4 Ways to Stay Motivated on Your Side Project

We all have them — those once-great ideas that are now gathering dust somewhere in a GitHub repository. They start out fun and exciting, but quickly move to the back burner and out of your mind altogether.

Maybe life got in the way, maybe work did, or maybe you simply lost your motivation. There are many reasons your side project never saw the light of day, but here are a few things you can do to make sure your next one does.

1. Find the Right Time

One of the main reasons my side projects remain unfinished is time. There simply doesn’t seem to be enough of it. You may have work to be done, meals to be cooked, apartments to be cleaned, and other obligations to uphold. No matter how passionate you are about your project, if there is no time, there is no way it will get done.

I’ve found that my amount of free time correlates directly to my workload at the office. For example, I know that at the beginning of a work project, I’m going to focus more free time on learning the technologies, the domain, and any existing architecture. I also know that in the late stages of a project, I’m more likely to be adding to existing patterns than I am to be building new ones.

Therefore, I spend less time thinking about work when I’m away from it. So, I’m more likely to complete a side project if I start it as a current work project is beginning to wind down.

2. Solve a Problem

I’ve found that working on side projects that make my life easier keep me interested longer. I’ve had ideas for apps that could potentially be turned into businesses, but those don’t seem to motivate me. What motivates me is fixing annoyances that I experience often.

For example, I just completed a side project that replaced Google Sheets for managing my family’s budget. I used to spend an hour or two per week entering data into Google Sheets to categorize and summarize my budget. It was tedious and error-prone. So, I built an app that allows me to import a file generated from my bank for all of my transactions. Then, I categorize those transactions in two clicks. I run the export/import once a month, and it takes about 10 minutes to categorize all of the transactions.

3. Have a Customer

Customers are valuable to any project. They are a source of ideas, feedback, and validation. Without a customer, you’re stuck having internal debates about how to flesh out a workflow or how to design an interaction or even what features to build.

In my budget example, I made my wife my customer. She gave great feedback in the early stages and had suggestions that improved and changed the direction of the project. Without her, I would have gotten stuck in one of those internal debates and likely put the project on the shelf.

4. Create a Simple Backlog

A backlog is a great way to separate work, prioritize it, and schedule it. That is why we use a backlog for any project we complete at Atomic Object. Creating a simple backlog for your personal project can have the same benefit.

When I don’t break the work down into tasks, I find myself trying to complete the whole project at once. I’m jumping around from task to task getting everything partially done but nothing completely finished. You can check out an online tool like Trello to help you build and manage a list of project tasks.

Finishing side projects can be difficult, but it’s also rewarding to get one to the point of being usable. Hopefully, you can follow these guidelines to get your next project to the finish line.

Originally published at spin.atomicobject.com on February 24, 2017.

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