Side projects are remarkable sources of creation. I often see them as guitar solos : the spontaneous expression of an idea that would not be prone to the coercion of its environment. Side projects are wild but often fugacious ; as old melodies that you would let vanish in an old desk drawer, side projects are dying somewhere on your hard drive, lonely and unfinished.
Today, we will put an end to that. I want to give you five practical and tested ways to finally finish your side project.
0 — Know Thyself
Before jumping right into your next side project, it is essential to correctly define the purpose of your intention. When dealing with side projects, you essentially have two types of profile : tech-oriented ‘side-projecter’ and product-oriented ‘side-projecter’. Knowing which group you belong to makes a huge difference.
A tech side project is a project whose roots are based on the following premise :
‘I want to learn …, therefore I am going to build a project that uses it to gain additional comfort with it.’.
I hate to say it, but technology can be an end in itself. Even if frameworks are built to accelerate developer productivity, thus helping quicker and better products, they are sometimes taken independently from their initial goal, as ‘just being frameworks.’
On the other side, product oriented projects come within the scope of thinking first about the goal you want to achieve. The technology used is only the tool that suits best the craft you want to perform. They are the most common way of building side projects, yet sometimes they are mistaken for tech oriented side projects.
In this article; we are going to focus on product oriented side projects, but make sure to leave me a comment if you want tips to finish your tech oriented side projects (I have also my special recipes for it!)
1 — Plan the Work, Work the Plan
When building a successful side project, you want to have a clear goal in mind of what you are trying to achieve. Introspection is a very powerful tool when it comes to clearing out the way that leads to the realisation of your project.
“What is exactly the problem I am trying to tackle here? What would be the minimum viable version of my product that would be valuable enough?”
Would a proof of concept be enough? Is it closer to a MVP? Is it a fully published website, fully deployed and accessible to anyone?
Even for very small projects, you are the one carrying the vision of what you are trying to achieve. As a captain would get lost in the vastness of the sea without a good roadmap, you don’t want your mind to get lost around the various tasks you will have to perform. Be the captain of your own ship.
Power Action : take a paper sheet and try to answer the questions stated above as a starter. Describe, refine and make another round of questions until you have a deep clear idea of what you are building.
2 — Repetition, repetition, repetition
Beginnings are always exciting and sustained by the commotion of bringing new ideas to life. Digging deeper in the project, difficulties are probably going to accumulate making the climb harder and harder, extinguishing the timid fire of your ambition. This is where you will apply this very powerful power play.
Repetition, repetition, tiny repetitions. Even if you only have a five minutes window for your project, you are going to take action and work on it for five minutes.
This will make a huge difference : you are building up the healthy habit of connecting with your project on a daily basis. When time allows it, you will be able to be more productive. When time is a scarce resource, you are sending the signal to your brain that you are not going to give up on this task.
Power Action : build the ritual of connecting with your project in one way or another everyday. Either it is writing specifications or code, detailing it even more, reading about your project subject, every action counts.
3 — Talk about your project
Your project is not a secret and there is no NDA written for it, quite the opposite. I really encourage you to talk about your project to the people around you that matter the most : family, friends, colleagues or your significant other. This is another powerful power play that you can add to your toolbox.
By declaring loud and clear your ambition, you are carrying the responsibility of proving that the words you speak are correlated with the actions you take. Nobody likes to feel irresponsible to the eyes of its beloved ones.
This tool is psychologically highly coupled with the sense of coherence. In psychology, the sense of coherence is a dynamic that leads individuals to take actions based on self-defined beliefs. By stating loud and clear your intentions, you are shaping the belief that you are going to build this project, thus taking more actions towards your end goal.
Power Action : find a very close friend and share your idea with him/her. Gather as much feedback as possible.
4 — Divorce the Eureka Myth
For every innovator and creator out there, I think it is necessary to separate their thoughts from the belief that miraculous and genius ideas “just happen” out of nowhere, as if they were hit by the divine grace of having the idea that everybody was waiting for.
Side projects often focus on a very small and specific problem that evolves over time to build a real and complete marketable product. Ideas evolve and projects pivot. This is a very powerful tool because, as a creator, you will be hit by the irresistible doubt of developing something useless or just plain bad. When having those micro-doubtful moments, remember that you divorced the Eureka Myth and you are 100% committed to make it happen.
Power Action : introspect doubtful moments and make them a strength by reasserting on a paper sheet your commitment to your task.
5 — Execution Over Ideation
Side projects are better built than thought. Too often, they stay aborted attempts, unfinished schemes in the back of a drawer. When developing a side project, execution is everything. Your project is not going to build itself, and thinking about it isn’t going to add substantial progress to it. Ideas have literally no worth at all.
Everybody makes mistakes and everybody takes the wrong path at some point when building something new. Accepting it is a definitive step towards confidently building your next side projects.
Power Action : keep a healthy thinking/doing ratio when building your next side project. Only thinking about it isn’t going to make it work. Doing it without preemptive meticulous thoughts is a guaranteed failure.
Did those tips help you? What are you going to focus on when building your next side project? Do you have your own secret ways to confidently build successful side projects? Do not hesitate to share them with the community. And as always, if you like this writing, make sure to give it a like and subscribe to the newsletter for more.