Side Projects promise you the world. You get to create whatever you’d like, in whatever language, framework, or architecture you want. You could get fame, glory, and even a little bit of side cash if you’re lucky. You can quit that job you hate and work from home full time! A side project is basically like those commercials during The Price Is Right, except it’s fun and satisfying, and not specifically preying on the poor and uneducated.
It’s not quite that simple, though. I’ve started plenty of side projects throughout the years, and the steps are always the same.
Have an absolutely brilliant idea
Design a back of the envelope architecture.
Buy a domain name (this step is crucial)
Start a GitHub/Bitbucket repo
Write a flurry of boilerplate code and get the idea off the ground
Realize your brilliant idea has one or more fatal flaws that aren’t trivial to solve
Decide you will brainstorm and figure out how to solve these issues over the next few days/weeks
Get kinda busy with your actual job
Go home and watch Netflix most nights because you’re tired of sitting at a desk all day
Life event happens: Weddings, Holidays, Vacations. Something.
Decide that your idea wasn’t that great anyway.
Kinda just drift along for a few weeks. Spend weekends at bars.
GOTO Step 1
It’s disheartening that I know the steps, because I sometimes just give up at step 4 because I know how it’s going to go. I’ve owned way too many domain names.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a few projects actually become what most people would agree are “completed”. It’s hard to say something is completely done, but they are to the point where I felt comfortable having people use them, at least. I have a couple apps on Google Play, is what I’m saying. These projects are usually finished in a weekend or two, though. Anything longer and apathy sets in.
I need to break out of this cycle. I’ll start this weekend. It’s Labor Day, that gives me a 3 day weekend to gain momentum. This is going to be great! Lets get to work!
Oh. Wait. What do I work on? I haven’t had a brilliant idea in weeks. I guess I could jump back into one of those old ones I already have boilerplate code for, but I already decided those ideas weren’t great. Who wants to work on a mediocre idea? I want greatness, dammit! And so here I am, writing a blog post about my writer’s block instead of working on something amazing.
A side project, or really any sort of project or entrepreneurial endeavor, requires 3 things: Energy, Direction, and Time. Finding all three of these qualities at once is rare, I think. In general, I have two of the three at any given moment. Lets talk about those.
Energy and Direction, No Time
This just feels like frustration. You’re too busy with your current job and your home life to really move forward on a project that you really believe in. I think this is the mode that makes people really think about quitting their jobs and making their Jump To Conclusions Mat full time.
Direction and Time, No Energy
You have a great idea, and you know how to implement it, but you’re just sitting on the couch watching Parks and Rec for the 4th time. You just can’t make your brain turn ideas into code anymore today. You’ll be better this weekend, you tell yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been there. This is where apathy starts to set in.
Energy and Time, No Direction
This is where I’m at now. I have a bunch of time, and I’m ready to get to work on something. But I don’t know what that thing is. This mode ends up feeling like a missed opportunity. That I could have done something incredible if I just knew what that was.
How Do I Get Out of This Cycle?
I think this is why most self-help/entrepreneur books will tell you to find a partner to work with. Not only can a partner help with skills that you don’t have, they can also provide you with motivation, and give the third leg to the Energy/Direction/Time stool when you don’t have it by yourself.
That being said, I haven’t actually figured out the answer to this yet. How do you motivate yourself? How do you decide what you want to create? Let me know your ideas on Facebook or Twitter.
I'm a software engineer in Austin, TX. I've built a lot of different systems, and worked on a lot of different types of projects. I also write for a host of other blogs, and decided I should probably start my own.