How to design a work life that meets your needs

I was creating a course the other day. I enjoy teaching. I enjoy course creation. I love the process of transferring an idea or skill to somebody else.

Yet I was fighting myself to keep doing it. I remembered my Fast Forward test.

I noticed that if I could fast forward this task so I got straight to having a completed course, I would!

I got up and made a cup of tea. I didn’t return to my screen. I procrastinated. I felt demotivated.

For a while, I kicked around the house, doing nothing productive. I met with some colleagues later that evening. I shared my stuckness. “I can’t be arsed” I said.

It was puzzling. This is work I love to do. And here I was refusing to do it. I was fighting it with every fibre of me. It had become a chore.

You may know that I studied for a year to become a psychotherapist. While I decided not to continue with that, it wasn’t for lack of interest. I continue to read and think about how to help myself and others have lives that are happy and fulfilled.

Of all the many books I read, a few practitioners stand out. One of these is a man named Marshall Rosenberg. He developed a process called Non Violent Communication.

This is a process through which we identify our needs, and then seek to get them met.

It is an alternative to the standard way of dealing with hurtful feelings, which is to blame outwards.

Marshall taught that when we experience hurtful feelings, other people are not the cause. They are only the stimulus. The true cause is that we have a need or longing being unmet.

The same situation can provoke a hurt feeling or a happy feeling, depending on your needs at the time. If someone ignores you, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

That depends on you, and what you need from that person at that time. It might be hurtful. Or you might welcome being left alone.

My feelings of demotivation and discouragement were not positive feelings. They stood between me and the work I usually enjoy.

So I decided to connect to myself. I wanted to find out what needs in me were being unmet. What do I need from my work life that is not currently being met? And how can I redesign my work life to meet those needs?

I downloaded a list of needs from the Center for Non Violent Communication. I find this list helpful. We lack the training for talking about our needs. We are far better trained at giving out judgments.

As a result, we have a lot of blame words and judgmental labels in our language. They come easy. But I’m far less literate when it comes to describing my own needs.

The list of needs helps me to overcome that.

With the list in hand, I decided to think about work situations that I don’t enjoy. I thought of the times when my working life is not enriching. What needs are not met at those times?

Every time I saw a need that I wanted my business life to meet, I wrote it down. This generated a list of 20 needs.

Then I asked the same question about when work was joyful. We feel pleasant emotions when we are meeting our needs. So in moments when work enriches me, what needs are being met.

This generated only a few more. I had already done the bulk of the work with the first question.

I now had twenty-odd needs. This was the list of needs that are most important to me in my work life. But a list this big felt overwhelming.

My aim was to have a manageable checklist. At any point I wanted to refer to the needs I had identified as important. I would be able to quickly see which of these core business needs were not being met.

I noticed that some of them related to each other. My need for space, for instance, linked to my needs for reflection and spontaneity.

So my next stage was to start grouping some of these together.

You can use post it notes for this or you can use tech. I used an app called Simple Mind. But post it notes work just as well. I grouped together those needs that felt similar or linked.

I ended up with 8 core business needs. Your list of needs will be different to mine. So go through the process for yourself.

I saw why I was feeling demotivated.

My need for contribution was not being met. I was creating a course that I didn’t know if anybody wanted. I would only find out when I finished the course and offered it to people.

If it turned out that nobody wanted it, all this work would have contributed to nobody’s well being.

Earlier in the year, I had done something different. I switched the usual way of course building. Instead of building it and then promoting it, I promoted it before it even existed.

Enough people signed up to meet my need for contribution. So I built the course in time for the start date. I compared my excitement creating that course to my lethargy when creating this.

In the earlier case, I knew there were people eager for me to contribute to their learning. So creating it was an impassioned joy.

Yet this time, nobody even knew about it yet. They may not even want it. Creating it was a drag.

This awareness led me to change my approach. I decided that I would only build my courses after people had signed up for them.

I would create just a course outline and offer that prospectus to people. If they sign up, I can build it with the enthusiasm of contribution burning in my heart. If they don’t, I’ll do something else instead.

So I stopped building my course. I need to contribute to the lives of others to be happy in my work. I will restart building it if I people sign up to it.

Without exploring my own needs, I would have likely accused myself of being lazy. That wouldn’t have helped me. But judging ourselves and others is what we do when alienated from our own needs.

This way, I was able to walk away from course creation feeling happy with my decision. Instead of beating myself up, I felt motivated to find out if people are needing what I plan to build.

I was able to identify 8 core needs for my own business life. I will design my career around meeting them. When I am down with work, I will use them to help me understand what is not working for me. I can then put it right.

Here are my 8 core needs for business.


The need to contribute is strong in us all. It links my need for connection, to matter and to be effective. It also covers my need for appreciation.

Appreciation is how we know that we have contributed.

My need for financial security links to this need for appreciation. When I receive financial reward for my work, it contributes to my need for shelter, warmth, safety, food and water. I know that people value my work enough for it to be worthy of my continued existence.


I am a creative person. Work without creativity gets me down. This covers my need for self expression (huge for me!), playfulness and joy.


Being in charge of my own time is important to me. In many ways it relates to my need for self expression.


I have a need for space. I do my best creative work when there has been room for reflection. I also have a need for spontaneity. When my schedule is too full, I am unable to act on my creative impulses.


When I don’t feel me, I feel icky. Sometimes, in my early marketing attempts, I felt this way. I’ve not done anything underhand of course. But I didn’t always feel like me. I now know that I must be fully me to be happy in my work.

My need for integrity is part of this too. I am here to do good in the world.


For me, I feel alive when in discovery mode. My need for discovery and learning is strong. I enjoy work that exposes me to new ideas and new learning. A career that doesn’t have this aspect would result in unhappy emotions.


This covers my need for mutuality. I need intellectual stimulation in my work. I have to find it interesting. The work I do has to press my buttons as well as contribute to your well being. There are lots of ways that I could contribute, but if they don’t light my own fire I’m the wrong one for the job.


I hate it when things get too complex. As I have written about in the past, I prefer to keep things simple. There is usually a simple way of doing something, and a complicated way. The complicated way doesn’t work for me. (Even though I sometimes choose it myself at first!)

Using these 8 needs, I can now troubleshoot my business life in a quick moment. I can also design new projects around these needs. I can decide whether to say yes or no to new offers of work, based on whether it would meet my needs. I can also negotiate those offers to redesign aspects of them so it works well for both of us.

Below is the mind map I use so I can see it visually. I printed it out and stuck it on my wall. It is in front of me the whole time I work. I can see it right now.

At a glance, I can problem solve any negative feelings I have about my business. Better still, I can engineer them out before I even start.


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