"Everyone should have a project," says Julieanne Kost in a recent podcast.
It's easy to underestimate the importance of this statement. A lot of the time "project" becomes synonymous with "hobby", and hence something to not be taken seriously. But projects are important and everyone should have one. That is, a creative outlet that also challenges us.
Projects should help bridge the gap between work and home life. I don't believe that maintaining a strict separation between the two is a very healthy attitude; the square wave transition every morning at 9am and every evening at 6pm inevitably takes its toll, on both work and home. Projects should help turn this square wave into a sine wave (if you'll pardon the slighly overextended metaphor).
Projects help us in our work lives by developing our skills and providing motivation. Even when work is going nowhere, it's comforting to know that a (seemingly) insignificant project is progressing. And even when (hypothetical) we hate our work, projects can very often provide the conduit into a change of job, or even change of career.
I originally started this blog not as a project in itself but as a way of describing some of the projects that I had completed, successfully or not. This of course didn't last long, and the blog itself has turned into a significant project in its own right.
So I've learned a little bit about managing personal projects.
Involve those around you. Make sure your friends and family are aware of the projects you're working on and how important they are to you. But at the same time be aware of their needs too. Don't isolate yourself.
Consider informing your boss. Depending on the circumstances your boss may need to know about your projects.
Inspire yourself. When you're not actively working on a project, listen to others in similar fields. If you're painting pictures, go to galleries. If you're playing music, go to gigs. If you're writing software, read blogs from other developers, go to user group meetings, and so forth.
If you can't get in The Zone, at least get in The Place. Thanks Rands for this advice. The important thing is to recognise that "hey I'm just not up to working on my projects right now", and give yourself the down time.
Learn to "fallow" projects. Merlin says that projects which are blocked for some reason, should be removed from sight. Excellent advice.
Know when to quit. This is a tricky one. It takes some self-awareness to know when lack of progress on a project is simply hurting more than it's helping. Learning to let go is hard. Don't beat yourself up about it, failure happens to everyone. Sometimes a public declaration of failure is healthy. Also see Merlin again.
Of course there's more to it than this, please feel free to add your suggestions below.