Six Ways to Stay Productive When You’re Working on a Side Project
In your regular work, it’s probably not too hard to stay productive. If you work for an employer, you’ll have a boss or a line manager keeping an eye on your output … and if you work for yourself, you’ll have clients waiting for their deliverables.
But when you’re working on a side project – something that you’re doing outside your normal work – it can be incredibly difficult to stay motivated and productive.
• Writing a novel … well, you’ve got three chapters tucked away in a drawer – they’ve been there for months.
• Starting up your own business … you sketched it all out on the back of an envelope and you can’t quite get round to finishing the business plan.
• Creating a piece of art of craft … you bought all the expensive materials that you need, you just haven’t actually used them yet.
I completely sympathize; I know how hard it can be to stay motivated when your initial flush of enthusiasm is gone. But if you’re going to finish those projects that you started, you need to stay consistently productive (regardless of your day-to-day levels of motivation…)
Your regular day job has set hours, perhaps 9am – 5pm. However tired and grouchy you feel in the morning, you still make it to work on time: you have a set daily routine.
When it comes to side projects, you’ve probably been working on them whenever the urge took you (which might not have been very often).
Try to establish a consistent schedule: look for times of the day, or days of the week, when it’s easy for you to sit down and work. For instance:
• You might choose to write 500 words of your novel every morning before breakfast, if you find you have more energy in the mornings than in the evenings.
• You could work on your business plan on Monday and Tuesday evenings, when you don’t have any social commitments.
• Your Saturday afternoons could be a great time to spend a few hours working on that art project.
Once you’ve established a routine, do your best to stick with it: pretty soon, it’ll become a habit.
#2: Create a Dedicated Space
Having space set aside for your side project is almost as important as having time set aside. You’ll need a place where you can easily spread out any materials (perhaps books, papers or craft items) and you’ll also need a comfortable chair.
Of course, you probably don’t have the luxury of a whole room that you can devote to your side project – but can you find a particular corner? You could put a desk into the guest bedroom so that you can write in peace, or set yourself up with a table in the garage where you can leave your craft materials set out.
#3: Get Your Loved Ones On Board
Are your family and friends helping you … or hindering you?
If you have a partner and/or kids at home, you might find that they interrupt you when you’re trying to focus on your project. This is when a dedicated time and place comes in handy: explain that on Saturday afternoons, you’ll be in the garage working and you’d appreciate not being disturbed.
Depending on what your project is, you might find yourself having to explain the reasoning behind it. If it’s going to cost a lot of money or take up months of your life, your partner (and your kids, if they’re old enough) will almost certainly want to know what the likely benefits are.
#4: Decide on Your Goals
It’s really hard to stay productive when you don’t know what exactly you’re working towards. If your side project is incredibly broad (“become a professional writer” or “make money on the internet”) then pick a specific long-term goal – where exactly are you planning to be in, say, three years time? (If you need a bit of help here, check out A Millionaire’s 9 Question Guide to Goal Setting.)
Once you’ve got a long-term goal in mind, you can narrow your focus to a medium-term goal, and then you can decide what to focus on during the next week or two. For instance:
• Long-term goal: have a novel published (3 years from now)
• Medium-term goal: write the first draft (8 months from now)
• Short-term goal: come up with an idea and a rough outline (this week)
When your only goal is long-term, it’s all too easy to decide to put off your project until tomorrow … or next week … or next month. When you’ve got a clear, specific goal that you want to accomplish within a week, it’s much easier to work towards that.
#5: Make a Clear List of Tasks
Even when your goal is clear, you might get bogged down in figuring out what you need to do to get there. Break your goal down into a list of tasks – action items that you can check off as you do them.
For the short-term goal above, come up with an idea and a rough outline for a novel, your task list might start like this:
1. Read the first few chapters of a book on novel-writing
2. Choose a genre to write in (e.g. thriller, romance, historical…)
3. Brainstorm some different possible ideas (e.g. themes, characters, situations)
4. Pick one idea to develop
5. Decide where the story begins
6. Come up with a main character (protagonist) and a character to oppose them (antagonist)
…and so on.
The more specific you can be, the better! If you find yourself getting stuck as you work through your list, try breaking down the tasks even further – split them into two or three subtasks.
#6: Track What You’ve Achieved
Finally, you’ll want to stay motivated over the long-term – and you’ll also want to see what’s paying off and what isn’t, so that you can work as effectively as possible. That means implementing some sort of tracking system that lets you view your results.
If you’re creating a website, for instance, you could install Google Analytics and review your traffic figures regularly. If you’re trying to make money from selling craft items on Etsy, you could keep notes on how long each piece took and how much you sold it for – that way, you can see where you’re getting the most profit for your time.
Whatever sort of project you’re working on, you can track what you’ve done: each month, write down 3 – 5 major achievements (e.g. something you did for the first time, a milestone you reached, anything that made you proud).
Are you working on any side projects … or would you like to? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
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This article was contributed by Ali Luke, a writer and writing coach, who has plenty of experience with slow-moving side projects (her own and other people’s!) If you enjoyed this post, click here to check out 7 Habits of Serious Writers – the most popular post on her blog Aliventures.
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