Why I don’t recommend starting a 365 project

Most creatives tend to thrive on challenge, and so 365 projects come off as very appealing. At first glance it seems as though it’ll solve all of our problems: we’ll be creating something every day, we’ll be sharing it with an audience, that audience will grow, and our skills will also grow. When we look at other people who have also embarked on this journey all we get to see is the surface. We become jealous of others because on the surface we see this large body of work compared to our own. These kinds of projects are like a mirage, from a distance it’s exactly what we need, but as we invest in it we realize how deceiving it was from afar. Here is why I discourage most people from making a commitment to 365 projects:

Quantity over quality mindset

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of displaying more of your work; however, making a commitment to post every day immediately puts you in the mindset of quantity over quality. Being held accountable will help you show up every day and become more disciplined, but that accountability can’t guarantee you quality work nor growth.

Not an effective means of building a portfolio

Social media can now serve as another way of displaying your work similar to a portfolio—for some it is a portfolio—but most people who look at 365 projects see it as a way to quickly build up a body of work. Although this approach may be quick, it isn’t effective. Portfolios are meant to be a careful curation of your work that displays your skills and experience; not a collection of forceful daily pieces, which leads to the next point.

Lack of thought and development

Having to complete a piece of work each day puts you in the position to start and finish something in one day. Meaning the entire creative process is either forcefully condensed or parts of it are being sacrificed. Graham Wallas simplifies the creative process into 4 stages:

  1. Preparation
    • Preliminary work: defining the problem, gathering information, and early sketching
  2. Incubation
    • Taking a break: a period in which no direct effort is being exerted during which you involuntarily address the problem or project
  3. Illumination
    • Connecting the dots: insight as a result of the preparation and incubation stages described as a sudden flash and formation of ideas
  4. Verification
    • Finalization: the effort of conscious work where everything comes together and you bring your idea(s) through to fruition

These four stages don’t follow a strict linear pattern, but rather as we create we constantly cycle through them as we approach a solution. The case of having to create a piece of work every day forces you to overlook stages, which may lead to underdeveloped, generic work.

Visit brainpickings.org to read more about Graham Wallas four stages of creativity.

The work isn’t microwaveable

Whether conscious of it or not, 365 projects tend to serve as a cheap attempt to quickly produce work, but the reality is, the work isn’t microwavable. Forcefully creating finished work each day doesn’t put you in a position to rapidly growth. Instead, the unnatural state of condensing the design process actually strains your creativity and can stunt your growth. Problem-solving and experimentation eventually get thrown out the window when you’re scrambling just to show up.

Failing to show up/Deciding it’s no longer worth it

It is so easy to fall off the deep end with these kinds of projects. When you miss a single day you then have to create an excuse for yourself and make up for that day. Any time you slip you become vulnerable, and loose reliability. Posting every day is a daunting task, and understand that people will hold you to that because you’re setting that expectation.

Now ask yourself, do you want to be in that position, and is it really worth it?

I’ve given these types of projects a shot a few times, and failed each time because it was so easy to lose interest, and it felt like I was creating cheap work. Many friends of mine that I know personally, and others I know through social media have also given this a swing. Few have been successful in completing the journey, but most eventually give up. Many of those who decide to no longer pursue the project had reached a point of stagnation and so to further themselves it made sense to go in a different direction. When Winston Scully, letterer and designer, made the decision to stop posting every day he described it as a realignment rather than a cutback, which is wonderfully stated. Begin first with your values, and then determine a plan to display them.

Do something else
  • If you’re looking for accountability then I’d suggest connecting with people online and get on a healthy schedule of creating/sharing work. You can either make that schedule publicly known or have it known within a small community, that way you feel obligated to get work done without the unrealistic pressure of producing something each day.
  • My other suggestion is to invest yourself in side-projects that require critical thinking and development so you can actually showcase your skills while growing at the same time. Side projects challenge you to focus on the big picture because they’re typically constructed of various parts which need to be consistent and complementary.

Although some approach 365/daily projects as a means of practice, I still urge people to avoid them. When you find yourself in a pinch it’s typical to revert to your comfort zone where you’re no longer challenging yourself or learning new skills, and instead you’re just trying to get the work done on time. Rather than using these kinds of projects as an excuse to practice, be intentional and deliberately practice. If you’re striving to better yourself then first recognize that there are no shortcuts, and if you are serious about learning and growing then you’ll put the work in to get there. If you really care about what you do then you don’t need a 365 project to hold you accountable because you’ll find the intrinsic value in showing up every day and being intentional with how you work.

Let me know what you think

What are your thoughts on 365/daily projects? Send me an email to let me know if you agree or disagree, and if you want to share any successful projects then I encourage you to do so!