The "Lazy Way" blog recently outlined the idea of combining your passions to build yourself projects which you will enjoy working on. Several of the comments are disputing this idea, so I'd like to put in my 2 cents.
Disclaimer: If you don't like challenging yourself and the current situation, just stop right here.
The gist: Doing what you like doesn't have to mean that you'll have to quit your (currently) boring job, or investing money on an idea in your spare time. Instead, mold your current job into something interesting with creativity (which can be stimulated) and tenacity.
Where to start?
Everyone has got a modicum of creativity, but how do you fuel the spark? When do you feel most creative? I find inspirational things to be very effective, specially when they are from my own profession. For example, looking at drawings by Leonardo da Vinci or reading some good article on software development. But my inspiration is not your inspiration, so where can you find this stuff? Some relatively new web sites provide all the material anyone could ever have hoped for: The "best of" lists of del.icio.us, Digg, and reddit. All of these provide you with what's popular right now on the web, ranked by users like yourself. These are not in any way the only sites providing this kind of stuff, but they're the ones I can vouch for.
Whatever you're doing, there are always ways to do it better. I'll bet your boss also thinks the same, and that s/he'd like to hear from you if you have an idea for how to improve something. But most of the time, benefits have to be significant or obvious to be able to change habits or established routines. So if you get an idea, I'll advice handling it like this:
- Write it down, in such a way that you're sure to understand what you meant a week later or so (I've gone "Huh?" way too often when reviewing old ideas). You'll be better suited to evaluate the idea when you've distanced yourself from the "Eureka!" moment.
- If you can, try it out. If not, try searching for experience from other people. Unless your idea is truly revolutionary, somebody else has probably tried something similar, and most people are more helpful on the Internet than could be expected from complete strangers.
- If it works, try to collect some numeric evidence. It'll be your best friend when showing your idea to your boss. People rarely dispute numeric evidence unless they have a really good reason for it.
- Present the idea to your boss and / or colleagues, perhaps at the weekly meeting. Include common reasons not to use it - There is no such thing as a free lunch. That way you can avoid some tough questions right before the decision will be made. You'll probably also appear more serious with a balanced view.
- Don't despair if the idea was not approved. Maybe the time was just not right. Keep it stored somewhere you'll be able to find it again, and be sure to include the reason(s) it was not approved.
- Repeat as necessary
These are the tools I use every day, and not just for creativity: They also provide work savings and entertainment. And they are all free!
A feed aggregator, e.g. Bloglines. Using it with del.icio.us, Digg, reddit, and others, it saves me a lot of time.
A revision control system. With revision control, you can keep all your documents (ideas and other) in the same place, you can keep track of changes, and you can be quite sure that you'll never despair because your harddisk crashed. I've got just about every file I've created the last five years in such a system, and it's a great load off my mind. Revision control has got a pretty steep learning curve, but a tutorial should get you on the right track. If there's an IT department where you work, there's a fair chance they have a revision control system readily available. That way, you'll save a lot of initial work. If you're using Windows and CVS or Subversion, I highly recommend using TortoiseCVS or TortoiseSVN, respectively. If you're using TortoiseCVS, WinMerge is a natural companion.