So, you’re interested in pursuing a pet project at the office—but you're not 100% sure how you'll make the argument that it’ll be a positive addition to your workload.
Of course, there are many ways a project uniquely suited to your interests can benefit your career—and your overall happiness. It can invigorate a job that’s been feeling a little stale and help you avoid burnout. It can provide you with a much-needed creative outlet. And, it can give you a growth opportunity to take your current skills to the next level, or add new ones to your repertoire!
But to get everyone else on board, you’ll have to look outward and explain how it’ll help others at the company, too. Follow these three steps to make that happen:
Step 1: Have a Conversation With Your Boss
Before you set up a meeting, write out everything you’ve done that’s contributed to the success of the company, as well as how you’ve grown in your role. Think of the questions that your boss might ask you and go through what your answers will be.
For example, he might ask: “How will you manage this with your other work?” You’ll want to be prepared with an answer like: “I’ve given this some consideration, and now that we’ve wrapped [project], I’ll have some additional time.” Or “Creating a more efficient process for [task] will help the whole department—and it’ll free up my time to work on this.” If you come prepared with thoughtful answers, your boss is more likely to say yes.
Once you’ve got your notes down, consider ideal timing when sending your calendar request. Are Mondays always crazy? Is the beginning of the quarter too stressful? Think not only about when you will have the most time for this new project, but when your boss will be most open to the idea. (Read: Meeting at 6 PM on the Friday before a holiday is not a good time.)
When you’re finally face-to-face, avoid focusing solely on yourself (“I want to do this because it matters to me,”) or disregarding larger company priorities (“I know we’re supposed to be all hands on deck with something else, but…”). Instead, make it clear how this project will help the company, how you’ll be able to prioritize, and how it’ll will help you grow and be more committed to your other work as well. You want your proposition to be easy to say “yes” to!
Related: How to Pitch a New Idea to Your Boss
Step 2: Reach Out to (Other) Key Players
Your manager is on board. That’s important, but she’s not the only person who matters. Now, reach out to all of the other relevant drivers for your project. You want to make sure you’re not stepping on any toes and that you’re getting all the support you need.
So, if you’ve pitched your boss on say, working on something typically owned by another team, let them know about your interest in collaborating and show them how you could help take work off their plate or get them closer to hitting their goals. Surprise proclamations can be jarring and make it harder to have positive working relationships. Rather than just telling them your plan, make sure you start the dialogue with an open-ended conversation. (P.S. That means actually being open to tweaking your idea.)
If this requires any additional work or even changes on a colleague’s end, consider what you can offer in exchange. It can be easy to get wrapped up in what you need to get this project going. But if you’re leaning on someone else for her time and expertise, take a second and really think about how this can be an equitable partnership. Does she have any menial tasks you want to learn that you could take on for her? Are there any meet-ups you’re planning on attending for the project that you could invite her to?
Just like you pitched your boss on the value you’d add to the department, pitch these people on the value you’d add by working together. They’ll be much more inclined to support your efforts.
Step 3: Stay Up to Date on All of Your Other Projects
The fastest way to sink a new initiative is to let the rest of your job fall by the wayside. (Your boss will be pretty quick to remind you where she needs your attention.) To avoid this worst-case scenario, find a project management system that works best for you and be diligent. Whether it’s Asana, Trello, Evernote, or even Google—find a scheduling system that works for you before you get started.
But what if, once you get going, you feel like there just aren’t enough hours to accommodate your new project? See if there are boss-approved ways to spend less time on other tasks.
For example, are there projects you can delegate? Is there someone on your team who might be interested in learning more about your everyday work in the same way that you wanted to pursue your pet project? While this make take up even more of your time at first—after all, successful delegation usually involves training—if you’re staring down a six-month project, the initial investment will be worth it to clear some things off your plate in the future.
Finally, consider if there’s any time you’d want to devote outside the office. Let’s say part of your project involves boning up on your programming skills. Is this something you could work on in your spare time? Could you spend your commute listening to relevant podcasts (instead of your latest jam)? Sure, you don’t want to feel like you’re working 24-7, but finding some ways to be more productive outside of work could be what makes this project possible.
Yes, taking on additional work pretty much always means sacrificing some time and energy, but it’ll be worth it in the end! The amazing growth that can come from having tricky conversations, building new relationships, and gaining new skills outweighs the work. Even if the project doesn't mean your initial expectations, you’ll learn something, which is good for you—and your company.