How to design your life

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, Stanford University professors and authors of Designing Your Life, show how Life Design can help you prepare for life after uni


You’ve worked hard; you’ve got the grades, and now… what’s next?

It’s the question students hate to hear: what are you going to do once you graduate?

The truth is, as a student you are entering a very different world to the one your teachers and lecturers did. It’s a world full of change and uncertainty; one in which it’s unlikely you’re going to enter a profession and stay there until retirement. Some studies suggest that the average millennial will have three different careers during their working life. 

The good news: the help we need is right under our nose. In fact, it helped build the technology you’re reading this on right now. We call it: design. 

Life Design is when we use techniques from the world of design to build lives that are meaningful. We’ve been teaching this at Stanford University for a while now and the results for our students have been extraordinary. 

In our new book, Designing Your Life, we go through our Life Design exercises in detail, offering easy-to-follow techniques to help you learn the basics. Here’s a short taster. 

Finding “your passion”

You’ll often hear that successful people did so well because they ‘followed their passion’. 

Ignore this. Seriously. The idea that you have a passion and you follow it is one of the most destructive ideas that anybody talks about. Research says fewer than 20% of people actually know their passion and how to fulfill it.

For most people, passion comes from working into something and mastering it. So, the real question should be: what do you enjoy? It doesn’t matter how ‘successful’ you are if you don’t enjoy your life. 
Try this exercise. We call it: The Good Time Journal.

It’s designed to help you pinpoint what brings you the most enjoyment in your life – it forces you to pay attention to what really engages you. When you are aware of what brings you energy and happiness, you can build a life that nurtures more of that. Whatever that is. 


1. In a notebook, keep a log of your daily activities. Keep a note of when you feel engaged or energised and what you are doing during those times. Try to do this daily, or at least every few days. 
2. Continue this log for three weeks.

3. At the end of each week, jot down your reflections – notice which activities are engaging and energising, and which are not.

4. Are there any surprises?

5. Zoom in and try to get even more specific about what does or does not engage you using the AEIOU method:

Activities What were you actually doing? Was this a structured or unstructured activity? Did you have a specific role to play (presenter, leader, researcher etc) or were you just a participant in or attendee of the experience?

Environments Our environment has a profound effect on our emotional state. You feel one way at a football stadium, another in a cathedral. Notice where you were when you were involved in the activity. What kind of place was it, and how did it make you feel?

Interactions What were you interacting with during this experience - people or machines? Was it a new kind of interaction or one you are familiar with? Was it formal or informal? 

Objects: Were you interacting with any objects or devices - smartphones, tools or toys? What were the objects that created or supported your feeling engaged? 
Users: Who else was there, and what role did they play in making it a positive or negative experience?

Discover something about yourself you didn’t know? This new way of noticing will help guide you in finding what’s next. 

There’s even more in our book – from mind-mapping and prototyping to designing your dream job. Check it out, and any questions just Tweet us @DYourLife and we’ll get back to you.