Yesterday I read an article called Making Time for Side Projects and its associated Hacker News discussion. It got me thinking about all the advice I’ve read over the years about productivity, about how best to use your time, and how to stop procrastinating over side projects and just get stuff done.
I don’t know the answer to how you get stuff done; I’m still just slowly getting used to spending more time actually doing things. I’ve written about procrastination before, and I’ll likely return to this topic every now and again. Partly so that I can reread it later in case I forget what I’ve learned.
Today I’m just going to share the random thoughts I’ve had after reading that article. Which brings me onto my first point.
Too Much Reading, Not Enough Doing
There was one comment in particular from that HN thread that caught my eye and motivated this post.
I wonder how many hours that would have otherwise been productive have been spent reading about productivity.
Despite the tongue-in-cheek tone, there’s a lot of truth there.
I’ve fallen into this trap many times – you read an insightful post, learn some home truths, get some clarity, and understand your situation better. You feel like something’s clicked and you’ll never look at the problem of procrastination the same way again.
Then you just go back to not doing stuff.
At this point I want to clarify something. The problem I’m describing is related to procrastinating over things no one is making you do. Maybe that’s why it’s hard, because you’re not accountable to anyone, but I’m strictly only talking about working on these side projects.
You can easily get through life and have a decent career without spending time outside of work bettering yourself. You’ll probably miss out on opportunities to meet people or learn things, but side projects are not essential in the way that, say, going to work is. Again, maybe that’s why it’s easy to procrastinate over it.
I realise the irony of talking about this problem when I’ve just said that reading about it is one of the barriers to getting stuff done. I’m afraid the only advice that I can offer is, in my view, the only universally “good” advice on the subject:
It doesn’t matter what it is. Write a blog, learn a new framework, mess around with automating something on your computer, scrape a random website for data. Anything.
Overthinking and overcomplicating are the enemies of getting things done. For bigger projects, obviously make a plan but if you’re ever stuck or feel overwhelmed that your side project is big, or you’re not sure how to continue, just do stuff. Don’t think about how it will fit into the bigger picture. Don’t think about how good a portfolio piece it will be. Just do stuff.
I’ve been following this maxim for about a year now, with what I thought was almost no success. When I decided to do this 30-day blogging challenge and had to get a list of ideas together to get started, that’s when I realised how many almost-finished side projects I had. None of them were very big, but they were all the result of me just sitting down and doing something. The structured nature of this challenge and the tight daily deadline finally brought me enough focus to start finishing them off by polishing the code and writing up blog posts.
Suddenly I started producing content.
The bigger picture version of the “too much reading” idea is one of the harsh truths pointed out in the Making Time for Side Projects article (and others).
It is that you should stop consuming, and start creating.
One of my favourite articles on the subject, which I will talk about in more depth in a later post, says this:
You hate yourself because you don’t do anything.
Harsh, but true. At least in my case it was.
I realise this all can come across as a bit preachy. Perhaps it is less so if I point out that I fail at this all the time. This entire piece is mostly just aimed at a past version of me.
What I’ve come to understand is that yes, these points are all true; it’s obviously better to do things than not do things. But you also have to understand that you will fail. You will sometimes inevitably spend a whole Sunday playing video games instead of working on stuff. We’re all human after all.
If that happens, just forgive yourself and move on. We don’t have to be “productive” all the time (I’ll return to that idea).
If you’re halfway through that Sunday and catch yourself procrastinating, then take some time and do stuff.
Footnote: This is the 15th entry in my 30 day blog challenge.