I think most of us can agree that it can be difficult to break new ground when submersed in a day-to-day work routine. Tasks have to be completed and often those tasks follow certain time-tested procedures to complete them. This makes for great efficiency and productivity, but it can make it challenging to push the boundaries and explore new things. One great (and low risk) way to practice a new skill or explore a new idea is to give yourself a self-initiated assignment.

Recently, San Francisco designer Alex Cornell posted his reflection on a personal assignment in which he created a series of YouTube videos. He had been creating videos of his music for quite some time, but wanted to introduce new graphics and a fun storyline to go with them. He recognizes the pitfalls of the project, including confusing some of his viewers and struggling with the time commitment, but he was able to immerse himself in a project that was totally his own and that was personally satisfying to him.

I think one of the most interesting ways to start a personal assignment is to establish some restrictions that will keep it small and manageable. For example, next time you have to make a PowerPoint presentation, try keeping every slide to 2 sentences or maybe use one large photograph per slide. If you are interested in photography, shoot only in black and white (on your digital camera!), only take photos of animals, or shoot only things with straight lines for one day. Writers might pick one object on their desk every day and write a poem about it or maybe write a review of a new gadget you just got. Perhaps all of your dinners for the week contain broccoli or have all raw ingredients (think Iron Chef here). There are endless possibilities! Whatever the restriction, stick to it and see what interesting results come of it. Don’t be afraid of “failure” since you have nothing to lose!

Journals or blogs are great ways of documenting personal assignments and even if you never share it with anyone, you might find that some of your experimenting will find it’s way into your professional work and add new life to whatever you’re working on. Have a personal project or idea to share? Tell us about it in the comments below!


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David Gnojek

I'm the art director/designer for the KU Center for Research on Learning. I also enjoy photography and music.