I have been working on several side projects on and off since my graduate studies ten years ago. I have mostly worked on blogs, but I also developed language training websites, stock market technical analysis software, and online time management and life planning courses.
In this post, I’m going to share some of the lessons I have learned from these side projects.
We all have time.
We all have time in our daily lives. The question is what we do with it.
I have wasted some serious time on social media, watching YouTube, and hanging out. I have also invested some serious time on my side projects. If I could go back in time, I would minimize the first and maximize the second.
When I look back at the last 20 years of my life, it’s not the time that I have wasted that gives me satisfaction and fulfillment. It’s the time that I have used constructively that gives me satisfaction and fulfillment.
Those little time wasting temptations leave me with an empty feeling afterwards.
For your own emotional well being, do yourself a favor and do something useful with your spare time.
In order to create something useful and get some benefits from your side projects, you need to invest at least one hour every day. There’s no way around that.
If you look at your daily schedule carefully, you can carve out at least one hour of uninterrupted working time.
Once you get into the habit of working on your side project every day, it gets easier. You even miss it if you don’t work on it for a day or two.
Nowadays, I feel anxious if I don’t do something useful for too long. It feels like I’m wasting my precious time even if I don’t do anything useful for an afternoon on a weekend day. I feel like, I have to go back to work.
The best way to cultivate consistency is to create some kind of accountability to others. You show up every working day at your job because you’re accountable to your boss.
You might slack off on your side project, if you aren’t accountable to anyone. That’s why I made a commitment to publish a blog post per day. I don’t have the luxury to slack off, because everyone would see that I do so.
Accountability is rather difficult with side projects where you don’t report to someone every day. You can overcome that obstacle, by creating an online mastermind group and posting in bullet points what you have done that day.
It is inevitable that you run out of your initial enthusiasm. If you’re investing money into your side project, you might also run out of funds. In either case, it’s important to take into account the sustainability of your side project.
You need to find ways to stay in the game until the payoff day and go through those dips. That is achieved by motivating yourself with extremely close targets. At this moment, I track weekly follower and subscriber growth goals to achieve that.
Focus on What Matters
In order to keep your side project sustainable, you need to focus on a few action items that serve your targets and let go of everything else. With your limited resources, you don’t have the time or money to invest in nice to have features.
If an idea doesn’t directly serve your target, let it go, no matter how fancy it is. That’s a great lesson to run a business. It’s a lesson that you learn from a side project, because you usually have the time and money to implement those fancy ideas when you’re running a business full time.
My Lean Working Routine
In my current project, I focus on the following tasks to reach my 10% weekly follower and subscriber growth target.
- Publish a blog post every day.
- Send an email newsletter every week.
- Interact with my readers via comments, emails, Medium responses, and Twitter.
- Interact with my mastermind group.
- Make a single strategic change on my website every week.
That’s an extremely lean to-do list, if you take into account all the things you can do with a blog.
Determine the Most Strategic Change at a Given Time
I choose a strategic change based on my target, my Google Analytics, and heatmap.me results.
After failing my weekly email newsletter subscriber growth target, I checked the heat map of the landing page. I realized that some people clicked the links around the subscription box.
I removed the links around the subscription box and added a line about the no spam and one-click unsubscribe policy. That was all the changes I made in a single week.
How to Use Analytics Data
You can spend a lot of time looking at data from your email newsletter, Google Analytics, and heat maps, but it comes down to what you do with that data. Is your data actionable?
At a certain point, I realized that the page that was clicked the most as the second page was a category page. When I went to that page, I realized that it wasn’t optimal and had some bugs in it. I optimized it and removed the bugs. That way, I lose less visitors on those category pages.
Another simple change I made was to use smaller versions of the pictures in my blog posts instead of the medium sized ones. I got that tip from Google’s Test My Site tool.
This all comes down to resource allocation.
If I can do one strategic change per week what would it be?
I try to find the answer to that question every week and execute it in the weekend when I have more time. That question is a lesson learned from working on side projects, but it will serve you well in your full time business as well.
If you look at your daily life carefully, you’ll figure out that you have at least one hour that you can use productively on a side project.
The secret to succeed on a side project is to work on it consistently, every day for at least one hour. The best way to motivate yourself to do that is to create some accountability to others. If you don’t post every day, create an online mastermind group to do that.
Sustainability is a great lesson that side projects teach us that we can use in our full time businesses as well. It comes down to focusing on what matters and letting go of everything else.
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.