Working on Side Projects

Working on Side Projects can be really fun. But, you know what’s not fun and sucks? Not finishing the project and abandoning it (also, Global Warming). This is a very common problem and most of us struggle with it.

It gets trickier. Once you lose interest in the project and abandon it, guilt kicks in, as if we don’t have enough issues to deal with already. At this point it becomes really annoying having to fight with your conscience about the abandoned project. You don’t feel like working on it and at the same time you can’t really leave it. It’s just pure bliss at this point. 😇

One fine Sunday afternoon, you gather your thoughts and try to focus on your project and trim it from an ambitious project to a simpler project. You feel good about yourself for having found a way to deal with the problem. That’s when you notice a cool new tool. BAM! Suddenly, you notice all of your efforts and the interest you managed to build up, going down the drain. Can you stop it? No. What do you do instead? Go ahead and try out the cool new tool that’s going to make your life so much more awesome. What about your project? That can wait. You’re confident that you will be able to come back later and finish your project using the cool new tool.

Three months go by and you are finally at a point in your life where you feel confident and comfortable to say goodbye to your project and move on to a new one.

Moving Fast and Breaking Things

In the past, I’ve started a lot of projects and miserably failed to finish them. I even thought of moving fast and breaking things. In reality, that didn’t really work. It’s definitely not because the philosophy is flawed. It’s because my perception of the philosophy was flawed. I’ve realized what I was doing wrong and corrected it over the past few years. I’ve tried a lot of things and didn’t really find anything helpful.

Reasons for Abandoning Projects

After spending a lot of time thinking about why I kept abandoning my projects, I noticed a common theme and was able to compile a list of reasons that made me abandon my side projects.

Lack of Prioritization

Imagine working on a project where you have tasks that are not prioritized. You have no idea which task you’d work on after you finish the current task. It’s hard to continue working on something while not knowing what needs to be worked on next. Also, give yourself enough time. Make sure your deadlines are reasonable. Be extremely honest with yourself when setting up deadlines.

Unfamiliar Tooling/Technology

If you use tools that you’re not familiar with, you spend a lot of time learning to use them. After a few days, you find yourself working on an entirely different project – Learning to use the New Tools. Understand what’s important to you, learning the new tools, or completing the project. I know that these don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but, that’s how it is most of the time. If picking up a new tool is fairly quick, that’s absolutely fine. It’s unlikely that it’d distract you. Or, at least try to minimize introducing too much of new tooling into the project.

Not knowing the value

If you ever try to work on something that you’re not interested in and just think that it might be useful for others, chances are that you might never finish the project. If you truly understand how a project might be of value to you, it’s likely that you’ll stay interested in finishing the project. Your project doesn’t even have to be brand new. It could be something that has been implemented over a hundred times by others. When in doubt, just ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”.

Perfection

Yep, perfection. Perfection is a major distraction. If it’s a side project and you’re the only one who’s going to be using it initially, don’t aim for perfection early on. This can work against you. Instead, make it an iterative process. This reminds me of the following quote:

If you’re not embarrassed when you ship your first version, you waited too long.

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of WordPress

Also, this is a perfect segue to the next reason for abandoning projects.

Lack of Iterations

If you think of a project as a whole, the project scope becomes too much to handle. Instead, you can build it in several iterations. Ship the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) first. Iterate on it later. Shipping the first version is very important. I do it with all of my projects and it has been very effective.

Lack of context

There have been times when I started a project, worked on it for a few days and stayed away from it for a week or two. When I came back to the project, it felt like I was missing the context from where I left off. So, I started journaling my thoughts regarding the project right after I stopped working on it. The next time I got back to the project, I’d read through my thoughts and pick up from right where I left off, with very little effort. This technique made me stay consistent with my projects.

I’ve struggled staying focused on side projects and abandoned a lot them in the past. Identifying these bottlenecks helped me optimize my process of working on side projects. Before publishing this post, I had all of these reasons as a checklist that I’d go through before starting any side project, as a reminder to be careful with these bottlenecks.

What bottlenecks do you face when working on side projects? Let me know in the comments section below.

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2 Comments

  1. I try to focus on one project at a time and this has been proven effective. Thanks for the article.

  2. I’ve tried working on just one side project at a time and it works really well. But, there have been times where I was working on 2 side projects by switching between them and was still able to finish them by avoiding the problems that I mentioned in the post.

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