Everybody has ideas for how they want to live their life. But our dreams, goals, and aspirations can get overshadowed by day-to-day tasks and meetings, and we find ourselves doing whatever pops up next in our inboxes. Time can pass by pretty quickly, and if we don’t take a step back to make sure we are living a life with meaning and intention, we could look back one day realizing that we haven’t been living our lives the way we had imagined.

At Digital Telepathy, we practice a method of design thinking that we call Objective-Based Design (OBD). It falls in the same camp as lean and agile methodologies, with a twist of putting business objectives at the core of our approach. This process to problem-solving has proven highly effective in building digital products and marketing sites. But design thinking solves problems for people, not just businesses, so I began to wonder how it might look if I applied this methodology to my personal life.

 

 

After two years of implementing this technique, I’ve built better habits, made things I’m proud of, and my values and quality of life are stronger than ever. In this post, we’ll dig a little deeper into what OBD is, then we’ll discuss the application of this tactical strategy to your everyday life. In essence, you’ll learn how to use Objective-Based Design to craft a value-based life.

What is Objective-Based Design?

The core of OBD starts with defining business objectives, then working backward to develop strategies that will help accomplish them. An example of an objective for a company that sells photography equipment might be to increase their online sales. A strategy that could be born from that objective might be to showcase famous photographers endorsing their equipment on the company’s website.

After an objective is defined, research is conducted to investigate and validate it. Strategies are then developed, implemented as projects, and later measured (through user feedback, testing, and analytics) to determine the effectiveness in reaching the defined objectives. The measurement of the strategies determines what’s next, whether it’s iterating on an existing strategy or formulating a new one. The intricacies of this process are detailed, but the general flow is quite straightforward. For a thorough explanation of how we execute this process, check out this post.

The tangible process of managing OBD manifests itself in the form of a Trello board (more on this in the next section). Here’s what the system looks like:

OBD for business. This is an example of a board for a company that sells photography equipment.

How to Implement Objective-Based Design

Step 1: Choose your tool.

Because of its flexibility, accessibility, ease of use, and integrations, Trello was the obvious solution to manage this process. If you aren’t familiar with the tool, Trello is a very simple way of managing information by using the concept of cards. Each card can contain notes, images, attachments, checklists, labels, and more. Cards are contained in lists and can be moved from one list to the other. Lists and cards together make up a board. The best way to get comfortable with Trello is by using it, as the learning curve is pretty flat.

A basic Trello board. In its simplest form, a board contains lists and cards.

This is a lot of information, but by now you should have a general understanding of what OBD is, how it applies to businesses, and how it translates into a Trello board. Next, we’re going to break down how to apply this methodology to your life using my personal OBD board as an example.

OBD for the individual.

 Step 2: Define your values.

The first simple tweak to OBD begins with a modification of the term Objectives. While it is accurate, it’s not very personal, so I substitute it with my Values. Now think about the values you want to live by. Don’t confuse these with goals. Goals are achieved, values are for life.

 

“It is the act of choosing your values and living by them that makes you great, not any outcome or accomplishment.” ~ James Clear on Mark Manson

 

Check out mine for inspiration. It’s okay if you don’t know your values off the top of your head, so after reading this post you might want to sleep on it and think about what really matters to you. When you’re ready, write them down and put them in the first column, assigning each a label with a unique color. You’ll use these labels later to connect your values to actionable projects.

Step 3: Do your research.

The Research column is as an ongoing repository of resources that relate to my values. This includes lists of things I would like to do someday (places to visit, hobbies to start), a link to my journal that I keep in Google Drive, an ongoing list of ideas (side projects, blog posts), and the books and articles that I’ve saved through my journey of learning. All of these resources help me validate my values and realize them into projects.

Step 4: Make projects.

OBD uses the term Strategies. While it’s perfect for businesses, I use the term Projects to make it feel more human. The Projects column contains the queue, and when I’m working on them I’ll move those cards to Doing. Think about what projects you have in mind that could help you live the life you aspire for in column one. Start typing those out. Don’t write them as actions or sentences or verbs. Write them down as project names. As an example, consider something like “Ukulele” as a project that ties back to my goals of “Live creatively” and “Always be learning and growing.”

Pro Tip: This is a good opportunity to take a step back and evaluate what projects you currently have going on in your life. Do they relate back to the values you’ve just created? Is there anything you can eliminate that isn’t meaningful?

For the rest of this section, we’ll use the example of “Home Improvements.” This might sound like a mundane project that most people have, but I’ve connected it with values that make me fired up about working on it. My wife and I are minimalist to the core, and decided that instead of moving into a larger apartment to fit our growing family of two daughters and a beta fish, we would rework the two bedroom apartment where we currently live to meet our needs.

The next steps are simple. Use the description section to capture relevant links, resources, and to give the project context. I usually link out to a Google Doc when it contains something I’m capturing or working on that requires longer form text. Use checklists to outline the steps to get that project accomplished. When all the things are checked, the checklist icon turns green (so satisfying!) and that means that project can move on to the next column.

Step 5: Reflect.

Again, to make things more personal, I chose to use the term Reflect over Measure. After a project is complete, I review the success of that project and determine if it’s worth repeating, trying differently, or abandoning. I get so stoked when I look at all the things I’ve accomplished, knowing that everything was done based on my values.

 

A few more Pro Tips.

Pro Tip #1: Use the filter feature of Trello to quickly see projects specific to a certain value. Look at all the traveling I’ve done!

 

Pro Tip #2: You can create boards for different aspects of life. In my case, I have one personal OBD board, and another OBD board for work.

Live life with purpose.

This method works for me, in all aspects of my life. I refer to my boards every day. I put everything in them, effectively creating a visual representation of how I think. But what I really like is that when I open the boards, whether on desktop or mobile, the first column I see is my values. Not my tasks, not my projects. Not the what or the how or the where, but the why.

 

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” ~Annie Dillard

 

Life is meaningful when you live it with meaning. Life is about the why. If you’re driven by reason, then the projects, tasks, actions, and next steps begin to feel less like items on a checklist. They become incremental building blocks of a life that you begin to live by your values. Take one thing at a time, and you’ll start living the life of the person you aspire to be. Now go and be amazing!

 

 

Comments
  • Luis Suarez

    This is just awesome. Thank you very much for sharing Brad. Reading from your experience i feel we can indeed adapt a design thinking strategy to everyday life. Having a “OBD life board” like yours is really simple and that´s the key to accomplish things. Love the simplicity!

    • Luis, thanks for the great feedback! Implementing design thinking into my life has really impacted the meaning of it, every single day. I hope it can make a positive impact on yours! Reach out if you have any questions along the way 🙂

  • [email protected]

    this is fantastic & great timing for me – i am in the process of doing much the same, down to redesigning wardrobes in our 2 bed apt to avoid moving to a larger hse! i was thinking of using a base camp like tool, but i like the immediacy of the board.

    • It’s a perfect time for some spring cleaning 🙂 Sounds like an exciting time for you. If you have any questions along the way, let me know I’d be happy to talk more!

  • Khursiah

    I don’t understand the term “Reflect”, could you please elaborate that term? Thank you!

    • Hi Khursiah! Thanks for your interest in the post. So, think of “Reflect” like a retrospective. Rather than considering the projects in this column as “Done”, reframe your thinking so that when each project is completed, you look back and determine how successful it was in aligning with your values. Did this make you better? Could you have done it differently the next time? Now that this project is done, could you spin it off into another new and even better project? I hope that helps, and good luck!

  • julianmcnally

    Some great ideas here Brad and I like the fact that a designer has come up with a visual way of tying values to actions. And I really appreciate your reply to Khursiah about Reflecting – seems so much richer than just checking items off a to-do list.

    Obviously this approach is working for you, so I’m hesitant to ‘improve’ something I haven’t done, but anyway… Might I suggest the items you’ve got under Doing also look like Projects. When I’m working with a client who wants to live their Values more fully, I often break their ‘Doing’ goals into two kinds – Outcome Goals (I run 5k under 20 minutes) and Habit or Routine Goals (I run for half an hour 3 times a week). Having a series of just-out-of-reach Outcomes in mind keeps you doing the Habit in the near term until (hopefully) in the long term, the Habit is its own reward.
    But anyway, I love the idea of designing life and seeing it this way.