The Value of Personal Projects

Shaun Russell By Shaun Russell

Feeling burnt out? Lethargic and find your passions waning? Like you’re just churning through work? You’re sick of seeing the same images, branding and code all day. You get home, start cooking your tea and it’s still playing on your mind. You go to bed, dreaming of it and wake up dreading returning to it. OK, so maybe I’m over exaggerating, but sometimes a professional/client project can become a tiresome burden that you can’t escape or shift. So how do you break out of this negative mindset and shake off these growing frustrations? Get yourself a personal project.

Why Start A Personal Project?

So, my solution to growing frustrations with your work… is to do more work? In a word - yes. But with one major difference. A personal project is something you do for no other reason than it simply sparks an interest. There’s no deadlines, no expectations and no pressure - just you and your project, which in itself is a liberating concept. A personal project gives you a chance to focus on something you WANT to do rather than HAVE to do - an important distinction. For me, they replace the dimming lightbulbs of my creative thinking and shake off any cobwebs of lethargy; they give me something else for my mind to focus on, easing any frustrations I might have and reinvigorate my creative approach.

They also allow you to experiment and play with ideas that you don't have time to investigate during your working hours. Not only that, but a personal project can also hone and expand your skill set and, should you be fortunate enough, can filter through into your professional/client work.

What Shall Your Project Be?

Now that I’ve convinced you to consider a personal project, what should you do? Well, you can do anything you like! Personally, I digitise the random characters and doodles that liberally adorn my notebooks and sketchbooks or design greetings cards for friends and family. Currently, I’m illustrating an animal alphabet book. (If anyone has suggestions for ‘X’ please leave them in the comments section below) Once I’ve finished the illustrations, I hope to then use these as a basis to hone my animation skills, and continue learning Adobe After Effects. I also try my hand at writing short stories to a varying degree of success and have a folder on my desktop, full of discarded/unfinished ideas, plots and characters. It doesn’t matter that projects go unfinished, all that matters is that it holds your interest and is fun and exciting to you. So if you want to do some finger-painting, you’ve got the fingers so just get the paper and paint and make a start. If photography or filmmaking is something you want to try, then that smartphone you only use for Facebook or Twitter? The camera on that is more than good enough for you to make a start. Why not put an hour or two into learning that software package that you've been meaning to familiarise yourself with or make something for that new piece of technology that’s just been announced. Whatever it is you settle on, follow wherever it is your excitement and interests lead, not the completion of the project itself. If what your working on starts to feel like work, becomes boring, a chore or frustrates you, just put it away and move onto something else - you can always come back to it at a later date.

Shaun Russell's Personal Projects

Distractions and Procrastination - Be on the watch

So you have something to work on, found a spare couple of hours and are about to make a start, when suddenly… DING! You have a new ‘insert social media preference here’ notification. Followed by twenty minutes on said social media perving at the lives of people you briefly knew ten years ago. Right. Now that’s out of the way, time to make a start. Oh, you need to put a wash on? Go on then! But when you get back - well, of course - you can’t start anything without a brew! Now to work! Oh yeah, you better take the dog for a walk. Aw, now your brew is cold - go make a fresh one. DING! You have another ‘insert social media preference here’ notification. And now it’s bed time. Turn off your social media for however long you have to spare and glue yourself to your seat. Distraction and procrastination will soon erode the excitement of any project you start work on.

Craig & iBeacons

A prime example of the benefit of personal projects can be found in Eden’s very own office. With the release of iOS7 last year, Apple also announced the arrival of iBeacon. Craig got extremely excited about the potential of iBeacons, but due to the amount of client work, couldn’t dedicate any work time to looking into it. So much to the frustration of his wife, he began working on it at home; iBeacons became his personal project. The fruits of this project came to light in a team meeting the following week, the details you can find in his blogpost here. Since then, the implementation of iBeacons have become a service that Eden now provide and Craig has even written and published a book about them.

Double Fine & Amnesia Fortnight

Double Fine Productions has seemingly found a middle ground between professional and personal projects. It was during 2007-2008 that publishing issues arose with their second title Brutal Legend (link). So whilst hunting for a solution, Double Fine decided that all work on Brutal Legend would be put on hold for two weeks and that the development teams be divided into four groups. Each group was tasked with designing and creating a working game prototype of their own choosing. This two week period became affectionately known as ‘Amnesia Fortnight’. The prototypes this process produced went on to become Iron Brigade, Once Upon A Monster, Stacking and Costume Quest. All of them proving a critical and financial success for Double Fine.You won’t be surprised to hear that as a result of this success, Double Fine now carry out Amnesia Fortnight on an almost yearly basis. For those of you interested, here are some details about the titles that Amnesia Fortnight 2014 conjured up. (This time round one of them comes from the weird and wonderful mind of Adventure Time creator, Pendelton Ward.)

So hopefully you can see that having a personal project on the go can provide some immediate benefits, as well as the possibility of long term gains. So why not take some time to work on that idea that’s been worming in your mind and see if it’s got legs. You never know where it might take you.

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