Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans: Summary and Notes

Designing Your Life summary

“A well-designed life is a life that makes sense. It’s a life in which who you are, what you believe, and what you do all line up together. When you have a well-designed life and someone asks you, “How’s it going?,” you have an answer. You can tell that person that your life is going well, and you can tell how and why.”

Rating: 8/10

Related Books:

Designing Your Work Life, Choose To Win, Digital Minimalism, How Will You Measure Your Life?The Achievement Habit, Flow

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Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans: Short Summary

Most of the things we interact with were purposely designed, so why not make the conscious choice to design our lives? Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett, and Dave Evans is a book that will teach you how to apply design principles to plan your life. The book is based on a highly successful Designing Your Life course offered at Stanford by the two professors. A life-changing book with many valuable lessons. Everyone should read it.

Life By Design

Everything that surrounds you was designed by someone. Whether it is the chair you are sitting on or the smartphone that’s in your hands. Your life too can be subject to design.

“Your well-designed life will have a look and a feel all of its own as well, and design thinking will help you solve your own life design problems.”

With design thinking, you can create a life that is meaningful, joyful, and fulfilling.

“Your life is not a thing, it’s an experience; the fun comes from designing and enjoying the experience.”

Life is about growth and change and nobody really knows what they will be when they grow up. The right question to ask is “ Who do I want to grow into” and not “What do I want to be”

The five principles needed to design your life:

  1. Curiosity. Curiosity invites exploration by making everything new
  2. Bias to action. Designers try things. Don’t just sit idly waiting for things to happen. Get going
  3. Reframe problems. By reframing your problems, you will overcome your biases and explore new alternatives
  4. Awareness.  Design is a process that takes time, that will test your patience, and that will sometimes not go according to plan. Being aware of the process will make it easier for you
  5. Radical collaboration. A great design requires multiple hands. To design your life, you will need lots of help from different people

You Are Here

“You are not too late, and you’re not too early. Design thinking can help you build your way forward from wherever you are, regardless of the life design problem you are facing.”

 Problem finding + Problem-solving = Well-Designed Life

“If life design, it’s not actionable, it is not a problem” 

The Life Design Assessment:

Break your life into the discrete areas of health, work, play, and love. And make an assessment of your situation in any of these areas.

Rank these areas of your life from 0 to FULL in the same way the fuel gauge in your car appears. Put health at the very beginning because without good health, everything else falls apart.

designing your life - design assessement

Find a problem in each of these areas that you can tackle. Remember if it is not actionable, it is not a problem.

Build A Compass

Life design is about figuring answers to the perennial questions of:

  1. Why am I here?
  2. What am I doing?
  3. Why does it matter?
  4. What is my purpose?
  5. What is the point of it all?

To build your compass, you need a Workview and a Lifeview.

In Workview, you will answer the questions of what is work for you? Why do you do it? What makes good work good?

Your Lifeview is the ideas that you have about the world, how it works, and what gives life meaning.

The goal of life is simple – coherency. You achieve coherence based on your compass readings.

A coherent life is one lived in such a way that there is a clear connection between three things:

  • Who you are
  • What you believe
  • What you are doing

After writing your Workview and Lifeview answer the following questions:

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


Wayfinding: An ancient art of figuring out where you are going when you don’t actually know your destination.

Use enjoyment as a guide to find the right work for you. Create a Good Time Journal that records moments when you are totally engaged and when your energy levels are up.

After recording your activities in the Good Time Journal for say 2 weeks, it is time to scrutinize the recordings for more clues using the AEIOU method.

  • Activities. What activities were you doing? Were they structured or unstructured? What role did you play?
  • Environments. Our environment greatly impacts our emotional states.  Note the place that you were and how it impacted your emotional state
  • Interactions. What were you interacting with? People or machines? Was the interaction familiar? Was it formal or informal?
  • Objects. What objects were you interacting with?
  • Users. Was there anybody else that was there with you when you were fully engaged?

By zooming in on the recordings on your Good Time Journal, you will get a clearer picture of what makes it tick for you.

Getting Unstuck

Getting stuck in life is common. The way to get unstuck is by generating new ideas.

As a life designer, there are two philosophies that you need to embrace:

  1. You choose better when you have lots of ideas to choose from
  2. Never choose your first solution to any problem

“Our minds are generally lazy and like to get rid of problems as quickly as possible, so they surround first ideas with a lot of positive chemicals to make us “fall in love” with them.”

Mind mapping

The mind mapping process has three steps:

  1. Pick a topic and write down as many associated words as possible
  2. Make the mind map
  3. Mash it all up by making secondary connections and creating concepts

Use the mind map to generate ideas that will get you unstuck.

Mind Mapping with Your Good Time Journal

From your Good Time Journal, create three mind maps with each extending out at least three or four layers.

  • Mind Map 1: Engagement. From the Good Time Journal, pick an area of greatest interest to you and then generate connected words and concepts using the mind mapping technique
  • Mind Map 2: Energy. Find something from the Good Time Journal that you find to be completely energizing and mind-map this out too
  • Mind Map 3: Flow. Pick an experience that led you to a state of flow

Look at the outer rings of your mind map and pick the three things that catch your eye.

Try combining these three items to a job description that is fun and interesting and that would be helpful to someone else.

Name your role and draw a napkin sketch of it.

Design Your Life

The life that you are living is just one of many possible lives.

“One of the most powerful ways to design your life is to design your lives.”

To design your life:

  1. Create three alternative five-year plans using the Odyssey worksheet
  2. Assign each alternative a descriptive six-word title, and write down three questions that arise out of each version of you
  3. Complete each gauge by ranking each alternative for resources
  4. Share your plan with another person or group or your Life Design team. Leave a note on how each alternative energizes you


“Prototypes help you visualize alternatives in a very experiential way.”

Review the three 5 year odyssey plans that you wrote and the questions that you wrote for each.

Make a list of conversations that might help you answer these questions. Whenever you are stuck and have a team to help you out, engage in brainstorming sessions that generate ideas. If you don’t have a team, then try mind mapping.

“Build your prototypes by actively seeking out Life Design Interviews and experiences.”

How Not Get A Job

Tips to make your internet job search strategy more effective:

  1. Write your resume with the same wordings as the job posting. This will make your resume easier to find using keywords
  2. Post your skill in exactly the same words as is written in the internet posting
  3. Focus your resume on the job as described
  4. Bring a fresh, and nicely printed copy of your resume for the interview

When looking for a job, focus on the hiring manager’s need to find the right candidate.

Design your dream job by actively seeking and co-creating it.

Choosing Happiness

“In life design, being happy means you choose happiness.”

The Life Design choosing process has three processes:

  1. Gather and create some options
  2. Narrow down the options
  3. Choose the best one

Don’t waste your years agonizing.

Failure Immunity

Failure is inevitable but we can develop a sensible tolerance to it.

“We are always growing from the present into the future, and therefore always changing. With each change comes a new design. Life is not an outcome; it’s more like a dance. Life design is just a really good set of dance moves.”

We can use our failures as fuel for growth through a simple three-step process:

  1. Log your failures. Write down when you have messed up
  2. Categorize your failures. Identify the type of failures that you have made
  3. Identify growth insights. Ask yourself “Do any of my failures offer learning opportunities?”

Finally, you need to build a team that will complement your Life Design. Friends, mentors, and family are people you can turn to for advice and reflection.