How to come up with a meaningful side project
A framework for generating actionable ideas
I have always admired the clarity and commitment of people passionately pursuing side projects. Weirdly, I struggle with having an endless list of things I am interested in— a blessing and a curse if you ask me. Until recently, every time I sat down to write, I felt I should be practicing music or picking up my knitting yarn or be doing something ‘productive’ that will improve my skills as a designer instead. The guilt and distraction pulled and pushed me in all possible directions at which point I gave up and started scrolling through social media once again. The struggle was real.
In 2019, I was determined to change this. After a lot of thought and trial, I came up with a set of four questions to help me gain clarity on what I’m passionate about right now. I am sharing these questions and my process here. Hope you enjoy!
1. What do I care about now?
I began by acknowledging that the things I care about constantly evolve but I wanted to identify what mattered to me at the moment. So I wrote down a laundry list of things I cared about and circled the ones that I was engaging with the most. What are some of the things I was doing, watching, reading or thinking about for the majority of my waking hours? For me, these included job hunting, meditation/mindfulness, and finding my voice (authenticity).
Tip: If you are struggling with identifying this, keep a daily journal for 7–10 days. This will help you gather information about your current loves.
2. What skills do I want to develop now?
A good side project helps you cultivate skills while giving you a sense of deep satisfaction for doing something you love. I wrote down a list of skills that I wanted to improve or build from the ground up. Then, I circled the skills that were most important for me. My list looked something like this:
Which community do I identify with/ want to serve now?
Finding a community that you want to serve is a great way to keep yourself motivated, accountable and connected. Look around yourself, what kinds of groups do you hang out in or can connect with? List them out and prioritize the ones that jump out the most to you. In retrospect, I feel starting with this question is also a great way to get some ideas flowing. Let’s say you want to serve the local farming community in your area, you meet with them and learn about their life, and use that as fuel to craft your side project.
What channels do I want to explore now?
Finally, think about how you want to show up and put your work out there. It is no fun to create a project and have it gather dust. Every project needs a platform to go into the world. You can take a pick from the wide range of options available today. Here are some examples for you— an app, a blog, a podcast, a game, a community circle or a group, the list goes on. As usual, list them down and highlight the ones that are most exciting for you. You can even creatively combine two or more channels to show your work. To set yourself up for success pick something that is challenging enough to keep you excited and wanting to learn more. Here is my list:
Pulling it all together
Now it is synthesis time. Consider all the highlighted points as pieces of a puzzle that you are about to put together. The framework of this puzzle is:
this matters to me _______ I want to build this skill _______to help/with the help of this community _______ and show my work in this format _______.
Mix and match your pieces to generate project ideas. The key is to not stop at this step but rather to use the momentum to think about the resources and time you will need to get started, and then JUST DO IT.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you come up with ideas for side projects.