Starting a side project, whether it’s for personal development, creativity, or business, is one of the most rewarding ways to spend your free time. Free time, a funny concept. In a day there’s not much of it, but added up over the course of a year and there is a lot you can do. In a day, you won’t notice much, but in a year, you can look back and see spectacular progress. In a year… that is if you start now.
Many think starting is the hardest part, I disagree. Starting is exciting! Starting is full of hope. Starting is fun. Starting is the second hardest part. The first hardest part is continuing after things get tough. A month in and you may tire of staying up an extra hour or waking up early to make the most of your free time. Free time isn’t free after all, it comes with a price, and paying that regularly will make quitting something you constantly debate. Winning that debate; that’s the hardest part.
In the past year, I embraced the side project. In doing so, I’ve learned a few things, some hard skills like narrating an audiobook or drawing in Photoshop, but also some soft skills, such as time management and burnout prevention. These soft skills have enabled me to find time and stay motivated, making my side project a key part of my life, a habit ingrained into my very being.
If you’re thinking of starting a side project, here are a few tips in developing a process so when the excitement fades, and the going gets tough, it’ll catch you and keep you moving forward.
Develop a Schedule:
From March 28 to November 14, 2020, I published 34 videos documenting myself Typing The Great Gatsby.
Before I started the project, I knew the possibility of me giving up was very high. For the first few episodes, I was looking forward to typing and recording my process, but after the fifth episode (with many more to go), I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
In order to avoid collapsing and giving up on the project, I decided to publish weekly, every Saturday. The weekly schedule made it sacred. I’m not a religious person, but this was as close as I got to attending church. I had to show up once a week.
By having a weekly schedule, I could plan for the future. Once you plan for the future, you can anticipate how your week is going to go and ask yourself, “When am I going to do it?” The time for me was often after work on Friday.
Starting a side project is all about how you manage your time. And one of the easiest ways to manage time is to set a schedule. Whether it’s a daily or a weekly mark, make sure you have one. This can be as simple as something you can track in your calendar. Over the course of many months, you can scroll back and see every time you showed up.
Little by Little:
When I was recording the narration of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, I did a little bit every night to avoid burnout.
Starting a side project can be exciting and you might get obsessed. However, if you don’t pace yourself, you could end up draining all your energy and interest. If your side project is going to be worth anything, odds are, it’ll take more than a few days to complete. Therefore, doing little by little, bit by bit, day by day, you can get the project to the finish line.
Spreading your project out over the course of time also allows you to develop a relationship with it. It becomes a phase you go through, a season you can reflect on.
When I was working on The Metamorphosis, I knew I could find a day, hunker down and record the whole book. If I did that, I would only have one recording session, and that would only be one chance to learn, try, and do.
Instead, I chose to record a couple of paragraphs each day, and edit them in batches. Each recording session was a whole new experience, with its own challenges, and by overcoming new challenges each time, I learned more. The more times I did it, the more I learned. This experience was the real metamorphosis.
Use a List:
With scheduling milestones and doing a little consistently, working on side projects became a part of my everyday life. Once something becomes a part of your everyday life, you’ll find that you may not have the same amount of free time every day. There are some days where you just need to do — less thinking, less brainstorming — just do. My advice when anticipating busy or tiring days is to have a list prepared. Work off of a list, so that you know what you need to get done today, tomorrow, and maybe even a week from now.
Earlier this year, I wanted to improve my digital illustration. This was an extracurricular activity that I might not have ample time for every day, yet, it was something I wanted to do daily. Drawing Pokemon allowed me to follow a list, which enabled me to practice without having to be inspired. I didn’t need a muse, I only needed to know which Pokemon was next on the list to draw.
Pokemon is an easy choice because all those critters are numbered. If you aren’t pursuing anything that involves Pokemon, you’ll have to develop a long list of your own and work your way through it. Little by little. Once the list is done, evaluate your experience. Ask yourself: is this something you want to keep doing? If the answer is yes, make a bigger list. If the answer is no, you finished it, you can hold your head up high and pursue another side project. That’s the beautiful thing about a list, eventually, if you’re disciplined with your scheduling and your little by little, you’ll get to the end.
In life, we only have so much time, and we shouldn’t waste it dreaming. If there is a project you want to tackle, don’t wait. There won’t be a perfect time. You’ll have to squeeze it into your real life, your main project.
As I mentioned, consistency is the key — not getting started — however, in order to remain consistent when things get hard, how you start and how you prepare will make all the difference. So remember, make a schedule, pace yourself, and follow your list. Before you know it, time will pass and your side project will be done.
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