20% Projects

idea, empty, paper

Second Learning Club discussion was around 20% projects.

What are 20% projects? Why do them? How to do them right?

What we did

Read a bunch of blogs around 20% projects

  1. The Radical Notion of Not Letting Work Define You
  2. 7 Reasons To Treat Your Career as an Experiment
  3. 20% projects – What they are and their history
  4. The power of side projects
  5. Make Your Side Projects Wildly Successful: Treat Them Like Experiments
  6. What makes a good side project
  7. Some 20% project ideas
  8. How to do good side projects

Reflect on our own history of doing 20% projects – This questionnaire was the guiding material there. And then meet at Sunday 11 AM in the telegram group to discuss the questionnaire and discuss each topic for 5 minutes

What are 20% projects?

20% projects were initially an initiative of Google where they encouraged their employees to spend 20% of their time working on any project that made them curious. (Other than their day job). This meant that they could collaborate with other departments to form project teams and build things.

Interestingly, some of Google’s best products were born out of this initiative – Gmail, Adsense, Google news and so on.

But for us as individuals, a 20% project would mean something we are curious about that we work on over a weekend.

We typically work for 5 days a week and 5/7 = 80%
We have full control over how we spend our weekends. Which is 2/7 = 20%

Why do 20% projects?

  1. To feel good about oneself! (For the small rewards/recognition)
  2. To pursue your interests and curiosities (or to not get bored!)
  3. To build an alternative career path
  4. To test out various career options before diving into it
  5. To build an alternate money source
  6. To feel a sense of control and ownership – In your day job, you may not have a say in things, but a project of yours is where it is all yours.
  7. To sharpen your project management, leadership and other skills.
  8. Just for the heck of fun! Cus why not!

I get to decide who I am and how I present to the world, and I can reveal my identities in whichever way I choose. It’s true, I am what I do, and that has nothing to do with how I pay the rent.

Molly Conway

Mindset for a 20% project

  1. I’m going to do a project to keep my skills and other senses sharpened. But more importantly, it is to feed my curiosity.
  2. I know that this is just an experiment. That the results could be fantastic or pathetic! And I’m curious about figuring this out.
  3. I know that I have to work with a smaller boundary – while everything might seem interesting, i know that I must start small.
  4. I know that I make the rules here and so it may be hard for me to stick to them, but I must try and honour myself.
  5. I know that it is okay to collaborate with others for a project.
  6. I know that if somewhere in between I lose interest, I have the option to quit it. There’s no compulsion on me to finish it, but it will be good to finish what I started

How to do a 20% project?

  1. Pick any area you are curious about (Eg: Writing)
  2. Set a defined boundary – Reduce the scope of your problem and pick a small area to work on for starters (Eg: Weekly blogs about my life? Blogs on finding a job or a specific topic etc)
  3. Set some goals – (one goal/ week)
  4. Plan and set things up – Think about all that you would need for this and prepare your playground
    1. Need a teammate?
    2. Get your blog up and running etc
  5. Do the project bit by bit on the weekends – It’s important that you set off some specific time to pursue this
  6. Measure your results and outcomes as you would measure any other project
  7. Finish the project and then iterate or decide to build on top of this project to build something bigger

My personal 20% projects

I primarily pursue my curiosities and interests as 20% projects. I think my biggest win so far has been able to build meaningful professional relationships via my side hustles. I found several colleagues, mentors and even jobs through some of these.

I was referred for a role with Google because of my contributions to the Google Women Techmakers Community that I ran.

List of my 20% projects