An ant carries a burden of fruit while another ant looks on

Photo by Tetsumo

Personal (and unpaid) projects are supposed to be exciting. They’re the lifeblood of every freelancer’s creativity, they keep our skills sharp and remind us why we got into this in the first place.

So why do so many of us never get around to them?

When I ask other freelancers about their personal projects, they’re rarely more than ideas, on hold or simply abandoned.

“I really ought to do more” is the oft muttered apology.

I speak for myself too. Only recently (thanks to GTD) am I collecting all my personal project ideas in an organised way. But I still need to do something about them.

These arrested creative intentions represent broken promises to ourselves (another GTD concept). Guilt follows inaction on these open loops and a vicious circle ensues.

So it’s no wonder we never get around to personal projects if the consensus is to feel persistently bad for not getting around to them.

What can we do about this?

Here’s my attempt to convince myself and other freelancers that getting on with exciting personal projects is a worthwhile thing to do, in tip form.

  1. Treat it like a client project

    Run your intentions through the usual set of processes you would for any new project: give yourself a brief, goals and allocate time to work on it.

  2. Get things ready to go

    It’s useful to have personal projects set up and ready to go for those inevitable work famines between the feasts. So like any big challenge, break it down into smaller chunks then identify the next clear and actionable steps.

    If you’re not clear about what to do next you’ll dread even looking at it. Or fall into the trap of assuming it’s much harder than it actually is.

  3. Understand the value

    Financial motivation is important to some people so work out how much the project would cost at your usual rate. Offset that against the long-term benefits of a stronger portfolio, more experience and better skills.

    Be careful though. This could put you off, because the reward for personal projects isn’t as immediate as a paid invoice*. It’s a long-term investment that can win you new work in the future.

Play by your own rules

It feels counterintuitive to treat creativity and inspiration in such methodical and prescriptive ways but when you’re a hired gun with unpredictable work patterns, putting bread on the table becomes the last word for many freelancers.

So the trick is to fit a personal project into your professional work practices and change your perception of their value.

If all else fails, remind yourself why you went freelance in the first place: to do more of what you love on your own terms.

And that’s exactly what personal projects are all about.

(* = if you’re lucky enough to be a carefree artist, unbridled by capitalist conditioning then you’re already on the right track and should ignore this post aimed at lowly freelancers)