How to make the most of unchallenging projects

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There comes a time in every designer’s life when they have to muddle through a boring project. One that promises no novelty, is predictable in terms of process and outcome and, at least at first sight, seems to offer little creative opportunities. As uninspiring as this may be, it’s not without its advantages. As psychologist Angela Duckworth argues in her book Grit , real mastery is achieved by those who are capable of constantly finding ways to create challenges and upgrade their skills even in familiar and routine situations. 

Here are some of the strategies I’ve tried when faced with a less-than-exciting project and hope that these could work for you too: 

1. Focus on the process

If the content doesn’t require your full attention, use this as an opportunity to optimize and streamline the way you normally approach certain tasks. You can then transfer your improved process to future projects and increase your efficiency.

2. Compete with yourself

Set a personal challenge and try to outperform yourself. For example: make an estimation of the time it normally takes you to complete a similar project and try to do it in, say 10 or 20% less. This is a strategy proposed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, where he examines the state of genuine and conscious involvement with our experiences and the ways towards achieving this. 

3. Go an extra mile

No matter how dull the project, you can still find something that you can make a little more sophisticated or polished than required, if you try and look hard enough. Sometimes looking for this one thing can be a challenge itself. So, go find it and put some bells on it.

4. Experiment

Unless you are under a time crunch, you can easily turn an unchallenging project into your playground. These projects are often low-stakes ones, so there’s not much that can go wrong. If this is the case, knock yourself out and try something new – use software you’re not too comfortable with, try out that color palette that’s always seemed a little risky – whatever feels exciting to you. 

If this sounds like too much effort and you just want to get it over with and move on, that’s also fine. Put on a podcast and switch to autopilot mode. 

Below are a few suggestions to keep you inspired until you can get your hands on something that you’re genuinely enthusiastic about, and possibly learn something new: 

Whichever way you choose to approach an unchallenging project, be sure to make the most of your time and energy. With the right attitude, you can easily turn a dull assignment into a learning opportunity and come out of it vitalized  and evolved instead of bored and drained.