Designing My Life | Part III: Wayfinding via Activity Logs

I've been logging my activities for the past two weeks as a part of a life design process described in Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, two Stanford professors who teach design thinking.

This particular exercise is intended to help life designers understand what activities engage them and provide them with energy. The aim is to gain self-awareness about the activities, environments, interactions, objects and people that give us life. We can then reduce the life-draining activities and increase the life-giving activities, making our experience more enjoyable and worthwhile.

It seems pretty simple, but it's a powerful exercise. I highly recommend it.

Activity Logging Insights

Below are all the activity logs I did over the course of two weeks (names have been redacted for respect and privacy concerns). I averaged at a little more than one log per day. Some were retrospective about events far in the past, but most were in the present.

activity log 1 activity log 2

I had a handful of insights about myself while writing the activity logs and thought I'd share in writing below to verbalize, reflect and learn.

1. Rarity of Flow

The authors ask participants to lend a keen eye towards those activities where we experience flow. Over a two week period, I only experienced a flow state once while playing guitar one evening on the weekend.

I was playing with my acoustic guitar ([Dehradun Concert] ( recording ideas on my looping pedal (Boss RC-30). The two tracks I recorded are below in case you're interested:

I know it doesn't sound like much but when you're sitting there in your room immersed in sound thats coming through your fingertips without any words running through your head... that's bliss.

I've been learning how to play the guitar for the past 18 months (since I moved to Norfolk), and it seemed like all the deliberate practice started to pay off. It's interesting that my flow state came from a hobby as opposed to work, as the authors talk about the importance of flow at work...

2. Drag at Work

Most of the activities in my work at the moment are low energy and low engagement, often draining energy. I'm in a particularly challenging environment where I work remotely for a company in CA from the UK. This puts me in an 8-hour timezone difference with a total lack of in-person collaboration.

Also, since losing my designer on the team over the holidays, I've been working as both designer and product manager with most of my tasks being performed in isolation as opposed to in collaboration with other people.

It's a pretty draining experience working remotely and living rurally, but I'm fortunate to have nice long mornings with time outside due to the time difference and get a good dose of energy and engagement during those times.

3. Energy found Outside

I found many of the activities that I performed outdoors to give me energy. They lacked substantial engagement, but I'm hopeful that as we renovate our annex to provide accommodation for other people to live with us and work on the land together, I'll increase my average sense of engagement in my days significantly.

4. Importance of Thinking Visually

I also discovered the importance of thinking visually for me. I become drained by long drawn-out conversations using lots of words and jargon. So often people are using the same words but talking about different things. When people try and uncover what the other actually means it can rabbit trail into highly unproductive discourse.

Thinking visually (drawing, photos, sticky notes, whiteboards) seems to liberate conversations from the realm of abstraction and into concrete specifics. I find tools like Mural and Wake to be invaluable in thinking visually in remote teams.


I feel as though I'm a pretty self-aware person and still the process of logging activities on a spectrum of engagement and energy was immensely helpful at helping me understand what areas aren't working in my life and how I can improve them. Work and meaningful relationships is the big intersection for improvement.

I'm looking forward to the next chapters of the book where I can mind map ideas about energy, engagement and flow to inform my alternative life path designs. It's a tough journey but I feel as though I'm getting through the weeds into the thickness of good design work.

Hopeful a better way forward will emerge...

What do you think? Can you relate?

I benefit from articulating my thoughts in words. If you're reading and have any thoughts to share, please do send them my way. I'm always happy to share ideas and hear where other people are along their journey.

You can reach me at or find me on twitter (@iamjohnellison).

Photo by Echo Grid on Unsplash