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Staying Focused on Projects (brendonbody.com)
100 points by bbody on Nov 17, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 15 comments

For me, “Step 6” on this page is the first step. I get started working on something! All this organizing and planning would be a great way for me to put off actually working on the projects. I’m constantly working on projects. Multiple nights a week. I suppose I should mention that I have no kids and I work 20 hours a week for my job, meaning I have a lot of “extra” hours in the week for my own personal work.

Also I’m not saying the authors view is wrong - everyone is different. And certainly my work situation is rare. I am not a planning person (my job as a prototyping engineer meshes well with this). So if all this Kanban stuff is too much for you, consider just working on stuff! :)

Anyway whatever the approach I’m glad this author is communicating what works for them about projects. A lot of people I talk to struggle with this.

Author here, thanks for your in-depth comment. I will have to agree that Step 6 is sometimes the first step for me too, the passion of a new idea can be overwhelming. However I do try to get it onto the board as quickly as possible, this way I can compare it to everything else there. I've found this sometimes helps me finish other tasks, e.g. recently I added Project Y which I'm really excited about but Project X is in progress with maybe a days worth of work. If I finish Project X, it is off my plate and I can go gangbusters on Project Y.

With regards to planning, I wouldn't say I'm a planning person either. I have just found this minimal amount of process has really helped me focus on getting stuff done without taking away any passion/creativity. As you said everyone is different so YMMV, for me if a reader could take one thing from my journey is discipline yourself to a limited amount of concurrent projects, it has done wonders for me and I definitely see friends not moving anywhere because they have too many projects competing on their limited free time.

Definitely good insight! I never used to finish projects. Then I had a super big project fail (a kickstarter) and I suffered really badly from it. I hit a personal rock bottom and the whole situation led me to reevaluate my thinking on my own work. Then I didn’t have projects for years. But finally I started working heavily on projects after a break up, and since then I’ve been getting so much shit done. I way more mindful of what I start and what doesn’t get finished, and I’ve just honed a flow that works well for me.

One thing I’ve realized is that I am good at setting small goals and usually getting them done in one sitting (sometimes failing and staying up too late). I try to tell people this. Get a raspberry pi and in the first sitting, just get far enough to ssh in. Then you’re done for the night! Next time you have a system waiting and you can get an LED to blink or serve a simple web page. Then later build one more bit, etc. I find it really rewarding to succeed in small bits!

I frequently find that going straight to step 6 results in the order of the steps being 6, 7, 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8.

Prototyping engineer sounds like my ideal work situation. How did you end up doing a gig like this?

Well it definitely started with me working on many projects since I was a kid. I soaked up a lot of knowledge across different related disciplines and my own portfolio of projects proved that. I also intentionally look for jobs that are away from the center of my previous experience, so I have a varied resume. Then I got an email from a recruiter for a contract position for mechatronics prototype engineer at google X. I brought two backpacks full of projects and for the position. Six months in to that role the manager running our research team left and they moved me to a test engineer. It was never the same and after a total of two years when my contract ended I found a new place to go. I knew what I wanted to I purposefully asked hiring managers if the role would allow me to prototype across different disciplines. Anyone that said “we have electrical engineers for PCB design and mechanical engineers for 3D printing, we just need you to do X” I would try to avoid. In the end the job I found was very special but I got here by working towards it on my daily life for a long time.

That’s what I do. For me it’s in the math and algorithm side. The key is being able to craft up proofs of concept and scripts fast. Show their value. Document well so the dev team can implement and the be able to quickly learn the next topic. I love it.

For me, the biggest problem seems to be that if there's a break in between (work/travel etc - need not be long - something as short as a couple of weeks is enough) and then I find it hard to pick up the project again where I left off :-(

Still haven't found a way to come back to projects once there's any sort of interruption.

My solution is to keep journals / diaries per project. In my experience, journals can handle even the most extreme interruptions (long travels abroad, urgent switches to different projects, long stretches of manager's schedule, health emergencies, etc).

I keep my journals in Workflowy, organized as follows: root folders for projects, subfolders for years, sub-subfolders for months, and the records at the bottom level.

It's not necessary to write daily. Write only if you have a message to your "future you" that could help him / her pick up the project after an interruption. Describe open problems, dilemmas you're facing, dead-ends you've encountered, decisions you've made, and next actions.

It's not necessary to write proper prose. Writing in caveman language is perfectly fine, as long as the future you can understand that.

That is a hard one, one thing I have found getting back into it is doing small tasks to get me back into it. Can be as small as updating the read me, CSS tweaks, comments, etc.

I've found a variety of trîcks working for me lately.

Kanban has been one. I've started it for things I'm learning, although it's not strictly. I'm using GitHub issues to track various different learning projects. Mostly I'll have an issue that lists a series of videos in a series or blog post series and I'll tick each one off as I do them and take notes in a comment. That has helped with falling off the wagon. I might slow down, but I remember eventually "oh I only got halfway through that series! Let's do the next one now" and continue to make progress.

Projects where I make things have been a little different. I've found making an ecosystem of interrelated projects helps with bothering to complete things because as one project drags on and the enthusiasm for it dies, the will to keep going is fueled by the passion and excitement for starting the next project. I think I might call this concept a "Project Stack". The next project just so happens to rely on the current one, so it needs to be finished. Wish I had discovered this hack sooner.

The other thing that has worked well is flipping from nights to mornings. And back again. Waking up first thing in the morning and working on my project for 1.5 hrs before work has definitely made me make progress after the enthusiasm wore off and I would have gone in search of shinier things. There's just something about there being no excuses. Not tired. No one needs me to do anything as they're all still asleep. Don't feel the need to entertain myself as it hasn't been a long day. Might as well make another step of progress. But then after awhile I start feeling the mornings become less productive and I slow down because really I'm a night owl at heart. So I switch back! This gives a renewed sense of energy.

I'm a few days out from finishing project 2 in a "project stack" about 5 to 8 projects deep. Can't wait to start number 3.

I never thought about switching back from the morning project work, will have to give it a try!

One thing that has helped me: Breaking up steps into smaller ones explicitly. Even if only "trivial" preparation work can be factored out, it will help getting started on bigger tasks and will provide the satisfaction of "checking off" something. And once started, further breakdown may become obvious.

#7 has more to it. It's a big deal. Falling off the wagon can be due to various reasons - lack of prioritization, unfamiliar tooling/technology, not knowing the value, striving for perfection, lack of iterations, and lack of context. These can more often lead to abandoning the projects altogether.

If you have time to read more about this, check out my blog post here https://iam.mt/working-on-side-projects/

OP Here, I agree, there can be a lot of reasons for #7, however I think if you beat yourself up too much from straying from your designated "In Progress" ideas then it becomes work not a passion project. Some discipline is required but a day to try something for another idea in the scheme of things isn't that big of a deal.

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