Recently, during my 30-day challenge of posting a live video on YouTube every day, I talked about the power of projects. I discussed how turning random tasks and habits into larger, overarching projects is a great way to make the tasks themselves more meaningful.
I’d like to some few examples illustrating my point, and encourage you to start a project of your own.
Most of us cook, though some of us enjoy it more than others. I’m among those who deeply enjoy it – I have been to culinary school, after all.
But cooking random recipes – which could be considered a near-daily habit – isn’t particularly interesting on its own. When it’s a habit, it’s a matter of function. I cook to put food on the table for myself or my family. It doesn’t need to be fancy, interesting, adventurous, or creative.
But if I turn cooking into a project, suddenly “interesting” and “adventurous” materialize and I enjoy the process of cooking immensely.
A recent example is a project I’m working on with friends – a vegan cooking challenge that we’re designing as a series of online classes. For this course, I need to create some videos, and – most importantly – some foolproof recipes that even a beginner can figure out.
Yesterday, testing for this project entailed making four batches of chocolate chip cookies, experimenting with different ingredients and ratios as I went. It was great fun and now I feel like I have a solid cookie recipe under my belt.
Without the project in mind, I probably would’ve cooked a batch of chocolate chip cookies, look at the flat disasters and say, “well, that didn’t work, but oh well”. I wouldn’t try again. I’d eat the mediocre cookies and I’d probably go through the same mediocre cookie experience again a few months later.
But since I was creating a recipe for a project – the project of giving a beginner a good cookie recipe – I couldn’t stop there. I had to try again so that I could hit on something great.
Another idea: If I was creating a self-published cookbook for friends and family, I would be refining my skills and recipes, made meaningful under the umbrella of a larger project.
If I wanted to perfect my bread baking skills, I wouldn’t simply make random loaves here and there – I would follow and explore every page of a breadmaking book.
It doesn’t take much extra time to do this – aside from recipe planning for the week, which I do anyway, I simply take a few minutes to snap some photos of the plated meals and take notes in my digital journal.
It amounts to very little extra time spent for a massive output of meaning and interest.
The Music Album Project
It’s one thing to write songs here and there, which is something I’ve been doing since I was a child. But to say “I’m going to write an album” changes the meaning of songwriting – the songs themselves take on more purpose, and I push myself to excellence.
It is more work to create an album compared to writing disconnected songs. But it’s immensely rewarding. One of the top 3 highlights of my creative life is when my band The Criminal Kid recorded our first album back in 2012.
Health and Fitness Projects
Instead of running every day as a habit, why not try a “couch to 5k” program or signing up for a marathon?
Instead of saying “I’d like to lose weight and build muscle” and installing a daily exercise and meal-tracking habit, why not take photos of yourself every two weeks, with details of your weight and updated measurements? (When I did this back in 2017, a helpful side-effect of having updated body measurements was being able to shop online for clothing with ease).
What about practicing yoga with the intent to do an impromptu class in the park with your friends? Improving your flexibility so you’re able to do the splits? Improving your upper body strength so you’re able to do 100 push-ups, your core strength so you could plank for two minutes, and so on?
Teaching as a Project
One excellent project is that of teaching anything you’re learning. If I wanted to get into food photography, say, I might learn with the idea to teach it once I’ve learned it. I’d need to be able to explain the core elements of what I’m learning, which means I’d understand it deeply.
Plus, teaching is a win-win – perhaps you have a friend who’s always wanted to learn how to take better food photographs. You can spend the afternoon together, cooking and talking about photo techniques. You get to anchor your knowledge in the experience of teaching, and they get to pick up a new skill without having to take a class.
You could even create an online course after you’ve gone through the process of learning a skill. If you’re a new vegetable gardener, you could create a course based on your notes from the growing season, things you’ve read and your personal experiences. You could call it “The New Vegetable Gardener” and frame yourself as an enthusiastic beginner. People don’t always want to learn from experts, often preferring to learn from someone who’s only a few steps ahead of them.
You could then put your course up on a website such as Skillshare. Even if not a single person took your course, you’d still have the permanent benefit of solidifying your learning and adding meaning to your gardening experience.
Courses as Projects
Taking a course is a great project as well. If you’re wanting to learn personal accounting, you could do a bunch of random Googling – OR you could take a course on the subject. Learning from someone who’s taken the time to organize content for you, content with a clear beginning and end, is much more satisfying than miscellaneous internet searches.
Other Project ideas
What about the project of listening to 20 audiobooks in a year, where the stipulation is you can only listen to those books while you clean and do house chores? Cleaning becomes much more enjoyable that way. I’ve made my house spotless while engrossed in a particularly good fiction (The Help is a favorite).
What about turning a journaling habit into something more tangible, like a physical printed copy of your journal at the end of the year? I’ve been doing this since 2015, and my word count increases every year. It’s immensely pleasurable to receive my little paperback in the mail, and to see them take up more space on my shelf each year.
The idea of making projects out of habits and tasks is to create meaning out of chaos. Sure, I could journal every day until I die and reap immense benefits from it. I already have. But printing out my journals makes my life feel bigger, more coherent, and more meaningful. As a result, I’ve begun journaling more, and to a higher standard of quality. Perhaps ten years from now, I’ll look at my journaling habit as being the launching-off point to fiction or memoir writing.
Is there something you could project-ify in your life right now? A habit you’d like to implement, or a task you’re already doing anyway?