I’ve decided to construct a life-size replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza using only Styrofoam cups and Elmer’s Glue. The fumes from the Elmer’s will fuel my strange ambition and the cups will be my portable latrines. Will I ever finish the Great Styrofoam and Elmer Pyramid of the Bronx? Inevitably no, but I will inadvertently finish the myriad other more manageable tasks I haven’t had the patience or the verve to get around to.
And that’s the point.
If you’re still stuck on the image of latrines and foam cups with weirdly-hued liquids bubbling inside, get your head out of the toilet. The crux of the matter is that committing to an ambitious personal project is an effective gateway drug to doing the smaller stuff you’re setting aside now.
Ever noticed what you do when you’re on a productive roll? There’s a snowball effect. All of a sudden, you want to do the stuff you’ve been neglecting; you feel like you can get everything done in one sitting.
Unfortunately, this sort of productivity binge is a rare beast.
How do you awaken the beast more often? You poke it.
In more boring words, you instigate incentive by getting your brain on a more productive wavelength.
Once you start a task, it’s hard for your brain not to pester you to finish it. This is called the Zeigarnik Effect.
First thing’s first: set yourself up with a personal project. Here are your guidelines:
1) It has to be fun.
2) It has to be creative.
3) It has to be ambitious.
4) Great Styrofoam and Elmer’s Glue Pyramid of the Bronx is taken, sorry.
5) It has to constantly rely on your cerebral musings… so watching movies, eating, cooking, traveling, dancing and other activities where you can partially or fully turn off your brain, or fall into a routine (basically anything you’d do to distract yourself from your mission-critical tasks) are no-go. SORRY.
- Start a Word document journal. (Don’t even think about using a pen unless you’re going to transcribe it via keyboard later—e-journals are infinitely more reliable since you can search specific keywords [and start to see disturbing patterns], and it’s much easier to publish your lurid memoirs if you don’t have to use an Egyptologist to identify your chicken-scratch glyphs.)
- Make an animated music video (AMV), live-action music video, video blog, short film, etc.
- If you can’t draw a stick figure for your life, paint something abstract. MOMA is great for inspiration.
- Learn HTML and CSS and create a kickass personal website. Use this to market yourself.
- Emulate your favorite author’s style and write a short story in their voice.
- Notice how you can easily use any of these accomplishments in a resume, portfolio or cover letter? Yep, that’s what you’re aiming for. Something that can potentially get you moolah in the future and improve your creative noggin.
Here’s what will happen: your brain will start to anticipate and get excited for the personal project you’re undertaking; you’ll get into the groove of doing, not worrying yourself into depression; a downhill-snowball effect will occur where you’re gaining momentum and stagnancy equals death; you will look to other places to be productive, i.e. the shit you actually gotta do; you will feel accomplished and have personal reference experience (aka accomplishments you can stroke your ego with) that will push you even further; you will become president on the universe.
What are you waiting for? Get your personal project started NOW.
Aleksandr Smechov, Baruch College.
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