What is Life Design?
Design is the art and process of figuring out creative, elegant options for resolving inner conflicts and fulfilling as many needs as possible to achieve the greatest impact without exhausting your resources.
This is true of all kinds of design whether you are designing a home, a meal, a product, a game, a piece of furniture or whether you are designing your days, weeks and months. The fact is that we are always designing…we just aren’t aware of it.
The overall stages of the design process are the same across all applications of design. It’s like walking, the basics are the same. The difference is in how quickly, creatively, and thoughtfully you do it. When I started learning systems design concepts in 1980, I was struck by how easy it was to “over-design” and get caught up in the details before I even knew if the solution was actually viable or sustainable. It is very easy to get stuck in the planning stages, or in the creative or visual aspects of design.
It’s also very easy to take so long designing that by the time you produce the solution it’s already obsolete. It’s annoying to spend a year designing a software system only to find out that it won’t run on the latest version of the computer it was meant to run on.
Today, needs change very quickly. You might think that would mean we don’t have time for design. But in reality, it means we need the ability to design more than ever. Under-designing can lead to just as many fatal crashes as over-designing.
What we need most today is smart design. Design that is need-responsive, just-enough, just-in-time, and most of all, tweakable. Solutions and systems must be easy to change when needs change – yet again. The ability to design simple, quick, easy and sustainable systems is rapidly becoming a core life literacy skill as critical as learning how to read and write.
That’s were Agile comes in. We need to design Agility into every part of our lives if we want to thrive in a world where change is so fast and furious it’s like living in permanent white water rapids.
Agile Design is about:
- Becoming able to more accurately “read” situations; to detect needs, validate and quantify what and how much is needed instead of just saying “I need more or less of “x”
- Mediating conflicts between multiple needs vying for attention at the same time.
- Anticipating future needs knowing that the needs and our estimates will change (instead of wondering if they will change)
- Staying in touch with changing needs and being ready to change your solution or systems – as needed – at any time.
- Becoming ready to respond quickly and appropriately to changing needs without getting stressed out by the need to change
- Designing or choosing solutions that fit the needs and are easily adjustable to changing needs.
- Rapidly prototyping solution ideas so you can quickly test them, identify any flaws in the design, and learn more about what factors will affect the success of the solution.
- Quickly and iteratively launching systems or solutions. Taking action sooner and risking making mistakes so that critical needs are met sooner rather than later.
- Learning how to “tweak” systems with finesse instead of frustration. In fact, designing “tweakability” into your systems in the first place is the epitome of smart, effective, agile systems design.
Agile is about staying flexible within the structure of the design process. Agile Design thinking teaches you how to resolve the ever-present conflict between getting it “right” and getting it “done.” It encourages you to not get carried away with trying to predict and control the final form the solution will take.
Agile Design is about staying focused on fulfilling multiple needs (like function, ease, fit, feel, form and style) with while not becoming overly attached to a specific solution ideas or designs. The Designer mindset is perpetually ready to do figure out an alternative, hopefully better, option for meeting the present needs. Becoming agile with design is empowering – it helps you feel competent, capable and “in charge” of your life without having to “control” it. Designers don’t expect systems to just happen, they thoughtfully prototype, experiment, try out ideas, tweak and shape systems with purposeful attention to changing needs.
What’s involved in applying Agile Life Design?
Agile Life Design is a mindset, a process, and a toolkit. It’s like a dance where you are constantly reading your partners moves, the music tempo etc and adjusting your moves to meet the context. You don’t have to follow the steps, you get to customize the dance steps to yourpersonal rhythms, needs, values and flair. Design is about meeting functional needs and ALSO getting to have some FUN with your systems.
Agile Life Design is not a “rigid set of steps. It’s not a “prescription” or “technique” like a planner system you try out and then get tired of. It’s a life skill you can cultivate and apply to all areas of life, for the rest of your life. For example, earning how to design time management strategies that meets your unique needs instead of trying to follow a strategy or system someone else told you was the “best” way. Best for them is not always best for you. You decide what design criteria and important to you, and then you get to choose, customize or create the systems and tools that support you in implementing your custom design.
As your needs change, for example, suppose you switch from doing mostly project work for clients to making lots of appointments with clients, your whole approach to time management will need to be redesigned. Agile Life Design makes it much easier and less stressful to make the transition gracefully.
What are the Benefits of Agile Life Design?
Agile Life Design skills empower you forever – not just for now. The actual systems you design will often have short lifespans. And so they should. As your needs and habits change and become more fluent in your design skills, you will need to adjust your systems to ensure they continue to support your needs. Just like you needed new clothes every year as you got taller and taller.
Why does Agile Life Design work better than conventional organizing and productivity strategies for Neurodiverse and ADHD?
Neurodiverse people who are thriving have already become agile. In fact, everyone can benefit from Agile Life Design skills. If your life evolves rapidly, or is more unpredictable than the average person for any reason, you need Agile Life Design. If you, like me, have a history of time management challenges, or clutter, or ADHD, PTSD, and / or are highly creative you need Agile Life Design more than the average person does.
People with ADHD are often natural improvisers and not natural schedule or “script” followers. Life can work really well as an improvisational dance, but it does require a different kind of “choreography.” Agile life design is in many ways, the creative person’s guide to choreographing the unpredictable life. It’s a whole different way of becoming ready to succeed in life. Agile Life Design works for neurodiverse, creative, sensitive and ADHD because it doesn’t emphasize developing self-control, instead it focuses on our strengths and uses our natural aptitudes and traits such as:
- Pattern and relationship seeing
- Being driven to constantly change and improve (a characteristic for which others put us down by saying we are too picky, sensitive, distractible or have “shiny object syndrome”)
- Our ability to activate ourselves into action quickly (which may be called impulsivity – but I see this as an opportunity to design our own triggering or self-activating mechanisms. Triggers that are channeled in positive directions are no longer called impulsive, you get called smart and responsive instead.)
Agile Life Design also helps you heal your relationship with yourself, increase your feelings of self-worth and confidence, and even manage your emotions better because it requires that you see yourself more compassionately, to see your value, to validate your own needs, and to make life choices and self-organizing decisions that affirm your right to be who you are without apologizing or feeling less than others.
p.s. The story of Agile actually began as a process for designing software in a rapidly changing context. I believe the story of Agile Life Design has always been with us, but now more than ever, it is one that must take center stage if we are to flourish in the complex, uncontrollable, unpredictable and rapidly changing world of the 21st century.
Ready to get started?
Before you do anything else, if you resonate with the idea of Agile Life Design, I suggest joining my e-list. We’ll get you started with a couple of my most popular PDFs delivered to your email today. You’ll receive:
Simplifying Your Life: Agile Life Design Strategies for Doing What Matters Most 8 page Printable PDF
Myths, Facts and Agile Life Design Strategies for Thriving with Adult ADHD A 6 page Printable PDF