The Importance of Personal Projects
Working for other people can be a horrible way to spend your life.
Even if you’re doing something that you love, doing it 40+ hours per week for other people has a tendency to ruin the appeal. One way to ease this problem is to create and maintain personal side projects.
Personal work is good for your growth.
What is a Personal Project?
The overall importance of personal projects ranges from creative freedom to creating new work. Personal work is good for your growth. A personal project is something that you can consider 100% your own (or at least 50% if you bring in a partner). It’s something that you create and take on for no one but you. Many people seem to struggle with carving out the time to do it, between paid work, family, social lives, and the absolutely human need for leisure time.
Personal project can take any number of forms, big or small. It can be something small like designing an online portfolio, starting a blog or building a personal brand, or something larger like starting your own company or creating the next big thing for the web Setting aside chunks of time to work on our own projects can feel like a luxury, a chore, or a mirage that you can never quite reach.
The key is not so much what you do, but that you do something, or even many things!
The Appeal of Personal Projects
As you decide what sort of personal project you should undertake, remember that it should be something that you can get excited about. Something to keep you awake a little at night, to get your brain pumping with fresh ideas and new possibilities. The point here is to find something that will help you rediscover your love of your creative craft, not just as a profession, but as a hobby or even a passion.
Burnout is something that hits every designer at some point. Being forcefully creative as a way to pay the bills can be mentally exhausting and eventually results in you feeling like you’ve got no creativity left. This is the result of teaching your brain to literally loathe creativity. You begin to associate it with mandatory work and the daily grind.
Creativity should add awe to your world, make life more bearable, and provide you with a fundamentally more enjoyable way to view your existence. That may seem a little abstract or high-minded, but it’s a much more pleasant view than the utilitarian method of being creative simply to earn a paycheck.
The key here is to stop ruining your talent by using it exclusively at work. Instead, channel it through activities that can actually make you happy.
1. Take 20% time
I have no time for personal projects!! To put it in familiar terms: “BULL SHIT”. One of the best things about doing something personal is that you can go at your own pace, even if that only means spending tiny bits of time on it here and there.
I'm sure many are already aware of the famous "20% time" policy endorsed by Google. Originally, engineers were given the opportunity to spend one day a week working on projects that weren't necessarily in their job descriptions. Taking this time to develop something new, or fixing something that's broken.
The absolute hardest thing to do is not to find time to keep your personal project going, but to take that first step to actually begin doing anything real at all. Once you have that first victory, however small, the momentum feels good and keeps you going.
Avoid thinking about a personal project as another thing on your professional todo list. This is tantamount to simply taking on more work and will get you nowhere. Instead, categorize this project under “free time.” Put it up there with starting that novel you’ve been wanting to read and catching a ball game on a weekend. Remember the way you approach your personal project with the mindset of it being something enjoyable and something you love, is how you should continue this project throw it’s lifespan.
I am a big believer in the value of tinkering and exploring. I'm a big believer in 20% time.
2. It Could Be Profitable!
Whether or not a personal project should be profitable depends on what you’re really looking for from it. My background in marketing and beauty / fashion photography forces profitability to be a key component in everything that I think up (your driver could be something else entirely).
I find that the potential for profitability is a huge factor in the enjoyment I get out of my personal projects. Call me a crazy …call me a capitalist, but really I like to constantly consider new means of making an income. I’m truly about the multiple streams of revenue.
I had a more than one personal project underway when I starting writing my blog and podcast. Despite the fact that I had zero extra time (so I believed..lol), I began giving up a little sleep to do something new that allowed me to hone my skill as a photographer, educator, creative director and writer while actually getting paid to engage in what I considered to be a fun hobby.
Before long I had so many new opportunities derived from my personal projects that I had to scale back on the number of personal projects I was getting involved with.
My advice to you is to find a project that helps build a marketable talent or product. Find things that you enjoy learning about and doing that can actually make you money someday (why not have your cake and eat it too?). There are far too many incredibly talented people in the world that can’t pay the rent because they lack this key insight.
The world doesn’t need more starving artists. It needs more risk takers and pioneers, it need more people like you and myself, who took the time to work on side projects that had a high potential for profitability. These endeavors not only led to personal fulfillment for me, but it created exhibitions all over the world for my project.
3. Experimental Project &. Focus Projects
When we are working on the client's dollar and clock, we're not being paid for experimenting on our on personal projects. You can't create in a meaningful way under those circumstances. If we want to break new ground within ourselves and for our craft, we must leave time to do that between paid jobs, family life, and social life.
If we have major goals which can only be achieved by producing personal projects, that tends to be where we launch major personal projects where the goal is planned and the commitment is significant. Not all personal work needs to fit this grand ambition though.
We can't know which projects are going to pay out and which are going to fizzle into nothing. The critical thing is that we keep making an effort and not giving up when you fail. Learn to fail fast, and get back moving even faster.
Taking an unfocussed approach to your personal work may be riskier and you might not be able to monetize it (at least not so directly) as focused and deliberate personal projects, but it is more likely to teach you about you.
It is more likely to let you grow, explore, and find unexpected rewards. The major projects are in some ways under the same restrictions as client work: you are goal focused. You are creating solutions instead of discovering questions.
4. A Way to Find Your Path
Clients hire us based on the work which we have already produced. If an artist often paints scenes with animals, they will be hired for jobs that feature animals. Same as if a photographer produces fine art photographs, then they will more than likely be hired to produce fine art photographs for a company.
Sometimes the personal projects you embark on will take you in a direction you had not intended to go in. The longer it goes on, the more laser focus you become.
Whether you don't enjoy the box you've been cornered in to or you simply have other avenues that you're eager to explore, the only way to break that cycle is to change the narrative and show the world what else you can do.
Taking the time to continue creating portfolio pieces from your personal projects even though you are getting steady work is a way of course correcting, because otherwise your future is at the unguided mercy of the assignments that are already coming your way.
5. Content Creator Owned
There is so much discussion in recent years over work-for-hire contracts and the potential wealth that can come from owning an Intellectual Property, being the content creator and owning the content from your personal projects is often one of the top motivators that I hear people talk about in starting their own projects.
It is a good long term strategy to control the rights to as much work you create as possible. Whether you will make future revenue through licensing or 2nd rights or you develop something that becomes a profitable intellectual property, building your own brand may have financial rewards in addition to the artistic ones.
6. Outlet For Frustration
Clients can be frustrating. Having personal projects tucked away somewhere is a great way to let off steam (if you're not crunched for time of course. If you are, then they're more of a motivator: the carrot dangling in front of you once you finish the difficult job.)
When I can't stand to look at a job because I'm having problems with the client, I can take refuge in doing something for me because I want to do it. And I can do it my way without compromise.
This goes for frustrations in daily life as well. Sometimes we all need a place where we can be in control of things and personal projects are wonderful outlets for this. Not all personal projects need to be challenging and ambitious. It is also great for our mental health to just have fun as well, and more often than not the fun stuff can turn out pretty good.
7. Keeps The Wrinkles in the Brain
On the other side of that coin of being an “Outlet For Frustration”, there is an ease and comfort in letting the clients tell you what problems to solve. Sometimes we might not know what we want to paint, photograph, or write and creating what other people want relieves us of that weight. Indulging that comfort for too long can cause us to forget who we are as artists.
I've known creators with long and very successful careers who, at some point along the way, lost track of what they wanted their work to be about and found creating personal work to be a struggle.
We need to keep exercising the part of our mind that says "Wouldn’t it be cool to see____ just because I like it" and "I want to see what happens if I create _______".
I don't think we ever lose that spark, but sometimes it can feel so buried that one starts to wonder. It's healthy to remind yourself now and again that there are idea you want to explore even though nobody is paying you to do it.
I’ll conclude by encouraging you one last time to stop creating lists of reasons you can’t start a personal project. Instead, channel all of that thought into actively seeking out something beneficial that you can spend your free time on.
Your goal should be finding something that is exciting and personally fulfilling. Start a project that you’ll actually enjoy spending time on and can help you regain your love for creativity.
Finally, don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that there is a tradeoff between fulfilling personal projects and profitability. Marketability and enjoyability are not opposites, they are a recipe for success!
Download the FREE ULTIMATE PERSONAL PROJECTS Worksheet to assist you in developing the direction for your personal project!!