Are portfolio projects important? Yes.
Do they help you develop big picture thinking? Yes.
Will you learn and struggle while doing so? Yes.
I used to think it's important to up-skill every single day with the changing design principles. But it is equally important, if not more, to showcase your skillset in a strategic manner. It is necessary to show that you can solve problems and that you're worth hiring. Fill up your portfolio with rich case studies which include your design process, successes and failures and the final designs.
When you’re new to design, or any other field, your portfolio may feel scattered as you gain experience. But, as you begin to build your identity, your portfolio should state your interests and what you want to do.
This will happen as you grow, find your style and the path you're interested in, so don't worry about that very early on.
A design portfolio is not only a showcase of your breadth of skills, it is a window to your personality and thought process.
Going for variety is great but remember to not include projects that are not your best work. Don't include the projects you would not like to work on in the future.
Now, you may be wondering how to find a problem statement. Well, it's like they say - don't wait for opportunity, create it. Everything we see, taste, touch, smell, and hear, has the ability to inspire us. 
“Inspiration is around us, don't let the brain limit the mind.”
Draw inspiration from real world problems - be it a website, an application or just an experience!
Various designers set creative challenges to build a community, drive up engagement and inculcate better design habits. Take part in as many as you can to set new standards for yourself and learn everyday.
I've found that drawing inspiration from your favourite subjects can also be useful, after all, they are called 'passion' projects for a reason.
If you're a graphic designer, have a complete branding package in your portfolio. Creating a complete brand package can seem like a cumbersome task especially when it is done for a made up client. (Psst... You can draw inspiration from Behance.
Make sure to include elements like logos, logo variations, typography used, and color palettes. 
Mockups for print collaterals are as important as digital designs. Business cards, stationery, stickers, postcards, coasters and packaging, are all examples of print collateral pieces that you can add to boost a digital campaign.
Including a style guide in your project will help showcase your ability to work with a real client and help organise the project.
You can also find inspiration here.
“The biggest leaps we can take as artists come from the time we take to intentionally invest in our own creativity.”
It is hard to stay motivated amidst a pandemic but it is not impossible. Let that be your driving force to emerge out stronger and with a better portfolio!
I hope this helps you get inspired and nudges you in the right direction.
And, if you have any questions for me, you know where to me reach me!
Stay safe and keep creating!
X
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