How to Live and Work by Design, not by Default

Living and working BY DEFAULT means choosing the easiest path, either by unconsciously resorting to bad habits, or by maintaining the status quo. Sometimes we seek to avoid the conflict that can come with making a change. Sometimes we feel we have no choice in the matter. But I’m with Henry Ford, who said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are right.”

Those who live and work BY DESIGN notice when things aren’t going well, and make adjustments accordingly. They live more calmly, purposefully, and mindfully.

Here are some examples:


By Default: Make do with boring décor, inadequate storage, an awkward furniture arrangement, no desk or other work surface, or a desk covered with clutter.

By Design: Choose a dedicated space, with adequate storage. Add color and inspiring artwork. Rearrange furniture for better flow. Maintain a clutter-free desk, or table, so you can actually work there!


By Default: Stash supplies willy-nilly in inadequate storage. Let papers pile up and deal with them only when frantically searching for that bill or other important document that’s “in here somewhere”. Keep everything.

By Design: Keep items you use often within arm’s reach. Store extras farther away. Eliminate mystery piles by sorting daily into an action file. Maintain a simple filing system and remember the 80/20 rule: You will only ever need 20% of the papers you file again.


By Default: Allow your phone and email to constantly distract you. Say YES to everything you are asked to do. Do what’s important to others; ignore what’s important to YOU.

By Design: Turn your phone and email notifications off so you can focus! Decide how often you’ll check for messages and return calls. Learn how to say NO. Say YES to activities and tasks that support your goals and priorities. Say, “Let me think about that and check my schedule,” before saying YES or NO. Keep in mind that every YES is a NO to something else.


By Default: Keep reinventing the wheel and doing everything yourself. Rely on your memory for everything. Do several things at once, but none of them well. Avoid large projects. Procrastinate doing little tasks until they become large, overwhelming projects.

By Design: Create systems, routines, checklists, and templates.  Ask for help, delegate, or hire out tasks you hate doing. Focus on one thing at a time. Break large projects down into smaller tasks. Do a little bit at a time. Do the hardest/most important thing first. Schedule regular blocks of time for projects that are important to you. Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals, which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.


By Default: Wake up each morning and see what happens! Spend all your time putting out fires, real and imagined. Rely on your memory for everything. Don’t schedule anything. Or, over-schedule yourself.

By Design: Keep a master to-do list. Choose from it only 5 daily tasks so you can feel a sense of accomplishment. Schedule your to-dos on your calendar. Leave some slack for emergencies, downtime, and opportunities. Plan each day the night before and have a weekly planning session with yourself.


By Default: Eat whatever you see in front of you. Continue being too busy to exercise. “Re-create” yourself only when you “find spare time”. Let work take over your home life.

By Design: Plan your meals and take a snack with you. Make yourself a priority. Schedule workouts and time to enjoy family friends and hobbies. Remember to “put on your oxygen mask first” so you will be able to help others. Maintain a balance between work and home.

Can you think of at least one thing that’s going well and that you are already doing BY DESIGN? Good! I thought so! (If you’d like to share in the comments, I’d love to know what it is!) Can you think of at least one thing that’s NOT going so well, that you are doing BY DEFAULT? Can you change it? Will you resolve to change it? (If you’d like to share in the comments, I’d love to know what it is!)

Remember: If being organized and managing your time makes you feel constrained, you are doing it wrong. A little structure allows you to work more effectively and frees your mind to play with abandon. Live your life by design, not by default!

Copyright 2013-2017 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. “Keep in mind that every YES is a NO to something else.” Brilliant Hazel. This is a great post (no surprise). I love your ability to make things clear.

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