Google is famous for the “20% time”, where each engineering staff is expected to allot 20% of their work time to personal projects, which may or may not contribute to Google’s bottomline. The idea is simple: to foster a creative atmosphere where smart, intelligent people can thrive without the artificial shackles that come from being a public listed company. The effort is so far successful — many of Google’s coolest apps came from the ideas borne during the 20% time.
That’s why I believe you should spend a few hours a week on projects completely unrelated to your daily job. These projects should not be pursued only for monetary reason. Instead, you should do projects you enjoy, projects for which you can see yourself working for many years. Having side projects will add meaning to your life, and achieving your goal in the end will give you a sense of achievement you might never earn in your workplace.
Some of my friends opt for side businesses: selling cupcakes, doing design work, running a tuition center. I found that they are more interesting to talk to, compared to people whose life is just work, TV and sleep.
Me? I am already running a full time business, so the last thing I need is another side business to add to my headache. I prefer more intellectual activities to do in my spare time. Currently, I am working on:
1. Editing a volume of a series on mathematics.
Currently, I am working on Volume 1 in this series, and I am the sole author and editor. I was asked by my colleagues in Persatuan Sains Matematik Malaysia to write a math text since 2007, but I have been dragging my feet (I have a short attention span and cannot write long chapters in one sitting). I hope to get my first volume published in August 2009, and then I’m going to work on the next Volume which should come out early 2010.
Level of Activity: High, I am spending my nights doing typesetting work on LaTeX and drawing geometric diagrams on WinGCLC. Currently at 150 pages.
Pace: Fast, I wrote and edited the first 50 pages in one weekend.
2. Writing a book on the history of economic systems.
I am planning to write a readable account of history from the perspective of an economist, spanning the prehistoric era to the modern era. In particular, I plan to write about how economic systems evolve, and how capitalism has been the best economic system to create wealth and prosperity.
Level of Activity: Low. I am not an expert in this field, so I need to do a lot of reading and research. I have to keep up with daily news and analyses by real experts. Also, since this is agenda-driven, there is a possibility that I might change my mind in the future and discontinue this work (hopefully not). Nowadays people blame capitalism for the economic problem, so the thesis a tough sell, especially in a quasi-socialist country like Malaysia.
Pace: Snaillike. I am lucky if I can finish this in 10 years.
3. Writing a booklet on entrepreneurship.
This is a project currently in the backburner. The idea is to write a booklet and put it up online for free as public service. But it takes way too much time than I can afford to spend right now.
Level of Activity: Low to nonexisting.
Pace: One chapter per month, should be done by end of this year.
4. Writing a series of children math books
Last year, Pn. Ainon Mohd. @ Sifu, President of PTS Publications & Distributors SB, suggested that I write a series of fun expository books on mathematics, targeted for (in her own words) “budak-budak Melayu yang bodoh matematik disebabkan oleh faktor2 sekitaran yang tidak mendukung.” It’s a very nice project and I hope to get starting soon.
Level of Activity/Pace: Zero. Might be nonzero after August (maybe).
5. Recording an oral history of early Malaysia.
This is just an idea I floated around a few friends. So far responses have been positive. No activity yet.
Please share your personal projects in the comment below.