Design your own life — applying design thinking (1/5)

Design goes beyond a pixel perfect user experience. I asked myself the question: “Can I apply design thinking to my own life?”

Kent de Bruin
May 4 · 5 min read

Designing my own life

Design goes beyond a pixel perfect user experience. I asked myself the question: “Can I apply design thinking to my own life?”

People are often stunned when they see the organization of the apps and systems I use to manage my life. Understandably, the way I use my apps can be a bit overwhelming. Simultaneously people are also intrigued by the idea to run everything more systematically. They see the apps I use and the way I plan certain things and want to know how I actually do it. With this post, I hope to give a small insight into the way I run my life.

Over the past year, I developed my own productivity system. I have put great effort into designing all the different elements. Design goes beyond a pixel perfect user experience. I asked myself the question: “Can I apply design thinking to my own life?” This is a completely different approach to design thinking than most product-oriented research phases. I have come to believe that the user-centric thinking design process is really suitable for evaluating your own life. The process is muddy, thinking about your own life is far from straightforward and involves a lot of trial and error. In essence, that is exactly what a good feedback loop is. Through experimentation you make progress. Let’s dive into the process.

Process

It all starts with trying to understanding yourself. By going through all the different activities in my life I tried to gain insights into what important is for me. Getting an understanding of yourself is harder than you might think. You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Digging in your own rabbit hole will uncover some new things about yourself who can be both good. If you want to know more about this topic I can recommend this article by Tim Urban from his blog WaitButWhy.

The Yearning Octopus from waitbutwhy.com

Tim Urban describes it as: “We each have our own personal Yearning Octopus in our heads. The particulars of each person’s Yearning Octopus will vary, but people also aren’t all that different from each other, and I bet many of us feel very similar yearnings and fears.”

So the goal here in your creepy interrogation room is to tug on the faces of each of your yearnings to find out if it’s authentically you, or if it’s someone else disguised as you. It’s only if you truly understand yourself that you can know where you are heading towards.

Please understand that this part of the process is never finished. Discovering yourself is a project which will (luckily) never finish. But I do believe that you can get deeper if you have systems in place that stimulate to actively think about it once and a while.

After this initial research phase, you can start to make a preliminary overview of the areas of your life. These areas will form the basis for the rest of the system. I simply started by making a big list of all the things I liked. From this list, I tried to look for patterns.

As soon as you have a good overview of everything you are invested in you can track progress on it. Some examples of tracking are:

  • Tracking energy: Some activities are energizing, while others are energy draining. Log your major activities for a few weeks and note how energized each activity makes you feel.
  • Track learnings: What situations made you learn a lot?
  • Track failings: Often failures are the best learnings. By going back to things that didn’t work you can try to learn from those mistakes.

Your list will give you ideas on how to improve your routines, habits, and activities.

One of the things I uncovered, for example, is that traveling gives me tremendous new energy, motivation, and inspiration. By digging deeper I found that this roots back to emerging myself with new people, trying new food and exploring a city. For these aspects, you don’t necessarily need to fly to the other side of the world. You can even do that in your own city by going to a new neighborhood.

Designing your life is a big fluffy wicked problem. It’s like navigating for the right direction without a destination in mind. The problem with designing your life is that you don’t know exactly where you’re going. You may just have a general idea of “I like this kind of stuff” and “I don’t like that kind of stuff”, and the kind of things that give you energy as opposed to draining you of energy. But not much more than that.

You have to ideate on different possible roads. The only way to do that is by doing little experiments. Which brings us to the next step of the process. And remember again that these steps are not linear in any way.

In web development, a prototype is used to test out an idea quickly. Instead of endlessly analyzing things on paper, you will have to get out there fast. The idea is to build your way forward by doing small experiments, or as a design thinker would say, building prototypes.

You should do the same thing: send your ideas out into the world and see how they perform. In other words, test them. Then, come back, iterate, and send something else out into the world to see how it performs.


Kent de Bruin

Hi, I’m Kent. I’m a designer, writer & entrepreneur based in Amsterdam.

Kent de Bruin

Written by

Designer, writer, entrepreneur. Tall and Dutch, based in Amsterdam. Writing makes me think 🧠

Kent de Bruin

Hi, I’m Kent. I’m a designer, writer & entrepreneur based in Amsterdam.

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