How to find time for side projects

I am an web entrepreneur with many ideas and little time. Sometimes that is very frustrating. I know that I can create lots of great stuff, but most of the times I just can not find the time to do it. There are so many other important things that needs to be done.

Do you recognize yourself? I know exactly what you mean. I have a little daughter and I work 40-50 hours every week. And my head is filled with great ideas that I know that I can build.

Side projects can be powerful, if you ship. Craigslist started as a side project. Basecamp too. There are many more examples.

Over the years I’ve found a few things that works for me.

1. Make it a habit

Introduce 1 or 2 habits to follow that lets you build on your side project. Let’s say you always want to program for 30 minutes every day. Find a time that works for you. For some that is early in the morning before anyone else wakes up, for some it is during your lunch break and for others it is late at night. I’ve tried most times. Some worked for me, some did not. But once I found a time that worked for me I haven’t stopped. Some days it is only 30 minutes, and some days I will continue for hours – but the small habit keeps me going.

Building on your side project should be a habit, just like going to the gym and sleeping at night. No thinking: Should I work on my side project today? - just create a habit and stick to it.

2. Simple goals

At the end of every day I write a list of small goals for tomorrow. At the end of every week I write a list of bigger goals for the coming week. At the end if each year I write a list of huge goals for the coming year. This keeps my mind focused and it makes it much easier to focus on what you are going to do.

3. Take time from other things

Things that may not be as important to you as working on your side project is:

  • Following 10 different TV-series. Maybe you should limit it to 1?
  • Checking Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
  • Checking Google Analytics (I’m guilty of this!)
  • Golf and other time consuming activities
  • Work (maybe you should work 4 days per week if you’re really serious about building your side project)

Maybe some of the things above is more important to you than your side project. That is okay, and I won’t argue with your priorities. But don’t complain that you don’t have time if you’re doing an active choice to do something else.

4. Know what’s important to you

I love spending time with my family. Much more than I enjoy programming. So I make it a priority to be with them. That limits my time on weekends and evenings, but gives me free time early in the morning (when they’re sleeping) and late at night (when they’re sleeping). So I schedule my work on my side project on times that works for me.

Remember: You have the same number of hours in a day as Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Edison had. You just need to prioritize right.

5. Say no

A year ago I started trying to say “No” to everything that was not in one of the following categories:

  • a) Things I really like doing
  • b) Things that bring me closer to my goals

This is hard, and sometimes I find myself saying “Yes” just because I want to please someone else, but that rarely make anyone happy. Just remember that all of your goals does not have to be business-related.

6. One side project at a time

When I fail, I fail because I don’t focus on one project only. I try to do many things at once. You will never be as productive when trying to do two things at the same time.

Finish what you started. Either by completing the project or stop it before you start another. Think of your side project as a love affair – you should never start the next until you are ready with your current one.

7. No podcasts

Are you listening to podcasts while you’re building on your product? Stop. You are hurting your productivity. Some music or even nature sounds work best if you’re trying to do programming or writing. Podcasts are for walking, running, driving a car or waiting in line - not for your precious productive time.

8. This works for me

  • Arrive at work an hour early and do my blogging early in the morning.
  • Wake up early on weekends and get a few extra hours there
  • Build on a side project late at night a few nights per week.
  • Focus on the big tasks when I’m feeling productive and the small easy tasks when I have a bad day.
  • Listen to the same music tracks every time. A bit boring maybe, but my mind gets in the zone immediately when my playlist starts.

Share in the comments below – what works for you?