Time, Freedom and Projects

Yesterday, I gave at small talk at a Barcamp organized by my good friends at Opensoft. You can find the text version below:

I started thinking frequently about the concept of freedom when I finished university and started working.

Suddenly I was done with most of the things that my parents expect me to do, I had the rest of my life in front of me, and I could do with it whatever I wished. I started to notice though, how easy it is to get our week sucked into the vortex that is our work related lives – I mean, a month goes by and then you realize that all you did was go to work for 5 days of the week and during the following 2 days, all you do is sleep and prepare for the upcoming 5 work days.

So you ever feel like you’re just a sun-triggered cron job?

— Ian Hansen (@supershabam) April 12,

There is a scene in this movie I recently watched – “While We’re Young” – were a married couple is discussing how the fact that they passed on the opportunity to have kids enables them to keep their freedom. They continue by acknowledging that without children they could hop on a plane to Paris tomorrow. Well, not actually tomorrow, they realize, because of work and commitments, but possibly next month. At the end one of them summaries it with the line

We have the freedom, what we do with it isn’t the point.

Suddenly I realized that freedom is not only about having the ability to use your time as you wish, but about being committed about it and not allowing it to slip through your hands on things that you don’t care about.

When I realized this particularity about freedom I started doing side projects. I always had these ideas laying around in my grey matter but I was postponing them – “One day I will do that” was a common thought. And to be honest I had very little excuses to not execute any of those ideas at this point in my life – I had the money, the time and interest in developing. Additionally, I had all these role models – Internet VIPs known through Twitter – that had side projects and I wanted to be like them in a way.

So the Pandora box opened and ~1.5 years later I’ve been involved in a couple of projects. The most visible projects I’ve been involved with are:

  • Ambrosio – a restaurant recommendation site were we post our favorite places to eat in Lisbon, every week.
  • Good Fucking Austerity Advice (a.k.a. GFAA) – The whole European economic crisis pisses me off big time, and this is kind of a manifestation of that through sarcasm.
  • Meio Por Cento – a site that helps people find NGOs that are eligible to receive 0.5% of the income tax collected by the state.

All these projects have been valuable learning experiences on many levels, and probably I could spend a whole day talking about it. For the sake of brevity, I will just mention a couple of things I learned:

  • It is really easy to create something today even if you are not a programmer, mostly due the platforms and tools available on the Internet. We live in a period where the possibilities are endless and in many cases the only obstacle to creation is ourselves;
  • The easiest way to create more is to just keep a routine. I think that the biggest reason that Ambrosio is still alive is the fact that we have a weekly deadline that forces us to keep working every week. Also, the periods in which I’m more productive project wise are when I set myself a goal of working on projects everyday (even if just for 1h).
  • You don’t need a long period of planning to get stuff done – actually often it is an excuse not to do anything. GFAA as well as Meio Por Cento were relatively spontaneous and did not take much time to build. I think what we got right is that we nailed the core of the idea very early and then we just had to build it.
  • There is an author that says that “he writes books for nobody to read” as in he would write books even if he didn’t have an audience. Writing books is that important to him, and I feel in a similar way about projects. GFAA is probably the project that was the least popular, yet it was one that gave me a lot of satisfaction – I’m not chasing popularity.

Working on these projects works a bit like therapy for me. Essentially they are a way to to funnel my creativity. I don’t know how to sing, or how to play instruments, but this is my art, this is my medium, this is my way to express my opinions and emotions. And with every new project I learn a bit, I get faster at shipping things and I get even more ideas that lead to new projects – a bit like a snowball getting bigger and bigger.

With time, I started to realize that even though I like projects, they are just a tool, a tool that helps me make the most of my time by spending it doing things I care about. But there are also other things I care about: dancing, snowboarding, reading books, writing. Doing side projects helped me realize the need to make more time for these things as well.

Time is precious, time is freedom and I hope to grab it with everything I’ve got