Say there are four types of projects you can work on in your life:
Long-term full-time projects are rare. Unless you live a very strange life, you’ll only ever experience a few Long-term full-time projects. Because of their importance, we tend to have societal structures and rituals surrounding long-term full-time projects.
Becoming a parent is a long-term full-time project. Adopting a new religion is a long-term full-time project. Getting married is (hopefully) a long-term full-time project.
It’s long-term because you’re going to do it for the rest of your life. It’s full-time because it becomes part of who you are.
It is not the goal to complete a long-term full-time project — the goal is to keep the project going for as long as possible. Long-term full-time projects are those that are started with no expectation of finishing.
Short-term full-time projects are the next type of project. Besides long-term full-time projects, short-term full-time projects are the most time-consuming of the bunch. These projects are what we typically think of as “work”.
If you’re a salaried employee, your job is a short-term full-time project. Moving to a new city is a short-term full-time project. Owning a dog is a short-term full-time project. Attending college is a short-term full-time project.
It’s short-term because the project will eventually come to an end. It’s full-time because while it’s going on it will take up most of your attention.
Short-term full-time projects are long. Looking back, you can identify the phases of your life by which short-term full-time project you were working on at the time. Although they seem permanent in the moment, short-term full-time projects create a patchwork of related stories that describe your life.
Long-term part-time projects are sometimes called “hobbies”. Unlike short-term full-time projects, they are not your primary focus at any given time. Long-term part-time projects are where social events and friendships tend to happen.
Your lifelong passion for reading is a long-term part-time project. Your garden is a long-term part-time project. Your natural talent for painting is a long-term part-time project.
It’s long-term because it expands to fill the available time in your life. It’s part-time because it’s never your top priority.
Long-term part-time projects are important to maintain a sense of self. They give your life texture and help differentiate your identity from others who have similar short-term full-time projects. Successful long-term part-time projects have a natural resonance with your unique skills. They require a consistent level of attention to blossom.
Short-term part-time projects are the last type of project. They are the most common and also usually the shortest in duration. Short-term part-time projects are high variance.
The guitar you bought but didn’t consistently practice is a short-term part-time project. The language that you never quite mastered is a short-term part-time project. The diet that doesn’t end up sticking is a short-term part-time project.
It’s short-term because it begins and ends. It’s part-time because it’s not consistent.
Short-term part-time projects exist on the fringes of our attention. They are where long-term part-time projects go when neglected. They can also be the source of new projects if you take care to nurture them.
Your new hobby started as a short-term part-time project. That genre of book you love was once a short-term part-time project. Unless it was love at first sight, your significant other may have drifted in through the short-term part-time periphery.
Paying close attention to short-term part-time projects can be beneficial. Keeping too many around can sap your energy and not leave room for new growth. Short-term part-time projects are powerful when managed well.
Together, these four types of projects describe all of the ways that we can spend our time. Many common expressions can be rephrased in terms of this framing:
- Being “stuck in a rut” means it’s time for a short-term full-time project to come to an end.
- “Taking the leap” is another way of saying that you’re planning to move a project up a level (e.g. from short-term full-time to long-term full-time).
- “Getting rusty” means that a project has fallen from long-term part-time to short-term part-time.
- When you’re “obsessed” with a new thing it’s usually because a short-term part-time project is becoming a long-term part-time project.
- A “tragedy” is when a long-term full-time project unexpectedly becomes a short-term full-time project.
It’s natural for projects to change types. What causes stress is not recognizing that the change is happening.