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5-3-1-0.5-year projects

Apr 18, 2013

Recently there was a wonderful post call “The joys of having a forever project” that was very motivational and got a lot of people excited. Due to that post I went searching around and found a whole under-culture of forever projects on the Internet including a SubReddit devoted to the topic. While I can understand the draw of a forever project,1 I’ve tended toward projects with an end; divided into chunks of 5, 3, 1 and 1/2 year timeframes. Whenever I approach an exciting opportunity I try to imagine it as falling into one of the four bins. This allows me to avoid chasing every shiny object that comes my way — an urge that I have far too often.


A little over five years ago I wanted to start on a 5-year project. A 5-year project is exactly what you think it is; something complicated enough to take five years to complete. At the time I decided to create a variant of Scheme and had I continued doing so I’m certain that, five years later, the world would have yet another crappy Scheme variant. I started my Scheme (named Broccoli) in earnest fully expecting to take five years to do it well enough to be proud.

Little did I expect that five years later I would have instead helped further the cause of a very different variant of Scheme/Lisp — Clojure. Looking back on my five year goal of five years hence I clearly did not accomplish my goal, but I think that I gave more to the world than if I had. Five year projects are funny that way; they can flail, go completely off the rails, they can morph and sometimes they can turn into lifetime projects. My five-year project morphed, and thankfully for the best.2

While I plan to continue working with and for Clojure, I’m kinda on the hunt for another five-year project. I have a few ideas, but who knows what they’ll look like in 2018. I’m sure that I’ll blog about it along the way.


A three-year project is more difficult to deal with and is long enough and ponderous enough to conflict with a concurrent five-year project. My work on core.contracts is close to a three-year project, but I’ve been a bit wishy-washy on it and it should be further ahead than it actually is. Something that I would have been proud to have started three-years ago is something like Underscore.js, Riemann or Redis — a relevant library or system that many people find useful and generally kicks butt. I’ve managed to release some useful libraries for sure, but I’d hardly consider them three-year projects.3 I have a very nice plan for a three-year project that shouldn’t conflict with anything else, but only time will tell.4


One-year projects are the simplest to manage because of their shorter time-frame. Likewise, I’ve found that they’re often easy to parallelize with other one-year projects, but that may be because I pick projects in different realms. For example, in the past few years some of my 1-year projects have been:

Nothing earth-shattering for sure, but they’re intentionally digestible, yet satisfying. I have a couple of one-year projects that are closing out, and once again on the hunt. I recently (re)discovered the joys of compression and algorithmic information theory and it would easily take a year to become even a rank amateur on the topic.


Half-year projects could be anything from reading a good book to a creating a well-documented software library or service to writing a poem. My half-year projects are too numerous and disposable to mention, but I will say that a couple that I’m excited to get into whenever I’m done with my book projects are to thoroughly read both AMOP and CTM.

But of course there are infinitely many projects to be done at any given time, so how do you (well, me) choose which ones to work on? I think Derek Sivers said it best:

No more yes. It’s either HELL YEAH! or no.

What are your 5-3-1-0.5-year projects?


  1. Of course I have my own forever project, but it’s irrelevant what it is because it’s purely indulgent. 

  2. My previous five-year project flailed and flailed, but thankfully I learned a lot about operating systems and myself during the process. 

  3. Or even a fraction as successful as Underscore or Redis. 

  4. My scifi ketchup will probably take three years, so there’s one. :-) 

  5. You can hear everything that Bartók ever created in far less than a year, but it takes longer to listen

One Comment, Comment or Ping

  1. F_D

    I’ve never really thought about about it in these terms, but I guess I’ve been doing this (or something like it) over the past couple of years with my annual “goals-not-resolutions”. I set out on a “get some fiction published” 5 year plan a couple of years ago but that one’s been all over the map. A couple of novels have been 3 and 1 year goals. They’ve mostly been about writing things.

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