Make life a side project

Two blog posts in one week, unheard of.

That’s what you get when you cram two high-octane conferences into one week: MicroConf Europe in Prague Sunday to Tuesday and then The Web Is in Cardiff, Thursday and Friday.

I could write reams about my experiences of both extremely high quality, motivating, thought provoking and at some times very moving events – and indeed I will almost certainly expand upon some of these threads over the coming weeks –  but the thing I want to quickly focus in on today is something that Christopher Murphy said which really resonated with me, summed up here by Dan Davies:

Tweet by Dan Davies

“But hang on”, I hear you say, “life is THE project, right? Why would we push out to the sidelines?”

Well, the statement needs to be taken in context and that context was a discussion about geek mental help week – something I’ve already written about – and the pressure that a lot of us find ourselves under to not only be good at our jobs, to earn the money, but to also keep up with the fast pace of technology change, to know which one of the 17 javascript frameworks to study (this week!), to keep our blogs up to date, to have a podcast, to do public speaking and a multitude of other pressures that we might find ourselves under especially – as Rachel Andrew so neatly and perfectly summed it up – if we lose sight of the fact that the output of our peers, their status updates, their instagram photos are just their highlight reels, not their hum drum day-to-day.

Luckily for me those external pressures, certainly the comparing oneself to peers, isn’t something I particularly suffer with (ok, I probably do it a bit, but I can quickly discard those thoughts). The pressures I suffer from are slightly different. They are self-inflicted, it’s my inner critic who is my task master. He drives me hard to ‘achieve’, to be constantly looking forwards to see where I’ll be and more often than not he doesn’t allow to stop, to have a look around and enjoy where I am right now.

So for me, to keep Mr rarely-cuts-me-some-slack Critic in his box I particularly like the idea of treating life as one of my projects. A very important one for sure but one which we can forget, something that can get pushed to the bottom of the list as a discretionary item unless we’re careful to keep on top of it.

With life as a project it can be scheduled, it can be given the high priority that it deserves but we can still fit it in around other competing pressures. That works for me.

A bit of a mess

Whilst I have a relatively good, sometimes even working system of storing all of my ideas, projects & thoughts loosely based on GTD I do really value mind-mapping as a tool to quickly download thoughts and get them out of my head.

Given I had so much floating around my head from an amazing week of insights I did a quick dump this morning as a really simple way to get that perspective again. For each of these high level tasks I can now assign the time I want to spend per day/week/month and compare that to the time I actually have available given the constraints of work, family commitments, of going to bed early, etc, and see if they are achievable. If they are not I can park them or tweak the timings. The important thing is to be sure to do the important things to me in an achievable and sustainable way.

Yes, it’s mind bogglingly obvious but thinking about life as a dependency for success – however you might define that; I know that success is a very personal thing and it does not necessarily equate to achievement – is a really nice way of looking at things and I’m really thankful for the simple reminder this week.

For me at least, having life stuff as a project means it has a much greater chance of getting done.


Update: Mike Ellis has posted a response to this article on his blog which I’m sure matches some other people’s thinking on this subject. I stand by what I said, though. If I don’t organise everything then things slip which results in me getting stressed out and that’s no good for anyone.


3 responses to “Make life a side project”

  1. Great response to some of last week’s points Darren.

    The ‘side project’ way of looking at life certainly seemed to resonate with a lot of us in attendance. Taken on a literal level it may same a cold and detached way to look at life, hence Mike Ellis’ blog post.

    However, it fits into how many of us geeks think about our division of time. It’s not because we necessarily see our lives and work as two separate entities but it’s the very fact that we see it all as one and the same that we can lump it all in to the same productivity system in order to attribute the time needed to get the most of it.

    Maybe, we don’t need the word ‘side’.

    I really like the idea of life as a project as I think it forces us to really think about what it is we want to achieve with our time and the best way to go about it, helping us to get the most out of our lives.

    Also, using the ‘side project’ analogy does have the added benefit that with so many of our side projects never seeing the finish line, in theory we should live forever!

  2. I’m not sure where I read this, I think it was A year of productivity, but I found the idea very fascinating.
    “people are more happy if they schedule their free time”

    That does not mean that everything needs to be planned in advance. More so to have a general idea what you want to do, incorporating the “life as sideproject”.
    For me it’s for example to either do a walk or a bike trip after dinner, to have a physical compensation to computer work and for fun and experiences.

    Some more ideas from the blog which are relevant:
    – “in order to work productively you must manage your time, energy and attention”
    – ” Becoming more productive is pointless if you’re not kind to yourself in the process”

    I can really suggest to check his Blog out, very refreshing, well-thought take on productivity:

    1. bealers Avatar

      Hi Rick, thanks for commenting.

      There’s a definite balance to be had, for sure. Your ‘be kind to yourself’ point is also something I’ve been working hard on the past 6 months. It makes a *huge* difference.

      I think planning for the future & fitting things in around a busy life are important but not at the cost of what’s happening *right now* Taking time to enjoy where you and be thankful for what you have is also extremely important.

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