Book Summary: Designing Your Life by Dave Evans

The book, Designing Your Life by Dave Evans and Bill Burnett, aims to use the framework of design thinking to address the “wicked problem” (i.e big problems) of designing your life.

Overview of the Framework used in the book, Design Thinking. Source: Course Slides Taught by the Authors

I was particularly intrigued by the book due to its focus on using the journal and writing as a tool to designing your life.

Below is the book summary and notes by each chapter of the book.

Start Where You Are

“Start” by reflecting on the core areas of your life (link to article) – health, work, play, and love. To do that:
  1. Write a few sentences reflecting on each of the four areas
    • Health
    • Work
    • Play
    • Love
  2. Rank where you are (0 to full) on each of the gauge
  3. Ask if there is a (design) problem that you’d like to tackle
  4. Now, ask yourself if your “problem” is a gravity problem or wicked problem.
  • Gravity Problem – Anything that is not actionable is a gravity problem. This can include complaining or fighting the reality. For example, “Poets just don’t make enough money in our culture. I want to be a poet and what can I do about it?” is a gravity problem. If you became a poet, you could fight this “reality” by increasing demand and value of poetry in the society or door knocking to sell your poetry.
  • Wicket Problem – Problems that are resistant to an immediate resolution. Problems life career and life philosophy.
Dashboard to Rank Your Areas of Life – Resource: Link to Dashboard Template

Building a Compass

Now that you know “where you are starting from”, its time that you build a compass (a conscious set of values) that will guide you through answering big and fundamental questions in life.
Building the compass is composed of two things:
  • Workview – This will help you discover and answer questions like “what is work for? Why do you do it? What makes work good?”. The goal is to develop a philosophy of work, you will be more satisfied of it and less likely to feel that others are designing your life.
  • Lifeview – Like worldview, life view is your ideas about the world and how it works by answering questions like “What gives life meaning? What makes your life worthwhile or valuable? How does your life compare to the world?”
The goal is that your life feels coherent and you can judge a situation with your compass. For example, if you work at a company that does not value work-life balance and makes you work overtime, you can compare that against your compass and decide accordingly. Do you want to be a workaholic while sacrificing other areas of life?
Once you have articulated your workview and life view, answer the following questions:
  • Where do your views on work and life compliment each other?
  • Where do they clash?
  • Does one drive the other? How?


“Wayfinding is the ancient art of figuring out where you are going when you don’t actually know your destination. For wayfinding, you need a compass and you need a direction. Not a map—a direction. ”
With the compass, you should pay attention to the clues in front of you – clues of engagement and energy.  You can do this by keeping a “Good Time Journal” where you track your engagement and energy levels.
Example of a “Good Time Journal”. Use it to rank your activities by engagement and energy. Resource: Link to Good Time Journal Template
As you work on your reflections in the Good Time Journal, trying using the AEIOU method to get the more of your observations. AEIOU stands for:
  • Activities – What were you actually doing? Was this a structured or an unstructured activity? Did you have a specific role to play or just a participant?
  • Environments – What kind of place was it? How did it make you feel?
  • Interactions – What were you interacting with – people or machines? Was it formal or informal?
  • Objects – Were you interacting with any objects or devices? What were the objects that created or supported your feeling engaged?
  • Users – Who else was there and what role did they play?

Getting Unstuck

Inevitably people get stuck in their lives. Stuck in a career that they don’t like or attend school without knowing their interests. When stuck, its best not to jump to your next best option but rather to generate lots of ideas and pick the best one.
“In life design, more is better, because more ideas equal access to better ideas, and better ideas lead to a better design”
To get unstuck:
  1. Complete a “Good Time Journal” for three weeks
  2. Create a mind map for three activities – one with the highesh engagement, highest energy, and one which had the highest flow
  3. Look at the outer ring of each mind map and pick three things that “jump out at you”
  4. Create a role for each of those things and job description. Also, try some sketching.
When stuck, use a mindmap to generate ideas to explore as possible solutions. Source: Desinging Your Life

Design Your Lives

In planning our lives, we tend to believe that there is ONE best possible life that I should plan and work toward. However, in reality, there are multiple different lives (with plans) that we can design and build.
To create potential alternative plans for your life, do the following:
  1. Create three alternative five-year plans, using the “Odyssey Plan” worksheet.
  2. Give each alternative a six word title and write three questions that arise
  3. Complete each gouge on the dashboard – rating each alternative for resources, likability, confidence, and coherence.
  4. Present your plan to another person. Note how you get energized by each alternative
Example of a 5 Year Life Plan (Odyssey Plan). Resource: Link to Odyssey Template


With your alternative life plans, its time to prototype and gather info on your plans. To do that, simply:
  1. Review your “Odyssey Plan” questions
  2. To help answer those questions, plan for:
    • Prototype Conversations – Have conversations with other people (their life story or life design) who have traveled a similar plan.
    • Prototype Experiences – Have experiences that will make you learn through direct encounters. These can include, unpaid internship, volunteering, personal projects, etc.
  3. If stuck, get feedback from someone else to guide you.
  4. Build and enhance your prototypes by conducting conversations and experiences.

How Not to Get a Job

The right way to find a job is to focus on the needs of the hiring manager (instead of your need to get a job).
“Awareness is key to life design, and this is true especially when you are designing your career. If you are aware of the process involved in hiring, in writing job descriptions, in reading resumes, in interviewing (from the employer’s perspective), your success rate in getting a job offer goes way up.”

Designing Your Dream Job

When designing your dream job, you should reframe your thinking as follows:
  • Stop thinking that there is a destination of a “dream job” out there waiting for you. Rather, you come across your dream job through a process of actively self-reflecting (through journaling) and making your next career decision accordingly.
  • Stop viewing yourself as someone looking for job. Instead have the mindset of “looking for offers” that allow you to explore and get closer to the dream job.

Choosing Happiness

This section broadly touches on a few tips to choose happiness in your life.
  • Don’t aim to make the right choice every single time but rather a better choice that is informed through your self-reflection.
  • Don’t confuse happiness with having it all! Rather, happiness is letting go of things you don’t need or like.
  • Don’t agonize over decision. Be decisive and informed in your decision making

Failure Immunity

This chapter aims to build a “failure immunity” mindset so one can begin to view failures as something to learn from.
To build a failure immunity:
  • Log your failures to extract the most insight from them
  • Build a habit of converting failures to growth by doing this once or twice a month
Example of logging and reflecting on failures. Resource: Failure Log Template

Building a Team

This chapter highlights the importance of mentors and friends that you can reach out for help and reflection. Rarely do we ever overcome obstacles alone, thus, reach out to people you trust to guide you along the way.

Conclusion – A Well-Designed Life

“Dysfunctional Belief: I finished designing my life; the hard work is done, and everything will be great.
Reframe: You never finish designing your life—life is a joyous and never-ending design project of building your way forward.”

Additional Notes & Resources

  • Use the templates from this book in your journaling habit. This will allow for daily, weekly, and just-in-time reflections.
  • Derive a few “Personal Experiments” from this book to be tested and implemented as habits.

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