Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life (Bill Burnett & Dave Evans)


  • Don’t move forward by thinking, but by building!

Following your passion is bad advice

  • 80% of all people don’t have a single dominating passion/purpose
    • Most people have many passions!
  • Mastery causes passion. Not the other way around!

Dysfunction beliefs

  • Your degree determines your career
    • 2/3 work in a career that is unrelated to their major
  • It’s too late to change
    • It’s never too late to change course

Life design requires a design mindset!

  • One clear goal → Engineer mindset
  • No clear solution in sight → Design mindset

5 mindsets of design thinking

  1. Curiosity
  2. Bias to action
    • Prototype your life!
  3. Reframing
    • Pivot
    • Choose new point of view based off knowledge about the problem
  4. Be aware of process
    • Accept mistakes, move on
    • Let go of the destination
  5. Radical collaboration
    • Don’t design your life alone!


Start where you are

  • Begin with a beginner’s mind, so you ask the right questions!

Find the right problem to work on!

  • Problem finding + problem solving = Well designed life!
  • Avoid gravity problems! (Those that are not actionable)

Building your compass

  • Dysfunctional belief: I should know where I’m going!
    • Reframe: I won’t always know where I’m going, but I can always know whether I’m in the right direction!
  • Meaningful life = Congruence between who you are, what you believe & what you do!


  • Look for activities that make you feel engaged & energized
  • Ultimate engagement = Flow
    • Complete involvement in activity
    • Ecstasy or euphoria
    • Inner clarity: Knowing what to do and how to do it
    • Calm & peace
    • Time standing still or disappearing

Getting unstuck

  • Dysfunctional belief: I need to find 1 right idea!
    • Reframe: I need to find many ideas, so I have a lot to chose from!
  • 2 principles
    1. You choose better, when you have more ideas to choose from!
    2. Don’t choose your first idea!
  • Many designs of your life could be amazing!

Design your lives

  • Dysfunctional belief: I need to figure out my best possible life, make a plan, and then execute it!
    • Reframe: There are multiple great lives (and plans) within me, and I get to choose which one to build my way forward to next!


  • Avoids premature commitment
  • Design experiments to answer your career questions
    • Talk to people who do what you want to do
      • They should not think that it’s a job interview
        • Make it a friendly conversation
      • Listen to their story
        • Ask what it’s really like
          • What does he love? What does he hate?
        • What does a typical day look like?
        • How they got there?
    • Job shadow
    • Try the job yourself

How not to get a job

  • The standard model of applying to online job listings often fails
    • Many of the most interesting jobs go unlisted (only 20% get listed online)
      • They get filled first by word-of-mouth or referrals
      • Small companies with less than 50 people often don’t publish all jobs
      • Large companies may hide some listings for all other than its own employees
  • How to make applying online work for you
    • Use their exact keywords!
    • Make yourself sound like a fit (don’t sound too unfocused)
    • Avoid employers with unrealistic expectations
      • It’s a bad sign if the position has been open for more than 6 weeks in a good labour market

Designing your dream job

  • Life design interviews may be more effective at getting you a job, than applying!
    • You seem very interested
    • It gives you access to the 80% of job listings that aren’t posted online!

Choosing happiness

  • It isn’t about making the right choice, but about choosing well!
  • Live some days as if you had to already made the choice, rather than just contemplating the choice from outside!
  • Process
    1. Gather & create options
    2. Narrow down the list
      • Most of us can only effectively choose between 3-5 options!
        • If you have so many options that you freeze, you effectively have 0 options!
      • If you cross out the wrong one, you’ll know!
      • If you can’t find any meaningful preference among your 3-5 options, then you can’t lose!
    3. Choose discerningly
      • Our best choices comes from a combination of using the basal ganglia & rational mind
      • Basal ganglia
        • It’s not connected to our verbal centers
          • It communicates to us through feelings and our intestines (gut feelings)
          • So we need good access to our feelings & gut reactions to our options!
        • It draws upon our memories of what has and hasn’t worked for us previously!
    4. Let go & move on!
      • Avoid agonizing like:
        • “Did I do the right thing?”
        • “Am I sure this is really the best decision?”
        • “What if I’d done option four instead?”
        • I wonder if I can go back and do it over?”
      • In a study, subjects were told to evaluate 5 paintings and were told they could get their number 3 or 4 choice. Those who were then told that they could later switch were less happy with their choice!
      • Knowing that you’ve made the “best choice” is impossible (all consequences would need to have been played out first)
        • It will keep you agonizing and drain all satisfaction from your choice!
      • Move on by focusing on something else!
        • We can’t take our focus of something, but we can focus on something else!

Failure immunity

  • Failure is a natural part of the path!

Building a team

  • Radical collaboration!


Start where you are: Health / Work / Play / Love Dashboard

  • Rate yourself from 1-10 in these areas
    • Health
    • Work
    • Play
    • Love
  • Are there any design problems in those areas you would like to fix?
    • Are they gravity problems?

Building your compass: Workview & Lifeview reflection


  • Why work?
  • What’s work for?
  • What does work mean?
  • How does it relate to the individual, others, society?
  • What defines good or worthwhile work?
  • What does money have to do with it?
  • What do experience, growth, and fulfillment have to do with it?


  • Why are we here?
  • What is the meaning or purpose of life?
  • What is the relationship between the individual and others?
  • Where do family, country, and the rest of the world fit in?
  • What is good, and what is evil?
  • Is there a higher power, God, or something transcendent, and
  • if so, what impact does this have on your life?
  • What is the role of joy, sorrow, justice, injustice, love, peace, and strife in life?


  • Where do your views on work and life complement one another?
  • Where do they clash?
  • Does one drive the other? How?

Wayfinding: Good Time Journal

  • Do activities log for 3 weeks:
    • Keep track of the things that make you feel engaged & disengaged
    • Keep track of the things that give and take energy from you
    • Be as specific as possible in your entries!
  • Reflect & find patterns in your activity log weekly.
  • Use AEIOU to analyze your activities log
    • Activities: What were you doing? What type of activity was this?
    • Environment: What kind of environment were you in?
    • Interactions. Were you interacting with anyone?
    • Objects. Which objects were present?
    • Users. Who else was present?

Getting unstuck: Mind mapping

  • Find 3 activities from your good time journal. One for each:
    1. Engaged
    2. Energized
    3. Flow
  • Make a mind map with each of the 3 activities in the center
    • Find things that jump out & make a job description based of them

Design your lives: Odyssey Plan

  • Make 3 plans for the next 5 years of your life!
  • Inspiration for the 3 plans
    • Plan 1: The thing you already do or have in mind
    • Plan 2: The thing you would do, if plan 1 wasn’t an option
    • Plan 3: What you would do if nobody would laugh and money didn’t exist
  • For each of the 3 plans:
    • 6 word headline that describes the essence of the choice
    • Visual timeline with career & non-career events
    • 3 questions that come to your mind
    • Rate them on:
      • Resources: Do you have what it takes? (Contacts, skills, money, time)
      • Likability: Does it excite you?
      • Confidence: Do you believe you can do it?
      • Coherence: Does it fit in with your workview & lifeview?
  • Present your plan to someone else, and notice which ones energize you
    • Or otherwise film yourself presenting them, and watch that!


  • Find the questions you wrote on your Odyssey Plans
    • Find prototype conversations & experiences that will help you answer them!
    • If you are empty of ideas, than from a brainstorm group (3-6 people)
      • Quantity of ideas > Quality of ideas
      • Don’t judge or censor
        • Encourage wild ideas
      • Build on top of each others ideas

Failure immunity: Reframing failure

  • Write down a list of your failures
  • Categorize them
    • Screwups
      • Normally you don’t make these mistakes
    • Weaknesses
      • You make many of these mistakes, but can’t fix them
    • Growth oppurtunities
      • You know the cause & the fix!
  • Write down any insights you got

Building a team

  • 3-5 people
    • Supporters: Give encouragement & valuable feedback
    • Players: The “co-workers” in your projects & prototypes
    • Intimates: Family & friends
  • Find a mentor who can counsel you rather than giving advice
  • Find a community (with most of these attributes)
    • A shared purpose (and possibly the members also have other things in common)
    • Regular meetings
    • Intimate enough to discuss personal stuff

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *