Posted in misc The Joy of Side Projects

Matt Sears | Apr 13, 2022

Have you ever got excited about an idea and wish you could do, but never have the time to start? This has been my personal dilemma for as long as I can remember - that trapped feeling working on a other people’s ideas to pay the bills while daydreaming about working on my own stuff. Over the past few years, I’ve been working on few techniques to help break through this quandary.

  1. Pick a project that gives you the most energy.
  2. Only work on what will ship with version one.
  3. Run the project like you’re part of a team.
  4. Enjoy your work.

Follow Your Energy

I’m at a certain age where I’ve been around the block a few times. New technology and tools don’t excite me as much as they used to. No longer can I slug through a boring project with the energy gained from learning a new programming language or framework. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy learning new things, but I’ve learned to love mastering my current set of tools even more. I can start a new project knowing exactly how it should be built - like a lumber jack and a sharp axe, I know how to chop this tree down. This paired with a new brand new idea, I have all the energy I need.

Bare Minimum Prototype

Ideas have a way of spreading like wildfire. The key here is keeping a list of everything you want your project to accomplish. Now cut that list to the bare minimum for the initial release and that’s what you will work on first. The rest goes into the backlog. Whenever you get a new idea, put it in the backlog so you don’t keep that idea in your head. Getting your first working prototype deployed to production is the hardest part of any project. Having too many ideas stored in your brain kills momentum and can cause you to second-guess decisions.

Project Management for One

Now that you have your tasks separated into a backlog, we can plan out our project. Even if I’m the only one working on the project, I still use a fancy project management tool to keep track of progress. I could easily work off some note cards or a spreadsheet, but I still queue my tasks in a software tools build for teams. Tools like Github Project, Jira, or in my case, Asana which I’ve used for years while running a consulting firm. Why you may ask? For starters, it feels more familiar to me and it’s proven successful in previous projects, but most of all, it keeps me accountable to myself. I assign a task to myself with a deadline, and this gives me a complete roadmap. Asana sends me a few reminders when things are due and I can tick them off one-by-one. I promise you, at the end of the week, you will feel proud seeing the list of complete tasks.

It’s Not a Race

Truly rewarding work is work you are proud of, not how fast you do it. As I always say, you will be remembered for the work you put into this world, not that you got it done on time. Deadlines come and go, but the work is what persists in time. So it’s okay that you missed that target date so long as you are enjoying the process. That is the joy of side-projects after all. Make your side projects fun and you will complete them every time.