No manager or client that tells you what to do. Just you. No deadline, no set schedule to keep you going. Only your self-discipline. No prefixed goal, no rules. You set them. You change them. Fail, and it is on you. But if you succeed, all credits are yours.
If the above sounds appealing, keep reading. I’ll share with you what I’ve learned about side projects. Projects you do besides your day job. If you ever started a side project, chances are that it is now gathering dust: keep reading. And if you did actually finish your side project: Kudos! Keep reading anyway.
Define the destination, not the journey
To start a side project you need a goal. This sounds trivial, but isn’t. I know many people that do side projects. When I ask about the goal, most answer: I want to master this tool or that technology. When mastery itself is the goal, the project is likely to end up at a shelf to gather dust. What is mastery? Mastery is not really a goal. You need a goal.
Without a goal, you can’t say whether you are making progress, whether you are closing in on your goal. You need to experience making progress to stay motivated after the thrill of starting something new wears off. Because it will wear off. Fast.
Define your goal: what will you create, when will you consider it successful? Change your goal along the way if you like. Allow yourself to meander a little on your journey, but always have a goal. Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on.
Be just a little realistic
I have always wanted to build a particle accelerator in my basement. There are good reasons why I didn’t. Most importantly, I would probably not succeed. Everyone has their limits, I’m not ashamed of mine. Neither should you.
Don’t build a particle accelerator, but make your project hard enough. Find the level of complexity you believe you might be able to handle, or not. That’s what makes it a challenge. You need challenge.
Would you be perfectly realistic, you would never learn. You can’t do it, so do it and fail. Then try again. You might have learned something. Don’t stick to realism, it tends to devaluate over time. Stretch beyond your reach. Just a little.
What’s your step
How do you accomplish the unaccomplishable? Step by step, by breaking up the complexity. Divide and conquer. At any time, be aware of the step you are taking: how it will take you closer to your goal. Why else take it?
Again, this sounds trivial. Again, it is not. It is easy to get carried away when in flow or tangled up in details when in doubt. Writing helps to keep focus. By explaining others what you do and why, you are forced to separate major from minor issues. Boil it down to the essence and focus. You need focus.
Secure your motivation
You are highly motivated when you start your side project, all is new and exciting. Self-discipline will not suffice to keep you going by the time your motivation gets challenged. The new will wear off, things will go wrong. You will be tempted to give up, because you simply can.
Make sure you can’t give up, not without shame. Writing does that as well, as a welcome side effect. Publish a blog about your project and you create an audience. Small, but with high expectations that you set. Oops, you can’t silently back out now.
I have met talented people and most were oblivious of their potential or afraid to use it. Maybe that is how talent is induced; keep thinking you are not good enough. But those that use their talents without limit can accomplish unique things. Don’t hesitate. You don’t need hesitation.
Side projects are perfect incubators for talent. You can fully tune your goal and journey to your ability and ambition. Without your manager or client interfering with their own ideas and agendas. Just you. Now go do it.
Want to learn more about my side project, Tamapotchi? Read my blog.