Design Your Day by Claire Diaz-Ortiz

be more productive, set better goals, and live life on purpose


  • Getting Started: Big Rocks
    • Word of the Year
    • How to Set SMART Goals
    • Fine-tuning Your Goals
    • Create Strategies to Reach Your Goals
    • Keep Your Goals Top of Mind
    • L: Limit Your Work to Your Best 20%
    • E: Edit the Time You Spend on Work
    • S: Streamline the Work You Do
    • S: Stop Working: Know When and How
  • Conclusion
  • Recommended for Further Reading

Getting Started: BIG ROCKS

Throughout it all, there was the coffee. May I never have to live a day without coffee, you muse. A to-do list, sitting next to you on the passenger seat in your car, has twenty-seven items on it, only two of which you managed to cross off today. You didn’t even really get started.

“But today was an unusual day,” you rationalize. “So many unexpected things came up.”

“Tomorrow will be better,” you promise yourself, only slightly wincing.

It’s not a lie if you believe it, right?


When it comes to living the life we want to live, there are good days and there are bad days. We have all bad days. Days where the car breaks down when you’re in labor, the puppy eats your college thesis, and the basement floods the Christmas presents away. And sometimes we can’t change these days. But there are many days—like when life zips by in a series of flashes and suddenly you’re on the way to pick up that child from practice and your to-do list didn’t get any shorter—that we can do something about. And learning to change these days is one of the most important lessons we will ever learn. Your particular day might differ—replace the kids and breakfast cereal for lattes and late-night graduate school study groups—but the idea is the same. Whatever it is that matters most to you in life—your family, your health, your faith, your friends—will suffer if you don’t learn to live your days well.

Many of us have seen the experiment with the rocks and the jar. If you are new to this idea, go get a few big rocks, a ton of small pebbles, and a large glass jar. You’ll find that if you put the pebbles in the jar first and then try to put in the big rocks, you’ll have trouble fitting everything in. Do things the other way around, though, and you’re golden. Put your big rocks in the jar fist, and then fill the jar’s air pockets up with pebbles. Ta-da! It fits.

Life is the same way. It’s easy to fill up a day or a life with an endless series of pebbles and then not have the time, energy, or resources to fit in the big rocks. A life well designed is about making sure that the important stuff stays important, day in and day out.

Days shouldn’t live themselves, and this is a book about making sure they don’t.

This book takes part in two acts.

Together, they walk you through the Do Less method, a productivity and goal-setting model I designed to help folks get more done in less time and succeed more often. Close readers will notice that “DO” is not just one of the most used words in the English language, but is also (fantastically, I might add) a word made up of the initials of my last name.

The Do Less method is about taking back your time, and giving it to someone who really knows what they’re doing.


In Part One, we’ll look at the first step, Decide. This is where you’ll think hard about what is important and what is not in the year or season you have ahead. This is where you pare down on the nonessentials and learn to clarify what you really want. Remember that what you want is all about what you value in this world.

In Part Two, we’ll dive into Organize. We’ll put key productivity strategies in place to reach the smart goals you’ve set for yourself, day by day, year by year. Specifically, Organize follows through four steps: Limit, Edit, Streamline and Stop (LESS).

The Do Less method will help you win more often and love your life better along the way.

Part One: Decide

 “If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.”—Yogi Berra

First, we’re going to decide what matters. Then, we’ll figure out how to get you where you’re going.

The first step in getting where you’re going is deciding what you want, and thus the Do Less Method starts with a big D.


It’s time to think long and hard about what you want. We’ll start by setting an overarching theme for the year or season ahead, and then we’ll jump down into creating powerful goals for your life and work.

Word of the Year

For the last few years, I’ve done something smart. Now, I’m not always doing smart things, so believe me when I say that this is something to write home about. What have I done? I’ve chosen a word of the year. 

I got the idea from a book, and it’s worked well to bring my life a greater sense of direction and fulfillment. I’m now such a fan that I’ll shout it from my handy nearby mountaintop:

Each year, you should choose a word to represent the year you have in front of you.

Think long and hard about one word that will serve as a guidepost for what you want to do and be in the year to come. And remember that a year needn’t start January 1—you can start your year at any time! One word that will remind you of what’s important when you need it most. One word to mean everything you want your year to be, and one word that will be a guiding light when times get tough and you’re not clear on what your priorities are.

There aren’t a lot of rules. Your word can be a verb or a noun. It can be long. It can be short. A word that has funny sounds in it or a word that rolls off the tongue. Depending on the type of year you’re going for, some examples of great words might be: Breathe, Push, Persevere, Give, Abundance, Direction, Moxie, Contentment.

The first year I did this exercise, I needed it badly. I was in a season of overwhelm, and so choosing my word—REST—felt like taking a big old breath of fresh air. Those four letters meant the world to me.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though, and I made a lot mistakes during the year. By publicly stating my word, I also provoked some interesting responses in others. Many folks who read about my word of the year talked about it when they saw me—or, even better, mentioned it when they were asking me to do something! A number of times I received a note or call along the lines of, “I know you said your word of the year was REST, but I was wondering if you could . . .”

This alone let me know that something about publicly stating my word of the year was working. And not just for me to know my own priorities, but for others to know them as well. (Yes, they may still have been asking me to do something, but they were at least conscious that I was likely to say it wasn’t the right year for me to agree!)

The next year, with great deliberation, I chose a new word: RENEW. After a year of rest, I was ready for balance, and looked for a guidepost to help me carefully choose what I would take on in my personal and professional life in this time of measured growth. I wasn’t resting, but I wasn’t going hog-wild either.

This past year, I mixed it up, going digital with my word of the year and choosing not a word, but a hashtag.


As a digital gal, living in a digital world, the act of choosing a hashtag seemed more me than ever before. The point’s the same, after all. It is one short, powerful idea promising to revolutionize the way I think about what I do. And so #banbusy aimed to help me be mindful of one of the scarcest resources I have: Time.

#banbusy was my aim to help myself. And, as in past years, it did just that. On really bad days, I’d wear the #banbusy necklace someone sent me to remind me of just what I had signed up to. And, day-by-day, I worked hard to be a steward of my time, and a minder of not making my life too full.


The first step in deciding what you want to achieve or how you want to feel is about framing all those larger decisions as part of a larger theme. This theme is your word of the year (or your word for a season).

Think hard about a word that will help guide you in your upcoming season of life. Find a powerful word that encompasses the things you want to accomplish, yes, but the way you want to feel as well.

Don’t jump into things. Try one word on for size. Then try another.

Give yourself time to find the right word (or, yes, hashtag) to express what you want the year ahead of you to be.

This process may take days or it may take weeks. You may start with one word, try it on for size, and discard it for another. That’s fine. That’s good, in fact! More than anything, you need to find a word that feels right, sounds right, and means right.

Find the word of the year that’s the word of you.


How to Set SMART Goals


Once you have an overarching word in place, it’s now time to begin the process of setting and then reaching your goals in the season ahead.

There are “rules” to goal setting. You can do it right; you can do it wrong. We’ll get into all that, I promise. But first, it’s time to brainstorm. I want you to think of anything and everything under the sun that may or may not be a goal in your life. Then we’ll prune them down. We’ll separate the goals from the non-goals. We’ll separate the dreams from the goals from the Words of the Year. We’ll choose what’s this year, and what’s another year.

Let’s ideate...