Which projects should I accept; which one should I decline? How should I spend my time? These are exactly the question I was asking myself a lot lately. In the past few weeks, I got more emails about potential project collaborations and requests for freelance work than ever. Great people came to me, offering to work with me on great projects and even give me money for it. It’s actually really not fun to reject these people (huuuge luxury first world problem, I’m aware of that and I’m grateful as crazy about my life and my career and everything is awesome, really). I had lots of FOMO and rethought everything twice. And I was forced to think of a decision model. I wanted categories in which I could first compare and then rank the potential jobs. I wanted to decide on categories to decide.

I found them! So what are the categories for deciding what to work on? For me, these three are most important, in their order of priority:

  1. Enthusiasm: Do I WANT to work on this project? When I’m thinking about sitting on this job in the next days / weeks / months / years, does it feels right? Will it be fun? Will I work on this project motivated? Is it a topic that’s close to my heart?

  2. Inner success: Will I be able to learn something when working on this project? Will I learn things that could help me in my future life / career, or do I need to learn things that are not on my priority list right now?

  3. Outer success: Will that project help me to get cool future jobs? Will it help me to gain access or recognition of a community I want to be closer to? Do I want to be related to this project and the client?

To a) give you an example and b) bring an image into this post, but especially to c) show my love for models, let me draw my current projects into an Inner Success - Outer Success - Enthusiasm - Matrix. The size of the circle represents my enthusiasm, NOT the time I’m working on these projects. (I’m currently really happy with ALL my projects, so even small circles mean I’m fairly enthusiastic.) Shaded circles represent projects I don’t get money for. BIG NOTE: This is my current state. The bubbles move in size and position constantly.


What can we see here? My projects span across the whole matrix. And that’s ok! Enthusiasm is key. Consider the Data Vis Meetup: I love organizing it and I learn things while doing so. However, I’m not actively seeking out to improve my organization skills, so I see that as a by-product and not as an “inner success”. Still, it is very rewarding knowing that Meetup attendees are interested in a field I’m passionate about – in their free time. Because of several reasons, organizing this Meetup is even more rewarding for me than teaching. So if I need to decide between teaching and the Meetup, what will I choose? I will choose the Meetup.


A good combination between Outer and Inner Success are my “Projects for Learning”. There’s no point for me in doing bigger side projects in the field of data vis when I don’t learn anything (=”inner success”)and / or when I can’t improve my portfolio with it (=”outer success”). One of the projects help me to learn R, the other one will introduce me to frontend …stuff.


And then they are the money projects! Projects that pay your rent. Again: Currently I’m really happy with them. But although I often get paid for using my existing skills, I should try to move these projects to more “inner success” moments as often as possible. Especially if a project doesn’t bring me “outer success”, I should at least gain as much new skills as possible out of it. That is something I need to improve in the future: Having a better mental list of what I want to learn and then going through this list at the beginning of every new project and asking myself “Which of these skills could I learn in this new project?”


Again: Enthusiasm – at least for me – is key. I’m very lucky that I experienced the power of high motivation often enough: When I get into flow and forget time easily. When my brain surprises my with THE solution for a problem in this project while I’m doing the dishes. When I jump out of bed in the morning because I want to continue working. I find work extremely exhausting when I’m not enthusiastic about it. So I appreciate the opposite even more.