Better Your Life With These 7 Principles of Lifestyle Design

Lifestyle design isn’t some kind of millionaire fantasy. Through smart prioritization, living the way you want is more accessible than ever. But what does that mean in practice? To clarify the notion, here are seven essential principles of lifestyle design.

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The term “lifestyle design” was first popularized by Silicon Valley investor-turned bestseller author Tim Ferriss

In his groundbreaking 2007 book The 4-Hour Workweek, Ferriss describes lifestyle design as a means to enjoy the present instead of following society’s conventional study-work-retire sequence.  

In this context, he challenges the idea that you need millions of dollars in the bank to live a close-to-perfect lifestyle. 

What is lifestyle design?

Lifestyle design has no universal definition. It depends on every individual, but there are common tenets. 

As such, I would define lifestyle design as “a means to plan your personal and professional commitments around your lifestyle, not the other way around.

You choose the content of your lifestyle. Personally, it was full-time travel. 

I never wanted to stay in one particular location for the whole year, and I am a die-hard adventurer. 

Consequently, I became a digital nomad and structured my work and personal engagements around full-time globetrotting.

It was a long and arduous road, but with the right priorities, I managed to build a business that allows me to travel full-time. 

I designed a routine that succeeded in aligning my priorities – adventure, writing, and photography – with my long-term goal of becoming a digital nomad

Now, this is my version of lifestyle design. 

You might not be interested in traveling. You might not fancy self-employment. In short, you might have different lifestyle goals. 

And that’s the point. Lifestyle design is about taking control and making structural changes to achieve your best lifestyle. 

In other words, through prioritization, lifestyle design will help you buy back time. And by having more time, you’ll have the opportunity to live the way you want. 

7 principles of lifestyle design 

Whether you want more family time, space for personal projects, or travel opportunities, the following seven principles of lifestyle design will help you take control over your life. 

The principles of lifestyle design - silhouette of woman surfing
Picture by Jeremy Bishop / Unsplash

1. Time is the ultimate resource 

The first principle of lifestyle design is that time is more valuable than money or material possessions. Why? Because time is non-recurring. 

If you’re serious about building your ideal lifestyle, you need to start prioritizing time.  In practice, you need to assess how you spend your time and what the consequences are. 

As an example, you might work 40 hours a week in a corporate job. You make 1,000 dollars a week and spend 10 hours a day at work, including breaks and commutes. You get two weeks of paid leave in the summer and a few occasional vacation days. 

All well and good, but as an aspiring lifestyle designer, you need to look beyond the surface. 

What are your priorities? How do you use your time? And how does the use of that time contribute to the achievement of long-term objectives? 

If your sole priority is to climb the corporate ladder, you are doing a great job. 

However, let’s say you want to devote time to a personal project like an NGO. You want this NGO to become a substantial part of your lifestyle. Your long-term vision includes building schools in Africa and establishing a network of aid workers.

If you spend 50 hours a week and 50 weeks a year in the same office tower, you won’t have time to invest in your NGO. As such, your project falls victim to a lack of time.  

Of course, you could work on your NGO at night or on weekends. But there is only so much the average human can do. Some of us are productivity monsters, but most are not. 

Consequently, you can have a fancy car and all the money in the world, but you still won’t have the time to engage in a personal endeavor. 

That’s why lifestyle design is about structuring your time according to priorities. If your NGO is a priority, you’ll find a way to work less and redirect your efforts.

2. Value your lifestyle over your bank account 

To build your ideal lifestyle, you need to value the content of your life over the content of your bank account. 

In today’s society, many people believe that money guarantees a fulfilling lifestyle. This link, however, is not automatic. 

In his 2020 memoir, Greenlights, Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey explains how he took a break from acting when his “rom-com” phase failed to deliver “inspiration and challenging scripts.” 

The romantic comedies provided handsome paychecks, but McConaughey didn’t enjoy his lifestyle. He needed a change. For 20 months, he prioritized family life, ensuring that his son would have a better childhood than McConaughey himself. 

You might think that McConaughey could afford it, that he merely took a sabbatical by using the money he had already made as an actor.  Reading the book, however, you’ll notice that the future Dallas Buyers Club star changed his priorities. 

For years, he had been chasing money and appeared in many romantic comedies that paid well but didn’t fuel his creative engine. In other words, losing money was a creative decision. Worse still, during the break, his agents continuously highlighted the financial consequences of “disappearing” in Hollywood. 

McConaughey didn’t care. His priorities were clear, and money wasn’t one of them. 

His revamped lifestyle gave him a novel sense of purpose and a clearer vision of his future acting profession. He never chased paychecks again, focusing on inspiring stories instead. 

Masterpieces like Dallas Buyers Club followed, and McConaughey won global acclaim for his talent, not his suitability for generic low-budget comedies. 

His example shows that money and success are worth nothing without the right lifestyle. 

If you can’t invest time and energy into your priorities – in McConaughey’s case, his son – your money loses its value.

3. Consume intentionally 

In the context of lifestyle design, intentional consumption is a powerful habit. 

To live the way you want, you can’t be a slave to money, consumerism, or even worse, debt. 

That’s why you need to set rules in terms of consumption. Your purchasing norms will guide your decisions and prevent your budget from spinning out of control. 

By following personal buying rules, you consume in line with your preferred lifestyle, not social expectations, trends, or advertisement schemes. 

If your ideal lifestyle includes full-time travel, you need to consume accordingly. 

Before becoming a digital nomad, I owned a car, a ton of useless tech gadgets, and lots of unnecessary clothes. My consumption habits needed to change for my future travel lifestyle to blossom. As such, I started to consume with lifestyle priorities in mind. 

Every time I purchased something, I asked myself: does this item add value in the context of my desired travel lifestyle? 

I got rid of about 70% of my possessions as a result and became financially independent. Together with new professional priorities, intentional consumption built critical foundations for my future lifestyle.

4. Make decisions according to values, not external pressure

By now, you know that lifestyle design demands prioritization. And this prioritization will impact your decision-making process. 

If you want to live – not just envision – your ideal lifestyle, you need to make decisions according to personal values. 

An ideal lifestyle rests on personal values, not external pressure, expectations, or norms. 

Consequently, when you face an essential decision, you need to ask yourself which option coincides with your values. 

In this regard, your values might include an ample amount of family time and a purposeful career. 

Both are difficult to combine, but once your priorities undermine external pressure, you’ll unlock the energy and creativity required to find a suitable job. 

By hinging on strong personal values, your desired lifestyle becomes a purpose, not just a faraway concept. And this sense of purpose will simplify the act of making difficult decisions.

Principles of Lifestyle Design - girl swimming in Rio de Janeiro
Picture by Cerqueira / Unsplash

5. Align your short-term actions with your long-term goals

When you’re designing your preferred lifestyle, you have long-term goals. 

Many people falsely believe that an ideal lifestyle is a fixed notion. 

In X years, I want to live on the beach, have a Jeep Wrangler, and eat burritos all day. That’s my ideal lifestyle. 

This image, however, isn’t a permanent state. It’s a vision of what a person’s ideal lifestyle could look like, but it can change. 

Nevertheless, an image like that can become useful because it contains long-term goals. If you want to achieve lifestyle design, you need long-term goals, and you need to align your short-term actions with those objectives.

Consequently, don’t imagine your ideal lifestyle as one specific picture. Dissect the long-term goals from that picture, and adapt today’s actions.

If your primary goal is a house on the beach, ask yourself what you can do today to get closer to that house. 

People who succeed in building their ideal lifestyle edge one step closer to their long-term goals every day. 

And this process only works if you align short-term decisions – like consumption, professional choices, and social commitments – with long-term targets. 

6. Work to live, not the other way around 

One of the most crucial elements of lifestyle design is the relationship you have with work. 

Why is productivity content so popular these days? Why do millions of American employees dream of working remotely in Tulum? And why do world-leading tech companies pride themselves on providing the best “work-life balance?” 

The answer is simple. People question their working cultures. They ask themselves whether their professional situation controls their lifestyle or whether their lifestyle can still influence work.

Spoiler alert, it’s the former. 

As lifestyle designers, we seek to reverse this pattern. We build our professional situation to suit our lifestyle, not the other way around.  

How does “working to live” function in practice? 

First, you need to clarify your working mentality. 

Lifestyle design is not about being lazy or taking advantage of other people. It’s about working to build your lifestyle, not changing your lifestyle to accommodate uninspiring work. 

In the real world, there are several ways to achieve such a professional situation: 

  • work remotely for a company. You’ll have the same benefits as before, but you’ll be in control of your environment. You’ll get one step closer to lifestyle design; 
  • start a business and tailor it to fit your lifestyle;
  • work fewer hours and become financially independent with a few side hustles; or
  • become frugal and minimalize your expenses to work less.

There are other methods, but these are the most common routes for people who want to reverse the classic work-lifestyle pattern.

7. Be in control of your life 

Finally, one overriding statement summarizes the principles of lifestyle design: you are in control of your life

Lifestyle design is about controlling your daily routines, professional decisions, relationship with money, and social engagements. 

You act according to personal values to become a decision-maker. You consume intentionally to retain control over your finances and buying habits. And finally, you don’t accept the notion that work should design your lifestyle. You believe the opposite. 

To be in control, you need to prioritize, find ways of turning those priorities into a sustainable lifestyle, and act. 

Once you’ve taken concrete decisions to set your lifestyle journey into motion, you will be in control. And being in control will take you one step closer to your ideal lifestyle.

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