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That’s what I do. One day at a time.

How To Start A Passion Project One Day At A Time

Niklas Göke
May 24, 2017 · 9 min read

Recently, one reader question kept coming up, which I found myself unable to send people a resource for. It’s a question about projects. A question about starting. Here are three reader responses, all from a recent week, aimed at it:

“I want to start a business, but hardly have the money or the idea for it!” –Vishal

“I started learning magic tricks long ago, but I never take the time to share my tricks online. There are a few on youtube and I really wanted to share more.” –Flavien

“Being disorganized and lacking focus. I’m a certified NLP trainer and looking to start my own business as a Learning Coach for children. Yet I spend my days on chores, cooking and computer based admin stuff.” –Megan

Can you spot the question? Here’s the one I see:

How do I start a passion project?

Today, I’ll do my best to answer it. But first…why is it that question?

Passion Projects Are The Unlock

Some of these turned into businesses. Some didn’t. A few became temporary income. Even fewer long-term income. Part shaped how I work. Part what I want to work on. Most of them started, lasted for a while, and then ended.

Right now, it looks like their sum will change the trajectory of my life in ways I never could have imagined. The one thing they all have in common, that lays at their very foundation, is a single sentence:

“This would be fun.”

I didn’t always recognize all of these as passion projects right when I started them. But looking back, I can wholeheartedly say: I really believed they’d be fun to try. Every time.

What this allowed me to do is focus on fun over financials. The longer I could let money be a desired byproduct, instead of a desired end product, the more my projects ultimately ended up making.

So whether you hope to gain meaning, money, connection, career prospects, a life’s work or a legacy out of your project, first ask:

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Maybe you know exactly what that fun thing is you want to start. Maybe you don’t. I hope you keep the fun part on top of your mind either way. Now, let’s look at how to start a passion project in 3 steps, based on the structure proposed in Simon Sinek’s Start With Why.

Step #1: Why start this project in the first place?

For example, some reasons for starting to answer questions on Quora are:

  • It’ll be fun.
  • You’ll be forced to write about new things.
  • You can dramatically vary the format of your writing.
  • You’ll see how lots of other good writers write.
  • You will learn about new topics.
  • You get direct feedback through upvotes and comments and even edit suggestions.
  • You’ll build credibility as a writer.
  • You might break into a big publication, as they search the platform for good content.
  • You’ll draw attention to your blog, newsletter, or whatever else you’ve got going on.
  • You can help a lot of people.
  • And, again: It’ll be fun!

The reason you should spend a while on your why is simple:

Fun gets you going, but not to the finish line.

Even the activities we’re most passionate about suck at times. Curiosity and joy and the rush of something new are great activators, but they’re not good sustainers. To quickly go from dabbling to disciplined practice, you’ll have to continuously hold your purpose high, without losing sight of the fun parts that follow the dark valleys.

Writing down all the reasons you can think of to start your project is a great 80/20 exercise in finding your why, because it’s simple, doesn’t take long, yet strongly manifests your project in your mind.

Your turn: Can you come up with 7–10 reasons to start your passion project right now? For example: ____________________

Then, when the laughter temporarily runs out, meaning will take over and march with you through the long nights before the light comes back on.

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Step #2: How do I get started? I don’t know what step to take!

This is where most passion projects go to die.

I repeat: This — the part where you go from “I want X” to “I’ll do Y to start getting there” — is where most passion projects go to die.

In terms of the dip, the slog of increased effort where work gets harder, but results are slow to non-existent, this puts you at the very beginning. You’ve done all the thinking, the contemplating, the deciding that “you’re gonna do it,” maybe even some actual planning or at least busywork.

So now, you’re standing atop the tiny hill, right where the fun’s about to stop. You know what you want.

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Image from Seth Godin’s blog.

But not how to get there.

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What’s our most common response to this? We wait there, scratch our head for a while, and then…we quit. Before we ever got started. Two months later, all we have to show for is another depressing memory in the “failed to even swing the bat” section.

I thought long and hard about what helped me the most in starting my way downhill, into the dip, but also towards progress. The result I’ve come up with is a sequence of two drop dead simple questions:

1. What do you call someone, who is already doing the thing you want to do?

If you succeeded, what could you call yourself?

For example, you might call someone who sells self-made jewelry on Etsy a craft e-commerce store owner, a person who likes obstacle courses and Spartan races is a runner and if your idol runs an investment blog, well, they’re a personal finance writer.

Project yourself into the near-future, imagine a 3–5-years-from-now-world in which you succeed, and label that job.

2. What’s the main thing an X does?

If the answer is obvious, you’ve done it right. It should be!

  • A craft e-commerce store owner makes jewelry and sells it online.
  • A runner runs.
  • A blogger writes.

When I started this blog, you know what I did first? I set up the website. Then I designed it. I even bought a logo, for Pete’s sake. I made the structure. Turned on pop-ups. All of that was bullshit. The only thing I should have done for at least 30 days is write.

Write, write, write.

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The easiest way to start is to forget all the best practices, all the make-pretend to-dos and just do the thing, the actual activity, the crucial part of what makes a writer a writer, a singer a singer, and a stock analyst a stock analyst in the first place.

Your turn: Are you able to find answers to these two questions right now? 1. What job title would you give someone, who does what you’re setting out to do? For example: ____________________2. What’s the main thing someone with that title does? For example: ____________________

And then? Then you do just that.

Step #3: What do I do every day? How can I make this part of my routine?

1. Use existing structures, or none at all.

There’s a platform for any conceivable passion project out there, and for the 0.0001% chance there isn’t, you can always build it later.

Your turn: Can you think of a platform that fits your passion project? Where could you share it publicly? For example: ____________________

Either way, it might make sense to find out if you’re good at it first, don’t you think? So just do it for yourself. Get intimate with the craft. Let it be just you and your project. And then…

2. Turn pro from the start.

Spend 30 minutes a day doing the activity.

Yes. A day. I am dead serious. Every. Single. Day. There’s no way around this. No matter your level of aspirations. Why?

Because that’s what a leader, a creator, an entrepreneur does. E-ve-ry day. There is no substitute for work.

Whether you want to be hobby writer or a full-time author, you might as well be a good one. And a good writer will always be defined by the number of days he shows up to write. Nothing else matters. It’s not even about making more noise, but enough noise to find your signal in the first place. And that takes practice.

Here are the top 4 pointers for turning pro:

Your turn: When and where will you show up and do your work? Settle this, right here, right now. For example: ____________________

Recap: How to start a passion project one day at a time

  1. Ask “Does this sound like fun?”
  2. Write down all the reasons you can think of to start.
  3. Label the job of someone doing your passion project full time. What is the main thing they do?
  4. Find an existing platform to share your work or go without one altogether.
  5. Set a daily structure, design your environment and turn pro!

Don’t even think about money before you’ve done something for 30 days in a row. Then, still don’t. When you work on a passion project for 30, 60, 90 days in a row, magic things start to happen, all on their own.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most…

Niklas Göke

Written by

Writer with 30M views, 50k email subscribers, and 500k monthly readers. Get 5 free top notch writing tips:

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Niklas Göke

Written by

Writer with 30M views, 50k email subscribers, and 500k monthly readers. Get 5 free top notch writing tips:

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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