Whenever I get a bit of free time, I start to wonder what I can do with it. Should I work on some code? Write a blog post? Draw something? Fix something around the house? The worst thing that can happen is that I'll end a weekend or holiday feeling it was wasted no matter what I do, and I guilt myself for days for my supposed laziness.
I've written about organizing my weekend time before; organizing your off time for projects can work, but it's an incomplete method. It does nothing to help you decide what to work on. As I've gotten older and diversified my skills, the list of potential projects has grown so much as to become overwhelming. Even if I have a craving to work on this project or that, following one's passions isn't always a formula for feeling successful. In my experience, passion alone can get you 40% of the way there on a project, but rarely to completion. As such, it's easy to become discouraged and never return to a project after you started. My house is littered with half-finished projects as a result. It's difficult not to look around and feel they're all failures for the simple fact that they weren't completed. The biggest challenge I now I have with my free time isn't, "What should I do with it?" but "How do I keep it feeling valuable?"
I eventually settled on three criteria, which I call the "HAC Metric".
The first step in measuring a task according to the HAC Metric is, "Is this something I can handle?" It's easy to immediately go, "Sure! I can give it a try!" but that's not the point of this question. This isn't about if it's possible, is if you as a human being are in a position to approach the task. It's easy to think you'll be healthier, more rested, or more focused in the future. Or, barring that, you'll gain more momentum as you start to work on your project. Sometimes that can work, but that sort of unwavering optimism can be a trap. You can burn yourself out, or take no enjoyment from what you're working on.
In addition to making a nice acronym, there's another reason I put this first. It's far, far too easy for me to discount the human part of approaching any project. My natural inclination is to think of what can be done, and less if it's a good idea for my mental or physical health.
Once you have accounted for your own state and ability to work on a project, the next question to ask is, "Can I start on this immediately?" Often, a project will require additional material or information prior to starting work. Sometimes the requirements are trivial and can be performed as part of the time you have available. You might begin your project time with a trip to the hardware or craft store. It's important to note, however, that this can take up time surprisingly quickly. You might be better off ordering some materials ahead of time, or visiting the store on the way home from work instead of waiting until Saturday morning.
Making your project actionable for the time you have available above all else requires some planning. It doesn't have to be an extensive waterfall process with well defined milestones. It can be just thinking through what you need to have available.
This part of the metric is if your project -- or part of a larger project -- can be completed in the time available. This part of the metric is a bit squishier than the others. Often it takes the form of "If we get this far, we'll be doing pretty good!" I tend to feel much better about the time I invest in a project if I define a point of success ahead of time. It's important that point is not so ambitious that it wouldn't be able to be completed without a huge amount of effort. This may mean you need to scale back your expectations, breaking up your project into a series of smaller more approachable tasks.
Breaking up a project into several smaller pieces isn't a failure, it's an acknowledgment of your limitations as a human being. Not everyone can be a weekend warrior all the time, powering through project after project between weekends and time on the job. You need rest and downtime. Sometimes you need to go play games or watch a movie. Sometimes you need to go see friends or be with family. You need to make sure that not only is your project completable, but that it doesn't come at the detriment of human upkeep.
I've only just started measuring my project time against this metric. In the last two weeks, it's helped me scale my expectations against not only my time available, but against my available energy and facility. Hopefully it'll be useful for you as well.
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