Nobody likes turning down work - especially at the moment with things feeling even more uncertain, yet after a run of working on projects we might not feel are entirely suited to the sort of work we ‘want to be doing’, it’s quite natural to feel downhearted or frustrated that you’re not doing the best work of your career, or just taking projects because they pay the bills.
However, all of the work we do quite often has multiple forms of value - and trying to identify what type of value each project we work on, can help you shift your perspective on what the project is offering you. I tend to score projects on the different types of ‘value’ they offer me, so I can take a view on how it’s adding to my career and portfolio.
Commercial - I’d hope that all of your work pays you, but even if a project isn’t the most creatively satisfying or rewarding, having a solid paycheque at the end of a piece of work is not a bad thing, especially whilst we’re in uncertain times. I know I need to balance work which pays well with work that pays little (there’s plenty of work I do that is a loss-making exercise, so I recognise I have to take other projects to offset that).
Creative - some projects offer you the opportunity to really stretch your mind and do something quite different. Depending on your role, that opportunity to be creative might be doing something you’ve never tried before, it might be finding a solution to the problem using a completely new approach, or it could be the core of the task itself. I know that not every project I work on will give me the chance to be creative - some are more process led, some are more strategic or operational, some are just boring because I’ve done it a dozen times before.
Learning - some projects offer the opportunity to do work you’ve never done before, or put you in a situation where you have to quickly figure out something new, or give you the chance to focus on a particular aspect of the work where you want to develop stronger skills. For instance, I know that some projects where the deliverable might be really simple but the context is new, so I focus on learning about a new sector or audience. Some projects also have longer timescales which affords me to try out a new approach or take the time to learn a new skill on the job.
Visibility - whilst no-one wants to get paid in exposure (just say no to free work!) there are definitely projects where you’ll benefit from working on a particular brand or your work will be seen by a new audience. Recognising that your work might be valuable to your ability to grow your client base in the future is worth remembering. I know that some projects don’t pay well, perhaps aren’t a challenging brief, but being able to say that I’ve worked with certain organisations is beneficial to me in many more ways.
Excitement - there are plenty of projects where you just know you want to work on something, and all of the other rational reasons not to do it go out of the window. I know there are projects which I just say yes to without considering pay or visibility, because perhaps I’m passionate about the cause or find it a fascinating challenge.
These are the “types” of value I look for, but you might have very different attributes - does it give you the opportunity to work in a new sector, or with someone you have always wanted to work with, does it give you the chance to take a break and just do something simple for a while, does it give you flexibility around your other needs as an individual, does it offer a chance to travel or spend time somewhere new?
Spending some time to identify the potential types of ‘value’ you can take from a project then allows you to reflect on each project once completed, or look back over the past few months, see the work you're holistically, and ask yourself whether there’s balance. Try mapping out on a piece of paper what type of value each project you’ve worked on offered you, and see if there’s too much of a focus on one type of value over another.
If all of the work you’re doing is only offering you commercial value, and you’re feeling like you aren’t working on enough creatively focused projects - this might prompt a change in what work you’re accepting, but if you realise that actually, 80% of the work is creatively fulfilling, and you’ve just had a recent run of ‘for the cash’ projects - it can feel a little less frustrating.
And even if the current circumstances mean you’re only doing work which sits in one type of value, understanding the other types of value you can take from projects helps you to design how you might work to dial up the other aspects. Can you make a commercially focused project more creative? Can you make a less exciting project more of a learning opportunity?
And of course, if you’re facing a project which isn’t paying, isn’t interesting, and isn’t an opportunity to learn - that’s possibly a useful filter to help prevent taking on the work at all.
By considering the value a project offers you, not just in the moment but over a longer period of time and over a different set of definitions of value, you’ll discover that even the projects where you feel like you’re not creating anything wonderful, might contain something special that’s really beneficial to you.
What are the types of value your projects offer you?