Anatomy of a Project

Projects are encapsulated sequences of tasks, educational undertakings, and practices that I use when making stuff, refining things, and/or shifting from one set of norms to another.

I make a project called Brain Lenses for which I write and produce audio twice-weekly, and that project has a bundle of duties, deadlines, and deliverables associated with it.

I started running each morning a handful of months ago, and the progression of getting proper shoes, establishing baselines and rhythms, and ultimately achieving a steady three-mile-a-day cadence was planned out and pursued based on a project outline I set up ahead of time and then adjusted according to what I learned along the way.

I sometimes undertake a weeklong “no familiar recipes” project, which requires I find a gaggle of new-to-me recipes to prepare each day.

When I go on tour, I have a complex set of lists and to-dos and accounting documents to guide me so I don’t lose track of where I’m at, spend more than I make, or misplace my notes about things I should tweak or rethink for the next stop.

To me, a project is a means of organizing things I’d like to accomplish, including how and when I’d like to accomplish them. And that’s true of projects that revolve around making things, doing things, and acquiring knowledge and skills.

In my experience, projects with a time-limit—a deadline at which point you’ll check in and see if it’s working, whether you want to keep going or not, and how you might tweak your formula moving forward if you do keep going—is more likely to be successful.

It’s also generally prudent to ensure what you’re doing is philosophically and ethically aligned with your beliefs and ambitions, that it’s energetically and economically sustainable, and that it’s growth-oriented in some way (even if that growth is limited to something like “I tried a new thing, and now I know what it’s like to do that thing”).

Bonus points if you can set things up so that some kind of value is generated for other people as a consequence of your project—though this won’t always be possible or optimal for the outcomes you want to achieve, and that’s okay.

A concrete start date is also fairly vital to a successful project, in my experience.

Starting something new can be tricky, so it’s often helpful to put a firm “time to start” milestone on the calendar so you don’t endlessly justify pushing it back and back and back—which is easy to do, especially if the project will be challenging and frictionful in some way.

Project-based organization won’t work for everyone the way it works for me, but it’s a model worth considering, especially if you (like me) sometimes find it cumbersome to convince your brain to allow you to invest in “non-productive” undertakings (things that won’t earn you money) lacking such a framework, or if you might benefit from the structure such an approach can provide.

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