My career as a Product Designer started out by working on a number of side projects. I would wake up early (like 4am early), go to a cafe to do a couple hours of work before heading to my job. Then come home and work some more until around 10/11pm.
Now that I work full-time as a Product Designer, with a 1.5 hour commute each way, I find it increasingly difficult to make time to work on any side projects. So I have created a list of a couple of tips that help me make time to work on my side project.
Firstly, a side project shouldn’t be additional work for the sake of it. It should be something you are passionate about. Something you can learn and try new things doing, that you can’t or don’t have time to do in your day job.
My current side project started as a problem that we wanted to solve. Once we started, it turned into something that we loved working on and couldn’t wait to use at our own companies.
Differentiate between relaxation and work
I make sure to distinguish between working on my side project and relaxing. There is no multitasking. Putting YouTube on in the background and trying to do some work doesn’t work. Trust me!
As well as making a distinction between my time, I try to distinguish between environments. If I relax and work in the same place, the lines between productivity and procrastination quickly become blurred. Associating a place or room with work, means that if I’m in that space, I am working and nothing else.
Have a schedule
It’s easier to make time than it is to find time.
Creating a schedule around working on my project allows me to still have time to relax and unwind without feeling like I’m ignoring work that needs to be done.
When creating a schedule I try to be realistic and set aside enough time to relax and sleep. Setting aside 3 hours for work each day would end up burning me out and putting me off working on my project entirely.
Setting my phone to do not disturb and putting headphones in helps me make the most of my allotted time. That being said, if I’m setting aside a couple hours to work, I make sure to take frequent breaks.
Working with someone has a number of benefits, most notably making it easier and more enjoyable.
It also creates accountability, making it harder to convince myself that I’ll do the work later or twice as much the next day. Having someone who is relying on me to do my part, helps to motivate me to sit down and do the work I need to do.
Create a To-Do list
Having a list of things that need to be done, means I’m never in a position where I don’t know what to do next.
Similarly, splitting tasks into smaller tasks, means that I can do as little or as much as I want. Without being daunted by huge tasks or feeling like I’m leaving something unfinished.
I spend the last 15 minutes of each session planning out the first tasks of my next session. This helps me know exactly what I’ll be starting on as soon as I get home.
Tackling a small task that requires little cognitive exertion, is a great way to start off a work session. It allows me to get something checked off the to-do list without spending too much effort. It also helps me get into work mode, without being put off by the amount that I have to do.
Set low expectations for yourself
Setting low expectations for yourself sounds like a bad idea. But in practice, it’s the key to working consistently. Telling myself that I need to do a certain amount of work usually ends in achieving lots, but still feeling like I’ve fallen short.
Going into a session wanting to achieve one small thing and seeing where I end up, makes me feel more productive as I always end up doing more than I set out to do.
Things often come up and cut my work sessions short. Achieving what I set out to do in the first 30 minutes, means that I can cut my session short without feeling guilty or like I’m neglecting work that needs to be done.
Create a habit
Creating a habit to work on my side project is probably the most valuable tip. Once it becomes a habit, I don’t have to use any tricks to get myself started. It’s just what I do at that time, on those days.
When creating a habit, start small and prioritise consistency over output.
When I say start small I mean it. The first couple of days I scheduled 15–30 minutes to sit at my desk and think about my project. I was creating the habit that at this time, on this day, I am focussed on my project.
Starting out by setting myself 3 hour sessions to complete a tonne of work, quickly burnt me out and left me feeling unmotivated and stressed.
Working on a side project should be fun and enjoyable. It shouldn’t be added stress or guilt, that you’re not getting things done.
Creating a consistent habit and schedule with a mixture or work and relaxation, will get you a lot further than going all out.