Reminding yourself that you love what you do is an important part of keeping your mind and your work fresh. As creative professionals, it’s easy to get caught up in the business end of things and not actually spending much time doing anything for ourselves. If you are freelancing or working at an agency, it’s important to have something in your pipeline that’s done just for the fun of it.
The first thing to do is look back at your motivation for getting started in this profession in the first place. Why’d you start doing this, anyway?
Each of us has different reasons for doing what we’re doing. Maybe you went to school for design, turned a hobby into a career, or started out in email marketing and somehow ended up doing UIs for iPhone apps.
No matter what your history is, there’s something that attracted you to what you do — and that’s exactly what you should revisit. In this article, I’ll be talking about working on personal projects for the purpose of reenergizing your enthusiasm for your work.
Break Away From the "Minutia Mindset"
As web professionals, we often wear many hats. Multi-tasking is a key part of what many of us do, but most of us hate the act of multi-tasking itself. It takes up a lot of time and it’s easy to get caught up with small details (like emails and managing finances). It takes away your ability to focus on one thing because you’re caught up in all the other stuff. We’ll call this the minutia mindset.
Giving yourself a project to do on your own time is a great way to break away from the minutia mindset. Sure, you still have your normal work to do, but spending your own time to do something for you will make the work you’re doing for others better.
There are many benefits that a personal project can bring to your professional career and growth. There are no deadlines (unless you give yourself one), you can experiment as much as you wish, and most importantly, you’re only listening to one person: yourself.
When you think of each phase of your project as a small goal, you’re much more likely to look forward to working on your own stuff because each step of the process is progress.
Fill Up Your Personal Pipeline
Whether it’s a concept in your head, a flowchart on your desktop or a website on the web, you should always have something in your workload for yourself. Something that you can step away from, look at, and think to yourself, "I’m proud of myself for doing this."
No matter how unrelated to your other work it may seem, just having a project for yourself will be a positive force for your growth as a professional.
Make sure you always have something in your personal pipeline — both for your own good and your paid projects.
Focus On Your Interests
Working on something you find interesting is a good place to start when you’re looking for a project to do. What are your hobbies outside of work? Creating something that you can relate to on a personal level helps look at your overall workload differently.
Let’s say you’re an app developer and you happen to love cheese. You can’t get enough cheese; you keep up with the cheese industry through cheese blogs, you’re active on cheese forums — all that jazz.
You also love making iPhone apps, but the thought of that corporate insurance iPhone app that you’ve been developing for twelve months makes you cringe.
Why not take some time to develop a cheese app just for fun? Do it for you. It’s highly likely that you’ll end up going back to your insurance project later on with fresh eyes and reinvigorated enthusiasm.
Whether you work with a team or freelancing solo from home, with a personal project you can assume roles that you normally wouldn’t do. This gives you the benefit of seeing the project — and ultimately all of your work — in a whole new light.
Doing It for the Wrong Reasons
There are a couple of things that you should try to avoid when working on your personal projects.
Making Money/Turning a Profit
Working on a personal project for any other reason other than passion is something you want to avoid. While quite obviously we all want and need to make money, if your only incentive is monetizing your personal projects, the focus (and fun factor) will quickly dissipate. You’ll end up creating your project around a potential revenue stream rather than doing it for fun.
Listening to Other People’s Opinions
Sure, we all need criticism to move forward and make our work better. But this project is yours. You should take what others recommend into consideration, but at the end of the day, you’re doing this for yourself. The whole point of doing something on your own is to freely flow with your concepts and ideas, not listen to someone else.
Examples of Personal Projects
Here are some examples of projects that were done just for fun. These individuals all do similar work in their careers, but their websites were all done simply for the love of the subject matter.
NotNorthNews.org is a community for the music scene in Florida that offers local band news, reviews, interviews, editorials, videos, and photos via user-contributed information.
The site was created by web and graphic designer Sterling Salzberg of My Name is Sterling, Inc., who explains:
"I love music. I grew up playing in a band and still perform in the band, Mute Issue. I started NotNorthNews.org primarily because I found myself constantly complaining about how our scene just sucked, and then I decided to stop complaining and do something about it. If I don’t support our local scene, how can I expect others to? I quickly realized I had developed the chops to create a digital community and knew enough about the locals to get it started. It’s crazy now; I’ve developed this weird love for our local scene because of it. Plus I get to experiment with tons of new features and learn more and more about marketing and design. It feels great to be able to help something that so many people stopped believing in using a medium that I love."
Yofie Setiawan, a freelance web designer from Jakarta, Indonesia created Moviewme as a place where he and friends could comment on their love of movies. The site features reviews and comments on Indonesian, European, Asian and American films.
Setiawan says of the project:
"I used to rarely watch movies. After I watched and googled "Paranormal Activities", and then saw so many discussions about it, I figured that it would be interesting if I developed a site where people in Indonesia can comment about movies here. At first the site was done in English (it’s now in the Indonesian language), and also featured news about Hollywood stars. Now I make sure that I review every movie that I watch for the site. I did it all on my own, with no partners, and it feels good."
UnexpectedYoga is a photoblog of people doing yoga in funny and random places and situations. This is one of many websites idea that I’ve had over the years, and I created it as a fun side project.
It’s out there on the web, I can work on and update the site when I feel like it, and whether users start interacting with the site or not, to me, doesn’t really matter. It’s always going to be a project that I look forward to working on, and that’s why it exists.
rapidTASK is web-based tool that makes task delegation easy for a single person or a huge team of people.
Project creator Chris Sands of Web Royal explains the motivation behind his project:
"I needed to ‘scratch my own itch’. Project management is something I deal with every day, so building the perfect tool that’s simple for my workers was always on my mind. It might not be a hobby or passion; it was more about making my daily life easier. Like finding that perfect app that you didn’t know existed, and suddenly can’t live without."
What’s Your Personal Project?
If you have a personal project that you’ve done, comment below with a link and tell us how it all came to be.