Personal Projects: Ideas to Kickstart Your Next Creation
Your future self will be so grateful you started one
It can be surprising what you can do when you're expected to meet a challenge or are assigned a project with a due date.
So what if there were an assignment that would give you a result you're proud of, teach you new skills, gift you with more pleasure in your days, or help you to grow as a human being?
Good news: There is—but it's not going to come knocking on your door.
As an adult, I like to call such assignments "projects" or "challenges," depending on the nature of the undertaking. (Note: I've split them into two categories in the list below, but many could really fall into either category—the distinction is not important for our purposes.)
What Is a Personal Project?
A personal project is something you decide to do for yourself in your free time. Not for your job, not for your family, not to make money. There are really no rules here; it can be completely self-serving, or it could involve others. It can also seemingly have no purpose or be completely unrelated to your job/hobbies. That's great!
Why Do a Personal Project?
Starting a personal project can offer benefits you might never have imagined. (You'll connect the dots looking backwards.) At the very least, it will shift your attention to something new, shaking up your routine.
Depending on the type of project, it might also spark self development, increase your creativity, help you gain a habit, allow you to relax, introduce you to new people, slow you down, teach you a new skill, improve your happiness, give you a fresh answer to "What's new?," and/or much more.
Designing Your Personal Project
To get there, you'll need to hit pause and set aside some time from your routine to create your project idea, then assign it to yourself.
Here are some questions that will get the gears moving:
- What's something I want to learn more about?
- What's an interest/curiosity I have?
- What's a skill I'd like to gain?
- What do I enjoy doing in my spare time?
- What did I like to do as a kid?
- What impact do I want to create?
- How do I want to feel?
- What do I need to illuminate in my life? (Gratitude? Nature? Creativity? Family/Relationships? Whole foods? Doodling? Joy? Movement? etc.)
Your project idea could come from just one of the above questions, or perhaps it'll combine your answers from a couple of questions. (You don't need to answer them all.)
If you've never seen your project idea anywhere else before, all the better! Enjoy combining your unique interests and curiosities into your own one-of-a kind project. On the other hand, if you see a project below that really calls to you—go ahead and do it! You make all the rules.
Encouragement as You Start Your Project
I’m all for sharing your work — especially the process and behind-the-scenes — but please don’t let the idea of sharing hinder you from starting. Do what feels right, and do it for you.
Your project doesn’t need a catchy name nor a website. It doesn’t need an audience either. It simply needs you to bring it to life. Enjoy the process — the doing, the being — and savor the slow uncovering that will happen over time!
And now, here's a collection of projects and challenges that have been done by people like you:
40 Days of Moments
In 2017, sketch artist Candace Rose Rardon challenged herself to give up her camera for Lent, and instead to sketch a moment each day for the 40 days.
52 Cups of Coffee
Megan Gebhart had a cup of coffee with a different person every week for a year, to learn about life and careers.
100 Portraits Project
I'm painting 100 watercolor portraits, an endeavor I began in August of 2017.
1,000 Origami Cranes for 1,000 Strangers
Mariëlle from Magical Daydream spent a year folding 1,000 origami cranes, and then gave them away to strangers.
Baking Sourdough Bread
Mathias Jakobsen has baked over 500 loaves of sourdough bread as of March, 2017.
Book Loving Girls
Mario Pires takes portraits of women with their favorite books.
Daily Drop Cap
In 2009, letterer Jessica Hische began designing a letter a day—until she had designed 12 full alphabets.
Daily Purchase Drawings
For eight years, illustrator & educator Kate Bingman-burt drew something that she purchased every day.
Drawn Your Tweet
Scott Weston creates unique drawings of other people's tweets and shares them on Twitter.
Fast Food Origami
Among many other art projects, Matt Maldre folds origami out of fast food bags to slow down, enjoy the moment, and create an interesting piece of art for someone else to discover.
Elin Lööw faced her creative fears during 2016, writing monthly reports to publicly track her progress.
Game On! 2017
Susan Bennett played and reviewed a game each week of 2017, to experiment with gaming, writing, and year-long commitments.
One Stranger Every Day
Steinar Skipsnes met one stranger every day in 2016, to get out of his comfort zone and just see what would happen.
Hedvig Astrom Kushner experimented to answer the question: Is it possible to make a tasty smoothie in any Pantone color?
Each month Derrick Kwa interviews someone who has taken steps towards following their passions.
Kristin Cook's Photo-a-Day Project takes place each January, when she takes a photo of her children every day during the month.
Eva Liparova co-wrote a book with strangers on a plane by passing around a notebook which asked passengers to share their stories.
In six months of Postcrossing, Leah has sent 80 postcards to 25+ different countries, and has received 64 postcards from all around the globe.
Post for the Parks
Sarah Coyne made a watercolor painting of a U.S. National Park every week in 2015, and mailed each to its respective park.
Rebecca Rebouché 1989
Rebecca Rebouché made a painting for each of the 13 songs on Taylor Swift's album "1989."
Sandwich Bag Art
David Laferriere draws on his kids' sandwich bags every day.
Starting spontaneously on a flight in March 2010, Nina Katchadourian makes collections of photographs, video, and sound works on flights, using only a camera phone and materials close at hand.
Snail Mail is a monthly newsletter by kyra maya phillips and Nico Luchsinger which recommends content that has had a lasting impact, and is at least a year old.
Someone You Love
Matt Adams created this three-part video/photo series to engage New Yorkers in positive activities.
Stamp Out Hate
Started by Donovan from the Letter Writers Alliance, this project is all about sending messages of support to those who need it most.
The Egg Suite
Luke Thering composed five movements for piano that explore “the culinary versatility of the humble egg.”
The Yellow Envelope Project
Kim Dinan mails a yellow envelope to anyone who requests one, so they may use it as a vehicle of kindness.
More Sources of Personal Project Inspiration
- 7 beautiful, meaningful writing projects that you can finish in a single day. Alexandra Franzen
- 5 types of personal projects and how you can justify pursuing them. 99u
- Epic List of Side Project Ideas for Programmers. LivingLifeRichly.com
- How to Pay Attention. Rob Walker
- Middle Years Personal Project. Walden School of Liberal Arts
- Passion Stories. The Passion Co.
- The /r/SideProject subreddit. Reddit
180 Websites in 180 Days
In 2013, Jennifer Dewalt challenged herself to build a website every day for 180 days, while she learned to code.
A Year of Reading the World
Ann Morgan challenged herself to read a book from all 196 countries in the world during 2012.
Blogging from A to Z Challenge
Can you blog every day except Sundays during the month of April, and write thematically from A to Z? [Thanks to Eva at Mail Adventures for sharing this one via her A to Z challenge.]
Colour Collective is a weekly Twitter challenge where you make something based on a single color prompt.
My friend Liz Pelton and her mother are currently memorizing the capitals of all the countries in the world.
Led by Candace Rose Rardon, Moment Sketchers is a global sketching challenge where participants sketch from anywhere in the world on the first weekend of each month.
National Novel Writing Month
The NaNoWriMo challenge takes place during November, where the goal is to write a 50,000-word novel by November 30.
This no-spend challenge involves not purchasing anything beyond essentials during the shortest month of the year, to save more.
This is a sketching challenge to draw 100 people in one week, any way you want. Proposed by Marc Taro Holmes, the goal is practice not perfection.
Courtney Carver’s minimalist fashion challenge involves dressing with 33 items or less for three months.
In 2015 Anna Quinlan competed in one race per month, and reflects on the challenge here.
Many challenges come in increments of 30 or 100 days, such as these:
- 30-Day Fitness Challenges
- 30-Day Kindness Challenge. Shaunti Feldhahn
- 30-Day Minimalism Game. The Minimalists
- 30 Days of Sucking. Violeta Nedkova
- 30-Day Zero Waste Challenge. Kathryn Kellogg
elle luna and The Great Discontent invite you to participate in one hundred days of making. Here’s everything you need to know about the challenge, and here’s a list of completed projects for ideas/inspiration.
- 100 Days of Real Food
Lisa Leake and her family went 100 days eating only real food in 2010. Start with her 10 Days of Real Food pledge to test the waters!
- 100 Days of Rejection
In 2012, Jia Jiang began a personal challenge of getting rejected every day for 100 days straight.
- 100 Days Without Fear
Michelle Poler faced her fears one by one in 2014, and now empowers others to step out of their comfort zones.
More Sources of Challenge Inspiration
- 15 Unique 30 Day Challenges Guaranteed to Make You a Better You. Forbes
- 12 Life-Changing Challenges You Can Try as 30-Day Projects. MUO
- The Big List of Daily, Monthly, and Yearly Challenges. DayZero
I truly hope these projects and challenges have sparked some ideas or gotten the wheels turning. This collection is intended to be freeing and approachable, so remember your challenge or project can look however you want! The world is your playground.
And a final reminder: You don’t need a catchy name or a polished idea, and you don’t need to be witnessed. You just need to start. Now get out there and play!
If this inspires you to start a personal project, I’d love to hear about it and cheer you on. :)
Also, if you know of any other personal projects or challenges (yours included!), please let me know and I'll add it to the list. My hope is that this collection can continue to grow into an even more valuable resource with time. Thank you!