Design Thinking Can Help You Make Better Life Decisions

{ ✏️ } – Designing your life: how to make better choices?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema.

If you ever been in a position where you feel stuck, not sure where to go, and don’t have any idea at all about what to do with life — here’s a quick tip:

You can design your life.

Your life is a never-ending product lifecycle with only one customer — you. You are the customer, you are the designer, and you are the only stakeholder. You decide what, when, and why you do things.

Design your life to make better choices

Design is about solving problems — in this case, you are solving your own problem: How should you invest your time? How will you achieve your dreams? Design thinking can help you choose between options and maximize the outcome of your time and effort.

In this article, we’ll be using IDEO’s design process as the guide; Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

Understanding Yourself

Design is about solving someone’s problems by understanding their behavior, motivation, and pain points. Now since we are trying to design your life, you should answer these questions:

  • What motivates you? What makes you excited to leave your bed?
  • What makes you hate your job? What makes you want to leave the office as soon as possible?
  • What do you do in your spare time? How do you feel about that?
  • What is the ideal life for you? What do you want to be in 5 years?

This is step one: Empathize. You are learning to understand yourself by answering these questions. Don’t forget to write it down and give honest answers. You can stop at this step, do some research, and try to truly understand what you really want to achieve 5 years from now.

Focusing on the right things

To do the right things, you need to make sure you chose the right thing. Let’s get back to your view of an ideal life and what you want to do in the future, 5 years from now — then, compare them with your current condition. Do they match? How much are the differences?

“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
― Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

To focus on the right things, simply compare your current condition to your ideal life. Then, think about what can you do to achieve your ideal life. Write everything down and don’t be afraid to dream big.

Getting started

In the ideation phase — when designing products — we would create wireframes, and user flows, and do some explorations. When we design our lives, we need to choose which things we want to do and ‘prototype’ our lives with.

Let’s say you have a dream of building a design studio. That is your goal for the next 5 years. Now, what do you have to do? To make it simple, you need to learn about business, design, and some negotiation skills for the next 5 years!

Chances are, you currently work as a designer, so you don’t need to put in extra effort as you can learn on the go. Now you only need to learn business skills and negotiation skills in 5 years. That sounds easy, right?

Now that you know what to do, you need to do some research on how to do it. Find resources to learn about business and negotiation skills, how much do they cost, and how much effort do you need to spend. I would recommend you to draw a mindmap on how you could learn those skills, list down all of the options you have, and write it down!

A notebook with sketches. Photo by Med Badr Chemmaoui.

Prototyping your choices

Unlike digital products, the only prototype you need to make is a list of the pros and cons of each option you have on your list. Why? Because you’ll need them to decide which things you’ll pursue.

In our example, the pros and cons will help you to choose which business courses should you take? An online class or offline class? Short or long term course? Digital business or conventional business? And… you get the gist.

Sometimes, the things we want the most may not be the thing that would benefit us the most. After you wrote down the pros and cons, you might see some things that would have more value to your time and effort than the things you initially considered valuable.

Testing out your decision

Once you got the list with the pros and cons, you can now decide on which path to choose. This is the hardest part of all — not just because you need to make a decision — but also because you need to commit your time and effort towards the decision.

In this Testing phase, you are committing yourself to do 1 thing (or two) and see whether you think it’s useful or not. When choosing something to do, there is only 1 rule:

  • You have to commit yourself to do it for at least 1 month. No less than that.

Why 1 month?

To make something a habit, you need to do it consistently, with discipline and hard work. Now, if you only tried it for a day or two, definitely it wouldn’t stick, and you would give up easily when it’s too hard. But good things don’t come easy, great things need resilience, and amazing things come to those who prevail.

Commit yourself to do this thing for 1 month and see where it goes. If you don’t think it’s helpful or you don’t like it, feel free to leave it as is and move on. Do the other things that are next on the list. Remember, the key is consistency and do not lie to yourself. Don’t give up too early.

Reevaluating Your Life

After a month, you must have learned something new. Either you learned a thing or two on the courses you took, or you learned that you should move on to other things. Then, you can repeat the literal lifecycle.

Once you have made a decision whether to move on or to continue, don’t forget to keep your 5-year goal in mind. Make sure that they align, and if not, it’s okay to reevaluate your life goals too!

Prototyping your life needs time, effort, and commitment. But once you’ve done it, you know that you can actually take control of your life.

This article is inspired by the book “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. What you read here is just a glimpse of what you may learn from the book. If you liked this article, please consider buying the book!

Briandito Priambodo Avatar

Briandito Priambodo / Product Designer @ Wego

Briandito is a designer, developer, and writer. Currently building products in Singapore and writing for his new project