a situation/circumstance/fact; It’s not a problem that can be solved.
Gravity problems – some things you just can’t change
  • Acceptance.
  • Start where you are, not where you wish you were
  • Aren’t actually problems, they are circumstances you can’t actually change
  • No solution, just acceptance and redirection

Life areas

  • Mind
  • Body
  • Spirit
  • Emotional
  • Paid
  • Unpaid
  • Stuff you do
  • Contribution to humanity
  • Joy

Build a compass

Life view – Write a reflection
  • Why are we here?
  • What is the meaning or purpose of life?
  • What relationships exist?
  • How do family, country and ROW fit in?
  • What is good/evil?
  • Is there a higher power?
  • What is the role of joy/sorrow/justice/injustice/love/peace/strife
Work view – Write a reflection
  • Why work?
  • What’s work for?
  • What does work mean?
  • How does it relate to others?
  • What defines good/worthwhile work?
  • What does money have to do with it?
  • What does experience growth and fulfilment have to do with it?
Coherent life
  • Who you are
  • What you believe
  • What you are doing
  • Do work and life views clash?

Way finding

I don’t know where I’m going, but hopefully I know I’m heading in the right direction
  1. Keep a good times journal
    • Write down things you do
    • Rate things on whether they engage or energise you, or not
    • Zoom into the good stuff to get more specific/focused on what is working
    • Use AEIOU method to get good insights
    • See if you can remember peak experiences – look into your past for memorable and enjoyable experienced
  2. Figuring out where you are going without knowing your actual destination. A direction, not a map.
Getting unstuck
  1. You are never truly stuck
  2. Need to come up with lots of potential real options
  3. Need to know what you might want
  4. Generate lots of ideas!
    • Designers learn to have lots of ideas because they know the number one enemy of creativity is judgement
    • You choose better when you have lots of good ideas to choose from
    • Never choose your first solution
    • Don’t fall in love with your first idea
    • Techniques: Mindmaps
  5. Anchor problems
    • Problems that hold us down
    • Keep us stuck because we only see one solution
    • Also are about the fear that we will never become unstuck
    • Well designed proto types teach you something about the future: Well designed prototypes lower anxiety, ask interesting questions and gather data.
    • Real problem that is actionable
    • Create 3 mindmaps and get 1 item from each of them to create a vision

Design your many lives

We will have many lives in a lifetime
Creating a plan won’t mean it will be a smooth ride
Design 3 different versions of your life
  • Life 1 – base it on what you already have in mind.
  • Life 2 – the thing you’d do if Life 1 was gone: sometimes things come to an end
  • Life 3 – the life you’d live if money were no object
Odyssey Plans because life is an adventure
  • A graphic time line, personal and career options.
  • A title (6 words) of each life plan
  • Ask questions to test assumptions
  • A dashboard to gauge: resources, likability, confidence, coherence
  • Possible considerations: location, experience, learning, impacts, what will life look like.


Building is thinking
When the idea is coupled with a bias to action mindset, you get a lot of building and thinking.
Prototyping life design is about…
  • Asking good questions
  • Outing our hidden bias and assumptions
  • Iterating rapidly
  • Creating momentum for a path we’d like
  • Isolate one aspect of the problem
  • Why
    1. Get relevant data
    2. Allows you to try out certain aspects
    3. Help visualise alternatives
    4. Help you feel what you may end up creating
    5. Helps build connections and community
  • It is not a thought experiment, must involve a physical experience
  • Building empathy and understanding
Life Design Interview
  1. A personal story of how a person got to be doing the things they are doing
  2. What do they love or hate about a job?
  3. What does their day look like?
  4. How did they get there?
Brainstorming prototype experiences
  1. Framing a good question
    • Open ended question
    • How many ways can you think of to…
  2. Warm up
  3. The Brainstrom
    • Go for quantity, not quality
    • Defer judgement, don’t censor ideas
    • Build off ideas of others
    • Encourage wild ideas
  4. Name and frame the outcome
    • Vote on ideas
    • Categorise them

Finding work / jobs

Job hunting
  • Rewrite resume using words in job advert
  • List skills you have in your resume the way they are described in the job ad
  • First stage is often about fitting it
  • Focus/adapt your resume on the job you apply for
  • Bring a printed copy to the interview
  • You should focus on the hiring managers need to find the right person
Designing your dream job
  • You design your dream job through a process of actively seeking and co-creating it
  • There are no dream jobs
  • Most jobs are not listed
  • Conduct Life Design Interviews
  • Networking is asking for directions
  • Network intelligently
  • Instead of pursuing jobs, pursue a number of offers
  • Be open and curious about the possibilities
  • A numbers game, make more connections, make more prototypes = more offers
Choosing Happiness
  1. There is no right choice, just good choosing
  2. The Life Design Choosing Process
    1. Gather and Create options
      1. Gather insights
      2. Write your work view and life plan
      3. Create mindmaps
      4. Three Odyssey Plan alternatives
      5. Prototype
    2. Narrow Down Your List
    3. Choose
      1. Many ways – with your head, heart, gut, knees, intuition
      2. Best not make decisions in a rush or under stress. They usually take time.
    4. Let Go Then Move On

Failure immunity

  1. Life is a process not an outcome
  2. Life is an infinite game, with no winners or losers
  3. Build our way forward: be, do, become (then repeat)
  4. You can reframe failures
  5. Embrace the failures and the flaws
  6. Log and understand your failures
  7. Don’t fight reality, design a way forward

Building a team

  1. You live and design your life in collaboration with others
  2. The people around you are your design community
  3. You don’t have all the answers
  4. Find and think of people to be on your team
    • Supporters
    • Players
    • Intimates
    • The team