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Designing Your Work Life

How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work

By Bill Burnett, Dave Evans
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Designing Your Work Life by Bill Burnett, Dave Evans

Designing Your Work Life (2020), the handbook from design gurus Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, teaches readers how to apply the principles of good design to their careers. Rather than change jobs, Burnett and Evans advocate for redesigning the job you already have to create the work life of your dreams.

Key idea 1 of 9

Wherever you are in your career is good enough – for now.

Do you remember those childhood car trips spent chorusing “Are we there yet?” from the back seat? As an adult, you probably don’t do that anymore – at least, not in the car. But when it comes to your career, it’s possible you’re still caught up in an “Are we there yet?” mindset.

That’s because, when you're not achieving your ambitions, it’s easy to feel unhappy in your work life. What’s more, focusing on where you’re headed is a big distraction because it stops you from making meaningful changes to the job you currently have.

The key message is: Wherever you are in your career is good enough – for now.

Modern society has conditioned us to want more of everything, whether that’s more money or more status. Unfortunately, the thing with more is, you can never get enough of it. 

For psychologists, it fits with something they call the hedonic treadmill. That’s when the pleasure of getting what you want leads you to repeat the same behavior over and over again. The chemical high in your brain fades, but you want more, so round you go. You’re stuck on a treadmill. 

Burnett and Evans call the type of person struggling on this treadmill a “non-life designer.” That’s someone who wants more from her career: a bigger office, a better salary, or more authority, but she doesn’t examine why she wants these things. To get out of this relentless cycle, the authors suggest you should become a “life-designer.” That’s someone who lives with intention and knows that wherever she is right now is good enough. 

This ability to accept that your job is “good enough for now” uses one of the most effective tools in the designer’s toolkit: the reframe. But note that this isn’t about relabelling your situation. You can’t just grit your teeth and tell yourself your job is fine. To reframe your mindset, you must restructure your point of view. That means noticing what’s good about your current role by focusing on what works well and the tasks you enjoy. If this doesn’t come naturally, try keeping a journal. 

By reframing your perspective, you’ll be able to see your situation more clearly. You may spot ways to redesign your job so that it works better for you. Or you may discover something that’s lacking in your work life. And once you know that, you can start to address the gap.

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