A year of failed projects

Ok, here it is. This is a condensed version of my Ignite Sydney presentation. A five minute presentation that I’m trying to rewrite as a two minute blog post. I’m not sure how well its going to translate, but I figure this works better than SlideShare, given that most of my slides had little or no words on them.

Firstly, I love making things. This is pretty much what I do for a living, make projects. And this takes up a fair whack of my time. In and out of what you would call standard office hours.

This is what my typical work day looks like.

This is what my typical work day looks like.

But I like to do other stuff too. As if work wasn’t enough, I like to find projects to work on.  This is a set of still frames from one such project, an animated short I made circa 2003:

Still frames from animated short “Taxi”

Still frames from animated short “Taxi”

Took me 14 months to finish, ran for 3.5 minutes. Its getting on a bit now, but if you’d like a look you can see it here.

So, back in January last year, I did a bit of goal setting for 2008. I wanted to make it a year of big projects. It was going to be huge.

Here’s what I decided I was going to do:

1) Write a short story for a week for the entire year.
2) Do some volunteer work.
3) Record some music and get airplay.
4) Participate in an art exhibition.
5) Work less.

Unfortunately, here’s what actually happened:

1) I created a blog called the 52nd Floor. My goal: 1 shot story posted a week.
Well, if you go there now, you’ll see that I haven’t even quite made it halfway. FAIL.

2) I signed up to do some volunteer work. Made it through six months of training and started doing shifts. Unfortunately the random timing of the shifts started intersecting neatly with the random timing of pitches, late meetings, emergency projects and basic workload. By the end of the year I had to quit. FAIL.

3) I was playing (more rehearsing, actually) in a band with a couple of mates. We’d spent the better part of two years looking for a singer. Well, while I was doing all this other stuff a singer found them. They went on to record and get airplay on FBI and Triple J. I saw them play the other night – they’re actually pretty awesome. Pricks.

No, I still haven’t recorded anything. *Ahem*. FAIL.

4) The whole art exhibition idea started with a few friends in a burst of drunken enthusiasm. This is the problem with alcohol-inspired projects – it can be tricky to keep the momentum going once everybody sobers up. Needless to say, this one hasn’t happened yet. FAIL.

5) And working less? I had a Big Theory about working less. It went something like this: Work keeps taking up big chunks of my spare time because I have lots of time spare. If I filled this spare time with lots of other things, I’ll just naturally end up working less. Like so:

The Theory

Working Less: The Theory

Makes sense, right?

Of course, what actually happened was more like this:


I started going a bit nuts. I was exhausted all the time. I was always sick, always stressed, always coming down with some kind of cold. And everything, even fun stuff, even just hanging out with mates, became another thing that had to be done, another thing to get out of the way.

So, what did I learn from 2008?

1. Free time is not disposable

We’re used to thinking of free time as being expendable on anything. It feels like “spare” time. It’s not. We need free time, time to ourselves, time that could be for anything, like we need oxygen.

2.Time is like soil for creativity – the thinner it is, the less things grow.

Your subconscious mind does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to creativity. It needs time to chew on the idea at hand. Give it too much to think about and you’ll spread this thinking time too thinly. End result: you don’t get much back.

3. Don’t turn something you love into a chore.

Its one thing to be committed to a project, its another to make yourself hate it. It’s a fine line, but the whole point is that you’re doing something you love. Don’t make yourself hate it. If you’re starting to veer down this path, then something has to change.

4. Perspective is a beautiful thing.

After a while I started to look at 2008 in a different light, and I was surprised to discover just how much I got out of the year.

I may not have finished the 52 stories on the blog, but I did manage to write about 20,000 of fiction, almost by accident. The first writing I’d done since high school. And the blog is still there, and still growing.

And the exhibition may not have happened, but I did actually start painting. First time I’d picked a paintbrush up in about twelve years. If it wasn’t for the exhibition, that never would have happened.

I met some amazing people doing the volunteer work, from all walks of life, all willing to give their time to other people. And it taught me that you can’t really help other people out if you don’t take care of yourself first.

Watching the band really showed me the power of being focussed, of what you can achieve if you put all your energy into one thing. Sometimes you have to make a choice – do I do a billion things, and get 10% done on all of them? Or do I hone in on something and put everything I’ve got into it?

I’m almost always in the billion things camp. But I’m working on that.

But the biggest thing I took away from 2008 was this simple thought:

Wasting time is a beautiful thing.


So if you want a goal, or a plan, or a resolution to stick to this year, give wasting more time a go. Make space for it. Waste time shamelessly, without thinking that you should be doing something else.

Trust me, it’s good for you.


10 Responses to “A year of failed projects”

  1. 1 mQuest February 9, 2009 at 8:42 am

    thanks for posting it like this, nice to waste another 5 all over again ;-))

  2. 2 Tiphereth February 9, 2009 at 8:58 am

    Hey it was a great presentation and you so deserved to win! But the delivery was at least half of it. So readers will just have to imagine the dry, self-deprecating humour as it was on the night. Seeing it here reminds me that I really want to see Taxi the short. Congrats on failing so wonderfully!

  3. 3 markpollard February 9, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Nice work, dude. Really enjoyed it.

  4. 4 Jess February 9, 2009 at 10:45 am

    I wish I had made it to Ignite – would have loved to see this in action. Nice to see it here thought, love the way you think

  5. 5 Jess February 9, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Though. Drat.

  6. 6 bboybri February 9, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    thoroughly agree with you – would’ve been awesome to see you give the presentation at ignite. i particularly liked the spare time diagram and the statement “…everything, even fun stuff, even just hanging out with mates, became another thing that had to be done, another thing to get out of the way.”

    we should catch-up 🙂

  7. 7 katie February 10, 2009 at 3:10 am

    I am an expert, if you need any coaching.

    First thing to do is QUIT !

    Time Wasting Consultant – K P Manekshaw

  8. 8 Kate B February 10, 2009 at 8:10 am

    This blog post is depressing, uplifting and totally hilarious.
    Good work. I enjoyed wasting my time on it thoroughly!

  9. 9 Dan February 15, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Really loved the presentation at Ignite. Beautifully presented and thought provoking.

  10. 10 John Haining August 24, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Just searched for this after remembering your Ignite Sydney presentation as I registered to attend Ignite Sydney 3.

    So glad you wrote the post. It is quite an insiring piece.

    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: