Many designers, both early and far into their career, do daily challenges. Most notably the “poster a day” projects and “daily UX challenge.” These exercises have become so popular that some, naturally, have begun to criticize it for a number of stupid reasons.
I see many benefits in daily challenges, some of which are establishing routine, refining skills, learning to produce faster and more efficiently and of course, providing a creative outlet. But the one downside is the pressure of committing to finish something daily. If you miss one day, you feel like a failure, and the fear of failing discourages many of us from starting in the first place. That’s why I suggest taking a slightly different approach.
Instead of committing to finish something every day, commit to starting it.
Knowing you don’t have to finish anything removes the pressure and allows you to create freely. You only have to begin. That could mean you brainstorm themes or gather inspiration. It could mean you set up the structure or sketch a first draft. It could mean 5 minutes of work or 40 minutes. You still have to commit to something every day, but you are only committing to put pencil to paper and make some sort of start. That’s it.
The beauty of this approach is that once you begin, you likely won’t stop at just a few paint strokes or pixels. Once you get past the hurdle of beginning and into create mode, you will almost always go a little further. You might even finish, but you don’t have to. And ideas come easier because they don't have to be award-winning or life-changing. If they're not, you will always have a fresh start tomorrow. So go ahead and waste your ideas. You don’t have to know where this will go or if it will work. That’s for another day.
On that future day, you will already have a base to work from. It’s much easier to create once you have a starting point. But even if you do finish a project you started before, you will still begin a new one. Every day. Just a beginning.
I recently read an article in which the author describes how she achieved a goal of doing 1,000 push-ups a day. She had a similar approach which she called her “minimum commitment.” She knew she wanted to work out every day, but she was also aware life gets in the way. So she told herself that, at a minimum, she needed to do one push-up a day.
"I started by reframing my minimum commitment as something that could give me a consistent sense of competence," she writes. "All I had to do every day was one push-up, one bodyweight squat, and one crunch in 30 seconds. (This almost always led to doing more.)"
By changing the way she thought about her exercise routine, she set a goal she could actually achieve. And that led to her eventually completing her goal of 1,000 push-ups.
I don’t even recommend setting a minimum time or progress to your daily challenge. If you have some integrity about your work, your conscience won’t let you just drop a line on a page and call that “starting.” Setting a minimum can create the same anxiety as committing to finish. You only have to start.
With side projects especially, you don’t even have to know where to start. You can begin anywhere. But this can apply to work projects as well. We often put off ideas or tasks on our to-do list because we feel we “don’t know where to begin.” The truth is that there is always a step you can take, no matter how clueless you may feel. Once you start, even by doing something as simple as research, the block is lifted and you can more easily move forward. We all know those tasks we procrastinated on for days, only to finally begin and realize it was much easier than we imagined. Just take the first step and see what happens. It’s better than doing nothing at all.
At the end of this experiment, you may have dozens of starts filed away. This is a goldmine of potential that can fuel your creative work. Maybe you’ll actually finish those beginnings. Or maybe you won’t. In any case, you’ll start something new tomorrow.