Side projects can help you create things for the fun of it, learn new skills, or even start new streams of income. But it can be difficult to find the time and motivation to move forward on these projects in your spare time.
Try these tips to make sure your side projects don’t get lose in-between other commitments.
1. Plan the next step
Developer Gwendolyn Weston found knowing what the next step was for each of her side projects made it much easier to keep them moving along:
For every project I had, I outlined what would be the first few tasks I wanted to solve. The tasks would be limited to only the smallest possible discrete items. So instead of saying something general like, “Build the entire first screen”, it would be broken down into, “Add the screen into the view hierarchy. Turn background purple to confirm it’s been added. Add this label to the screen.” And so on.
Weston says this process made it easier to make progress on these projects, or start new projects, because she was no longer faced with big, daunting tasks or a lack of definition in what the next step should be.
By taking a few minutes to figure out what the first step for every single project on my backlog was helpful because then when motivation hit, I could very easily context switch into the project and made starting something new feel less overwhelming.
Action step: Make a list of all your side project ideas and note down the next step for each one. When it comes time to work on a project, you’ll know exactly what task to get started on.
2. Work on multiple projects at once
Another tip from Weston is to let yourself work on more than one side project at a time. While not everyone will agree this is a good idea, Weston says this approach worked well for her:
Because context switching became a lot less expensive with all the next steps written out for each project, I gave myself permission to switch between as many projects as I wanted.
Having multiple projects on-the-go means you can switch to a different one whenever you’re stuck or bored, and you can mix up the kind of work you do if each project is at a different stage or requires different skills to move forward.
Weston says this approach even helped her make more progress than if she’d made herself stick to a single project:
Having a rotating queue turned out to be super exciting, because as soon as I got stuck on one project, I just moved to another. Then by the time I got back to the original problem, my excitement was refueled by progress on another project. With that energy, I generally was able to figure out the original obstacle.
Action step: If you’ve hidden away or archived side project ideas because you thought you needed to focus on one at a time, try resurrecting those old projects. Make sure each project has a clear next step (see tip #1), and keep a few in circulation.
3. Categorize projects as commitments or experiments
Writer and entrepreneur Scott H. Young believes the trick to finishing more of the projects you start is to divide them into two groups in your mind: commitments and experiments. Trying to finish everything you ever start isn’t sustainable, says Young, so it’s important to only commit to finishing some projects, and leave others open to change depending on how you feel once you get started.
Young says this approach comes down to changing how you think about your projects. You need to first decide to think about commitments as things you always finish, no matter what. Then you can start categorizing your projects as commitments only if you’re sure you want to follow through until they’re complete.
For projects you’re not sure about, you can categorize them as experiments. Experiments, according to Young, don’t always need to be completed. It’s okay to quit an experiment once you’ve discovered what you wanted to know.
Maybe you’re trying to figure out if you’re interested enough in learning a new skill, so you take up a project to test it out. Or you’re curious about a new technology so you plan a project that enables you to test that technology in interesting ways. Or maybe you think you want to write a book, but you’re not sure, so you start a project to write a book as an experiment.
The key here is that it’s okay to quit on experiments. But commitments must always be finished. Think hard about your willingness to see a project through before you categorize it, and set your expectations up front about which projects you can quit on and which ones have to be finished.
Action step: Work through your list of side projects and ask yourself whether each one should be finished no matter what. Categorize all your projects into commitments and experiments, so you’ll have the right expectations next time you get to work.
Whether you’re working on a side project for fun, as a way to upskill, or even to develop a new career, it can be hard to find the time to move your projects forward in-between other commitments. Try these tips to keep your projects organized, so you can make the most of any time you have to work on them.
What’s helped you move your side projects forward? Let us know in the comments.