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How to Make Time for Your Side Project

The Vicious Cycle

It’s easy to fall in to the procrastination trap. The feedback loop of inaction and depression that means you don’t produce anything. Nothing. At. All. Like an addict surfing Hacker News, Reddit, twitter and facebook looking for your next fix of trivial, meaningless data: at end the day you have created nothing at all. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing.

Reverse the Loop

Breaking out of the loop can be hard. Sometimes a shunt is required to terminate the destructive cycle. If you do manage to break out of the loop, you can reverse it. You can find a positive state of mind. You become productive, creative and even lucky.  Increasing your ‘luck surface area’ is a way to maximize your output by doing and then telling.

When you create something of value, tell people about it. There is a magnification effect that exponentially increases its utility. Often in ways you can’t predict. Do you know what Rob Walling has tattooed on his wrist? ‘Create’. Rob, if you’re reading this, I should have asked you for a picture when we met at Microconf; I’d love it if you could share one.

I Can’t Find the Time

You’re busy. I understand. It’s difficult to find the time between your day job and taking the kids to school and … football practice and … and and and.. You might not be able to find the time but you can make the time. The first way to make time is the one you were hoping to avoid: compromise.

Compromise is all about making concessions. You don’t need to cut something out completely but perhaps you can cut down. Instead of watching two episodes of your favourite tv show, how about working on your side-project first and then rewarding yourself with just one episode. Next time you’re invited out to drinks with friends, perhaps you can say that you’ll be there but an hour later. Use that time to make progress on your side-project.

Focus is another strategy that can make time. You’ve probably got lots of side-projects; they’re all exciting in their own way. Instead of working on all of them, stop, focus on just one. Focus on getting one launched and then you can go back to any of the others if you want. Otherwise, you might be spreading yourself too thin.

Another lesson that entrepreneurs often have to learn the painful way: delegation. As someone who wants to work on side-projects, you’re probably the sort of person who is inquisitive, energetic and ready to get stuck in. You’re probably good at finding a way to get something to ‘work’ even though you’re not an expert at it. Well, if you want to launch a product, there will be areas of the business where you probably need help – you probably can’t do everything yourself. That’s where delegation comes in, either by outsourcing or by asking for help. Delegate the areas that you can’t do or don’t want to do so that you can build and launch your side-project.

So, now you’ve made a little bit more time, how you make enough time to start work? And what about avoiding that procrastination?

Making Time & Avoiding Procrastination

How do you find the time if you’re bootstrapping with kids or this is just a side-project?

“I’d love to start a company / become a great programmer / write an awesome blog, but there’s just not enough time in the day!”

Building an online business often takes time, passion and commitment. How can you find the time?

Step 1: Set an Achievable Goal

Mount Everest, earth’s highest mountain, is 29,029ft above sea level. When mountaineers and climbers attempt to reach the summit, they always visit Everest Base Camp first. This is the first achievable goal, even for accomplished veterans. It serves not just as a supply hut but as an acclimatization to the altitude. This acclimatization prepares the body and mind for the main goal, the summit.

Have you set goals that you’ve never achieved? I have found that if I set the goal at the right level, I have just the right amount of enthusiasm and energy to complete that goal. In fact, I often exceed it because I’m rewarded by the success of my own accomplishment. You can’t achieve everything in life but you can be surprised by how much you can achieve if you set your goals at the right level. Find your ‘Base Camp’ and make sure it’s low enough that you can reach it, but high enough so that it’s a challenge.

Step 2: Prepare for Success

Preparing for success is about your mindset as well as your environment. If you went to a party last night and had too many beers, today is probably not the best day to be doing your accounting work or even creating your next landing page. Like with most things, you will probably find that you’re most productive when you are well rested, energetic and mentally alert. This isn’t always possible, particularly if you’ve got a busy life. So, if you want to be in a productive frame of mind, where you can accelerate through the work, you should plan for it.

This can be as simple as finding a consistent time in the day or week where you’re focused on completing your intended goal. If you find that your productivity is a little hit-or-miss, you can try a little strategy to help. Record the times that you’re working on your project and at the end of each session, mark yourself out of 10 on how productive you were. Over time you may be able to spot a pattern of productivity. If you do, you can optimize for this by changing your schedule so that you have more time during these hyper-productive moments. Better still, set a reminder in your calendar so that you’re triggered in to taking action.

Step 3: Eliminate Distraction

You need to change your mindset from consumption to creation. Do you sometimes finish the day and think “I should have started this morning rather than this afternoon”? Instead, you fell in to the vortex of checking email and doing ‘real work’ which actually means ‘consuming’ by checking emails and surfing the web.

Instead, give yourself the best opportunity by turning off any distractions like email, facebook and twitter. Put your phone on silent, better still, turn it off altogether. You might also find a ‘cave’ helpful. Authors often retreat to their writing cave which is purely for work. Is there a place where you can go that can be dedicated to project work only?

Step 4: Make It Easy to Start

Sometimes, starting is that hardest part. Getting that first word down on paper or that first line of code is often so frustrating. Staring at a blank page can give you a serious productivity block. The secret: start, that’s it, just start. It’s ok to start, knowing that you’re going to throw it away after a few minutes. Starting can get the creativity flowing and can get you in the mood to keep going.

The ‘art of the start’ can also be about doing the tasks in the right order. Two strategies that can work well are i) the two minute rule; and ii) the pomodoro technique.

The two minute rule can apply to any task: if it takes less than two minutes, do it now. That’s it, it’s an incredibly simple way of handling the ‘triage’ of tasks and when the tasks are so small, there is no excuse for not doing it. If you can do it quickly, get it done!

The second strategy is the pomodoro technique: decide on a task, set a timer for 25 minutes, then work solidly on that task alone for 25 minutes. Once the timer rings, make a note and take a short break of 5 minutes. Then rinse and repeat the process. It sounds so simple but it can be incredibly effective.

Another strategy that many developers find useful is the shortcut. Use a shortcut to start work. The secret here is to get in to the zone of creativity and productivity as quickly as possible. This shortcut could be some boilerplate code or a ‘project file’ set up in a text editor. It could be an ‘alfred’ command that loads up all the applications you need to get started. If you’ve got a few precious moments of time, you should be able to use this shortcut and start work in seconds.

Step 5: Cherish the Finish

If the task ahead of you looks like a mountain, break it down in to small hills. Then make your first step on one of the hills. Once you’ve started, use the motivation from completing the first hill to take on the second. Keep iterating in a regular, consistent manner and you’ll find that not only can you enjoy the work but you might even look forward to it.

Don’t forget that everyone needs a break. Once you’ve completed a task, take a break but also, reward yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back or allow yourself a treat – this positive feedback will allow you make a habit of starting and finishing. If you want something badly enough, you can make the time and keep starting and finishing until it’s done! Don’t give up, be enthusiastic and passionate about the smallest of successes.

Bonus Step: Reach Out

Many of us suffer from procrastination and you’re not alone. Even very successful entrepreneurs often suffer from depression or burnout. Talking to people can really help. You may find that discussing the tasks with others eases your mind but make sure that you’re actually doing the work rather than just talking about it. I’ve recently joined two ‘Mastermind’ groups and they have been invaluable. A Mastermind group is normally set up between 2-10 people who meet at regular times to talk through the issues that you’re facing on your project. They can provide a combination of benefits but most people find the accountability to be fundamental – the fact that you know you’re going to be asked about your progress can be incentive enough! They can also be about resources, a different point of view or merely as a way to bolster your confidence.

If you’re just thinking about starting a side-project, reaching out to two groups of people is a fantastic start. The first is those that have actually done it. The second is your potential customers. You’ll gain so much knowledge from those interactions that you might just get the confidence you need to make the time and to start.

If you’re in a full time job and you wish there was more to life or you just want to be able to create and launch something, perhaps now is the time?

charles-bukowskiCharles Bukowski, People Simply Empty Out What hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want… people simply empty out. To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.

Now What?

You can now make time and use it effectively. But how can you be successful with your creations? How can you be serendipitous? The answers are again, simple but not necessarily easy. Taking advice from Jason Roberts (who coined the phrase ‘luck surface area’) and expanding it with advice from the truly experienced James Altucher, you could try to incorporate these things in your life:

  • Have a passion for something. It doesn’t matter what it is. Follow it and pursue it.
  • Do something. Anything. Then tell people about it.
  • Get in shape
  • Stop interacting people that bring you down
  • Hang out with people who inspire and challenge you every day
  • Write down your ideas
  • Be grateful for what you’ve got
  • Learn how to make and break habits

You only have one life. Do something that you’re proud of. If you don’t start, you’ll never be proud. Start. Now. It’s up to you to make your dreams come true.

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