How to Make the Time for Your Side Project

Before I started my consulting practice, I had product aspirations. I bought about 25 domains, every time thinking this one was going to be the project that I would ship.

But I Didn’t.

Working on side projects doesn’t have the same drive as client work. The financial upside either a lot lower or exists in a distant future. They feel like a distraction from client work, which is what’s paying the bills. Clients also mean you have a responsibility to someone else, which keeps you motivated.

Client work comes with extrinsic motivation. With personal projects, motivation has to come 100% from within.

That’s why shipping your own thing is so difficult. In the beginning, you’re driven by hope and excitement. Then you start running into roadblocks. Boredom and frustration pile on, and end up being a bigger deterrent than the promise of future success.

I did this for three years before I finally completed my first money-making side project, Dependable. It’s my fourth book I worked on before one reached the completed state. Why did I finish this book and not the others?

I Gave Myself The First Hour of Every Day

When you start a side project, do you start by putting in “T-Mobile Time”, working nights and weekends? By doing so, you are subconsciously telling yourself that your goals are not important. It means you are going to take work that is hard to focus on already, and force it to compete with friends, family, and hobbies. And you’ll have to win this battle for yourself while exhausted from a full day of hard work.

How could that strategy ever succeed?

Instead, I gave my project the first hour of every day. Not an hour before work, the first hour of work. (The time before work is just another example of “T-Mobile Time”). 9 am – 10 am Eastern Standard Time. Morning solves the problem of energy: It’s the first thing you tackle when you’re fresh, nothing else gets an opportunity to drain your attention or distract your focus.

Put It On Your Calendar.

Make the project meaningful by making the time sacrosanct. No meetings during this time. This goal is no longer a side project; It’s part of your business.

When you wake up and don’t feel like working on the project, doesn’t matter. Put in the work. Once you’ve done this for a few weeks, the problem of motivation will work itself out.  You will build the habit.

If you can’t fit this and all of your client work into your schedule, then they can get push to T-Mobile Time. You’ll have more incentive to push through and be more productive overall. And in the longer term, consider raising rates so that your business can support the time investment for long-term ventures.

Image 2016-04-05 at 9.31.08 AM

Bonus Tip: Don’t Check Email First

Have you ever heard of the Zeigarnik effect? It sounds like an evil god from Nordic mythology and left unchecked has an equally disastrous effect on your productivity. The Zeigarnik Effect is the tendency to experience intrusive thoughts about an objective that was once pursued and left incomplete. If you check email and run into something that needs your attention, you’re left with three options.

  1. Deal with the issue now, and push your personal project time back in your schedule. You reinforce that your goals are not important.
  2. Deal with the issue now, and push your personal project time off your schedule. You reinforce that your goals don’t matter at all. 
  3. Ignore the issue and move on to personal project time. Except now you’re fighting boredom, frustration, and the evil Zegarnik.

Working on a personal project is hard. Finishing it is harder. Don’t volunteer to add more roadblocks to your path.