Do you like to get stuff done?
Have you started pet projects several times and then never finished them?
Have you been working on the same personal project for a couple of years?
Are you planning to start a side project in your free time?
I have a pet project which I’ve been working on for three years. And it is not the first.
I have a whole cemetery of unfinished projects. On the contrary, all is well at my day job; I get my stuff done on time there.
This situation is not surprising though. A pet project is meant to be fun, but finishing it requires monotonous polishing.
At some point I figured out that the most fun part is seeing how my idea helps others.
So, I finally decided I had to finish at least one project; however, I first had to figure out what was preventing me from progressing in the first place.
Let’s start from the beginning: what is a pet project?
From my experience (and from the people I know), it is something that cannot be finished for the following reasons:
- We constantly lie to ourselves; it’s the way our brains work. Instead of saying: “I’ve failed on this,” we say: “I am no longer interested in this”;
- There is no literature body on the topic;
- It is hard to start work on something that is “unknown”; and
- Even the most interesting work gets tedious over time.
There are thousands more reasons and excuses, so let’s throw away the idea of obscure and unclear “pet projects”, and let’s focus on something that will bring us to the finish.
Project. Ordinary project
Everybody knows how to work on a project; how to stay focused and how to stay motivated to the end; we do this everyday in our careers.
You may think about all those diagrams and Excel sheets and that projects are boring but this personal project, it is still going to be fun.
First of all, think about the long-term rewards; watching how your personal project grows will be so enjoyable.
Working on different roles on the project is a unique experience that will benefit your professional career too. You do need to be patient, but the rewards are worth it.
Remember, this is not a sprint, it is a marathon.
Even if your project is months away from starting, you should honestly ask yourself the following questions:
What is my ultimate goal? (Why am I doing this?)
There are many shiny things on a way to the finish line, distracting you from getting stuff done. The answer to this question will keep your focus on top-priority tasks. The goal must be clear. For example, saying: “I want to learn X technology,” is not a clear goal. Rather, you should say: “I want to learn X technology in order to achieve Y.”
The answer to the above questions must be honest. If you want to make money on your project, then why lie to yourself. Don’t think: “I’ll make an excellent product, and money will come.” It is not going to happen. You should focus on ensuring that your product is profitable, instead of creating something that nobody will use.
Time management is one of the hardest parts. There is no silver bullet, although there are a few tips that can help:
Start by planning. Nothing works better than the good-old Gantt charts. Estimate and write down every planned feature. Ensure that it will take more than one lifetime to complete them all. Move some features to the backlog. Repeat.
Again, a clear understanding of your goal will help you to prioritize.
Keep in mind that the days in your plan are not the same as an eight-hour work day;
Track the time you have spent on side-project tasks. It will make your estimation be much more accurate. Also, time tracking will tell you whether you are moving in the right direction or wasting your time on unnecessary details. Most importantly, seeing how much you have done keeps you motivated;
Establish milestones and keep the plan up to date.
At first, it may seem that your personal project has no resources to be managed, but it is not so. To begin with, think about your time. You can calculate your cost as a salary per hour. Now think about the money, what would be more efficient? To repair your sink in the kitchen by yourself or pay to someone else to do it and spend your free time on your personal project?
If you are supposed to make money on your project, why not start it straight away? You can hire someone to build you a website or do some research for you.
The most valuable resource in your personal project is motivation. Motivation is the only source of vitality for your project. Do not wait for the inspiration. Manage your motivation as any other resource.
Here are some tips that work for me:
Always have a list of tasks. There are always things to do. If you do not feel up for one task, choose another. Again, ensure that you do not waste time on unnecessary things.
Leave some work for tomorrow. I only have only 2-3 hours in the evening, it is much easier to continue yesterday’s task than starting something new. Also, it eliminates the need for warm-up (with only 2-3 hours, there is no time for Facebook, or my favorite comic strip or tech portal)
See what others do, seek for your own sources of motivation.
Now that you have read about project management, you may think: “Where is the fun part?”
I bet your side-project is all about innovations. At least it is innovative to you; why would you have begun it otherwise?
And managing an innovative product under uncertain conditions, without knowing the audience, means that. Wait, isn’t it a…
Startups are fun, everyone knows that. There is a bunch of blogs, books, and other information on startups. And many techniques from the startup world can be used in your project right now.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
Startups use MVP to prove assumptions about their audience. Such as: “will somebody want to use it?”, “will people pay for this?”, etc. When it comes to personal projects, role of MVP is a bit different. Having a viable product keeps you motivated. It is hard to work on something you cannot instantly play with. If I need to write a bunch of code, before I will able to run it, I write a unit tests. This helps me to move on (not to mention profits of early testing).
Keep the product running consistently not only motivates you but also disciplines you to plan changes accordingly. For instance, it allows you to concentrate on one change at a time and you don’t tend to make too many changes at once.
Startups seek for their audience all the time. And you should. Of course, you are not alone. There are many people that will love your idea as much as you do. Tell them about your project! They may give you useful advice. Any real-life feedback will motivate you more than a thousand cat videos will.
I suggest you to read about the startup management, and you will find how to apply this techniques to your personal project.
Productivity knows no pain
The biggest problem is a constant lack of time. It is not just about side projects - it is common. You cannot extend your working day, although you can be more productive in the time you have.
Follow a regime
Here come the bad news: Human beings are more productive when they are living on a schedule. If I stay up until 4am today, I will not be able to finish my work tomorrow. This leads to overtime, which means no time for my personal project, and so on and so on.
Exercise is an important component to increasing motivation and efficiency. It can be difficult to start, but the rewards are priceless. It is hard to describe the feeling when you want to run just because you can.
This one is tough. Side projects can drain all your energy and even lead to burnout – an awful condition in which, despite knowing you have to rest, you are too tired and stressed to take a break. It is very hard to break this cycle.
That is it. I hope this article will help you finish your magnificent project, and that the world will become a better place through it.