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The ultimate guide to avoiding side-project burnout

Are you working on a side project and finding yourself getting burnt out? You’re not alone. Burnout is something I’ve experienced a lot whilst working on side projects, sadly it has resulted in many of my projects being abandoned and never seeing the light of day. Throughout this post I’m going to share my step-by-step process for avoiding burnout so you can actually get that side project finished.

Develop a mentality of understanding

Before you start, you need to understand what you’re working on takes time and not be so hard on yourself.

We often impose strict and unrealistic goals on ourselves, the term side-project implies that the project you are working on is not your full time job, respect that. It’s something you do in addition to your main job so you can’t treat it in the same way that you would treat your main job.

You still need to have time to spend with your family, exercise, take care of other commitments as well as your full time job. It goes without saying that you can’t devote as much time to your side-project but a lot of the time that isn’t how we treat it, you need to understand the actual amount of time you have available and make sure what you aim to achieve is realistic.

1. Consider what features you want for launch

Start by making a list of the features you want for launch. Remember the more features you add the longer it will take you to complete and the greater the risk of you getting fed up and giving up. Or worse, trying to cram in development time where it just isn’t available, leading to frustration, fatigue and eventually the failure of your project.

2. Figure out how much time you have available

Figure out how much time you have available to spend work on your side project. Don’t try to be too specific you only need to know roughly how much time you have available. Consider the commitments in your life outside of your side project and how much time each of these commitments takes up. Try to be pessimistic about the amount of time things will take. For example, if you say your morning hygiene routine (such as showering and brushing your teeth) will take you 5 minutes then you’re probably lying to yourself. After you’ve worked out how much time you spend on things not relating to your side project the time left over is what’s available.

3. Half the available time

Now that you have a rough idea of how much time you have available, half it. I understand this is not what you want to hear and the amount of time you have to work on your project will be a lot less than you want to spend working on it but trust me, it’s the best thing to do. There are multiple reasons why this is a good idea:

  • Life does not care about your plans and will add unexpected tasks and events to your schedule
  • Because your side project is your baby you want to spend as much time as possible working on it, so chances are you’ve underestimated the time other commitments will take
  • It forces you to reduce the scope of work

Think about it this way, let’s say before halving your time you have 10 hours per week to spend working on your project and you decide that is the amount of time you will dedicate each week. What happens when some unexpected event occurs that limits the amount of time available? The answer, you feel demotivated, fed up and disappointed not only that but you will feel resentment to the thing that is taking your time even if it is something you should be happy about.

By taking the approach I’ve suggested and halving your available time you are giving yourself breathing space, it reduces the risk imposed by the unexpected demands on your time. There’s also the added benefit of having more time when things do run smoothly.

4. Reevaluate the features required for launch

Now that you have considered the amount of time you are going to have available to work on your project it’s time to take a look at the features you initially wanted for launch and reduce that list down to the bare essentials. I would recommend just one feature, the sooner you can get the product live and in the hands of potential customers the better but the amount of features required is down to you. The point is that the less you have to build the sooner you can experience the feeling of a job well done. You’re not waiting months because you have a million features that your customers might not even want.

5. Guard your time

So you’ve taken the steps above, now you need to ruthlessly guard the time that you have put aside for your project. Let everyone you know know that you are not available at X time because you will be working. Be confident, if this thing that you’re working on is important to you and you’ve taken time to consider the people in your life (when you worked out the time you have available) then your friends and family should appreciate the time that you’ve put aside for you.

If your friends and family can’t do this then you need to put the steps in place to make it impossible for them to do so. If your friends won’t stop calling, turn off your phone. If you can’t concentrate in your home, go somewhere where you can. You also need to make sure you’re guarding your time from yourself, procrastination is the devil of any side-project so you need to make it difficult for you to procrastinate and reward yourself for staying on track.

In summary

We’ve covered a lot in this post and I hope that you’ve found it useful. Try to be patient throughout your side-project development and understand that Rome wasn’t built in a day, that may sound cliche but it’s true. If you have taken the time to complete the steps above then you should find yourself less stressed, happier and accomplishing a lot more with your time. Trust yourself and the process and eventually you will get there.