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Where do you find the time for side projects? (justinjackson.ca)
231 points by mijustin on Jan 24, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 130 comments

> The short answer is: I work on side-projects whenever I have a spare moment. I sacrifice other things (watching TV, reading the newspaper, playing video games) so that I can do creative work.

This is the real answer. You do not find time, you make it.

Time is important, but another factor is mental energy. I have only a certain amount of mental energy for each day. Things like TV, reading, and exercising are good when I'm in a low mental energy state. If I have a hard day at work, it doesn't matter how much free time I have since I just won't have the mental energy left to work on a side project.

The funny thing about mental energy is that it can be managed. I've experiment with this a lot and have found that a somewhat tightly regime of exercising, sleeping, eating (and more importantly watching what I eat), and ever so slightly calibrated caffeine intake, have enabled me to pretty much keep being productive all day.

The biggest effect I've discovered is that you can only do one type of work for about 6 or max 8 hours a day. Then you need to switch to something else for the rest of the day. For instance, if your day is spent programming, then at the very least your side project should be in a different language. Better yet, if it can be something other than programming.

And therein lies the rub.

I'm also reminded of the studies that document that routinely exceeding a 40 hour week causes reduced productivity (IGDA "Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work"), and that 40 hours was based on assembly-line work and the corresponding number for creative work is probably 35 hours max leads me to think it's just not possible to have a side project without interfering with your main job to some degree.

So yes, I've gladly given up TV and movies and gaming, but that still doesn't seem to make a side project feasible, which is really sad.

The part of a side project that is 'creative' is not often needed in the 40 hour all the time - once the creativity has run it's course into a todo list, I find making sure I have a clear list to pick up something I can start and finish is helpful.

Perhaps unusually I find I have unlimited mental energy for things that I find interesting to do, and a limited amount for things that aren't. I remember sitting through a lecture on introverts and extroverts and the discussion was around "energy" and how extroverts were energized by interacting with more people and introverts were "drained" by lots of interactions. The inverse was true as well (introverts getting energy during their alone time, extroverts feeling drained without external contact). In that lecture it clicked for me that certain mental activities energize me, and certain ones don't. For example learning new stuff "energized, organizing and cataloging "draining",

Ah, good point

I'd actually argue that TV is bad when you have low mental energy. It may feel good and that you're relaxing, but have you ever gotten up from watching TV and though "now I'm refreshed!".

Odd, I find that watching TV or movies does have that effect - I get bored of just consuming, and I want to produce.

actually, i feel like a taking a little time to read non-technical stuff (like fiction or history) and exercise makes the time i spend coding more productive. of course, it's possible to overdo it and go on a reading jag that eats up a lot of time or (i would imagine, anyway) exercise for a substantial portion of your day.

tv clearly sucks, tho, and the main point here is that i'm surprised to hear someone equate time spent watching tv with time spent reading or exercising.

I have a term for this: "etime" [1] (the product of time and mental energy). Both are necessary to get anything done.

[1] http://andrewoneverything.com/post/43544648479/i-dont-have-e...

I find that I get energized on my short (20 minute) drive home. Maybe it's the change in context, but even if I'm mentally fried at 5 I find that I can at least get another hour or two.

I used to have a less than 5min commute and it was perfect for "resetting" my mind. I now have about an hour commute; most nights it doesn't matter how much energy I had when I walked out of the office, by the time I get in the house I barely have enough energy to put something in the microwave and eat before passing out.

That happens to me, I have a 20 minute commute too. I do it by motorcycle and it makes me wake up in the morning and be ready to do whatever I want to do in the afternoons.

I find motorcycles amazing for this. Even a ten minute ride completely energizes me. It might have something to do with the total focus required.

I dont know if I buy it completely. When you have a full time job and 4 kids you dont play video games, watch tv, etc... you just constantly do things that have to be done.

Either his kids are older or he has someone else doing most of the parent work.

Hey, OP here.

Yup: you're right. There's constantly stuff that needs to be done. My kids are between 4-11. So we're out of diapers and potty training (which is huge).

I just keep finding spaces where I can create: early mornings, late at night, or during my lunch hour.

I answered this below, but basically every weekday between 5:30pm-8:30pm is family time (dinner, chores, bedtime routine). After that, I might try to build something if I have energy. Otherwise, I try to go to sleep. Weekends: wake up early and work on projects in the morning. Rest of the day is usually family activities.

None of this is perfect. I definitely don't have a perfect routine, and I definitely have that "hard life stuff" too: http://justinjackson.ca/real-life/

Edit: I should mention that I get a lot of work done in "fits of inspiration." Meaning: if I can't sleep, and it's 1am I'll work until 4am if I'm energized.

Ok, now I buy it. ;)

5+ is a great time when they can actually survive by and entertain themselves; And, going to school during the day relieves pressure too.

My side project schedule is about the same except starting a little later. I also try to work on things during tiny breaks (5-20 min) e.g. the bus, a waiting room, etc; Most of this time is sketching some diagram/UI/schema. But I find it very frustrating.

Thanks for the article Justin, I found it inspiring! I have a 3 year old who is almost beyond diapers, and who is requiring less time to put to bed, which I already see giving me more time for side projects. I've also found setting artificial constraints to side projects helps (to your point #1)...in my case, I set a goal of finishing 6 side projects in 6 months, each taking less than six hours (6x6x6: https://medium.com/design-startups/b602270880fd ); I got a bit stalled at the 5th project after taking a teaching job in addition to my startup gigs, but am still hoping to finish soon (may become 6x16(mo)x6).

This is essentially the same situation I'm in. I have 3 kids(4, 7, 9). I work a full time day job and then fit in side projects wherever there is time. This is typically after the kids are in bed, if I wake up with a bout of insomnia, early weekend mornings, etc...

My biggest downfall/problem is that I want to develop my own products and make money that way (and I am big into networking and selling), but I never focus on that. I've spent the last 3 years stuck in a never ending rut of contracting work for all of my side projects. The money is good, but it leaves me unsatisfied, and now I've been doing it long enough that I'm extremely burned out.

Either his kids are older or he has someone else doing most of the parent work.

I have a full time job (40 hours per week), 3 kids under 10 and a side consulting job that takes from 15 to 20 hours per week where I make about an extra $80k per year on top of my full time gig.

I also take my 3 kids to their basketball games, karate, cheerleading, baseball, soccer, lego mindstorms club, etc and help them practice each of their sports at home, help them with homework, etc. In fact I recently attended a Parent University for 3 nights of 2 hour sessions to learn modeling with Singapore Math so I could help them with that homework.

What do I avoid? TV, movies, other media consumption. I think of myself as a producer, not a consumer. I also don't have any hobbies beyond the one I've loved since I was 10 years old - computers. It just so happens I can make a lot of money with my hobby.

Contrary to your assertion, it's very possible to have 3 young children and work 55-60 hours per week and do a lot of the parenting work.

Are those 15-20 hours/week of consulting largely client-led? e.g., you're working to their deadlines and their requests? And you're getting paid for each hour you work?

I think that's a little bit different (at least in my experience) to working on a side-project where you have your own deadlines (and can thus break them), having little guarantee of making anything for your time, and can more easily make the decision to rest one night when you're exhausted rather than keep pushing forward with the uncertainty.

5 work days = 120h 120-60 = 60 8h sleep a night for 5 work days = 40h 60-40=20h

20h kid time a week. Not too shabby.

Now i need this 20h a week 80k a year consulting gig of yours.

This. I have 2 kids, ages 6 and 9, and there's always something to do (help with homework, help with piano, take to soccer, make a cake from scratch together, etc). When everyone's asleep, that's when I work on my side projects. If I'm lucky, I get 2-3 solid hours before my body physically shuts down. I made a decision years ago to do away with tv, video games, etc during "me time," and instead work on projects / catch-up on reading. It's about slow, steady progress. It might take me a month to crank-out what amounts to be 10-hrs worth of work, but, in the end, it gives me more happiness than if I spent that month on tv.

My problem is that by time I get to that point, my brain is done for the day. After 8 hours of work, an hour of commute, dinner, kids, etc I don't have enough energy to do side projects.

You may be getting emotionally & physically drained by your job? Working with wrong type of people and/or long distance travel will do that to one. Also try taking (or increasing dosage) of fish oil tablets for the brain. And if you are not getting enough exercise or good food you will also physically be drained. Contrary to many beliefs Exercise gives energy and allows you to rest well at night.

I like my job and the people I work with. And it's a good job, mentally demanding but reasonably so. If I was sitting around twiddling my thumbs all day, I might have more energy for side projects. Having a 7-hour-a-day job that requires the same skills as my side project tends to dull my motivation.

I'm definitely trying to get more exercise as at this point I feel that might be the best way to approach the problem.

Yeah I think you might have cracked the case wide open.

I had the same problem. Few things that I did was once my 18 month old is asleep, during the week, wifey will be studying for her pharmacy stuff while I work on side projects. This gives me couple of hours a day to work out a few things.

The 2nd thing I did to increase my motivation to actually do anything was to buy a big dry erase board and post my goals for this year. It's out in the living room, fully visible to anyone. That way I don't look like a fool for not doing anything :)

Glad to hear there are people who are productive with side projects even with family and kids.

One thing I've almost stopped doing is just watching TV. Actually TV completely. I do watch documentaries from netflix and youtube on tablet while exercise-biking, washing-dishes, folding laundry etc.

This is the only answer. Back when I was trying to build a prototype to try to get some angel investment. I kept trying to find time to hack on the project, unsuccessfully. It wasn't till I set myself a hard schedule that it fell into place for me.

I'd wake up at 6, go to the gym for 2 hours. Be showered and ready to go to work by 9. In at work at 9:30. Out by 6-6:30. Home by 7. then I'd allow myself just 1 hour of TV while I made and ate dinner. so I'd start working on my stuff by 8:30-9. then I'd hit the sack at 12.

It added up, and I was able to get it all done and ready to go in 2 months. Unfortunately the investor flaked on us (shocking), and my partner wanted to go in a different direction. So I'm now stuck trying to do the pivot on my own, which is hard(er) because I don't have the Real estate license I need to complete the pivot.

I don't see anywhere in there that you suggested you have kids or are married, so forgive me if I'm assuming here.

Being married by itself is a huge drain on time, though maybe not as much as dating, there is more leeway given. However, throw in a toddler, and a small commute, and here's what my schedule looks like:

Up at 4:30am, leave for work at 5:30, get there at 6 am. Work until 3-3:30 or so, go home and (M/W/F: workout, T/Th: Occupational Therapy for Carpel Tunnel - done soon though), 4:30pm - off to pick up my son, 25-30 minute commute each way, spend 30 minutes chatting about his day with my parents who watch him, and get home about 6-6:20pm, cook dinner, wife gets off at 7, home at 7:30. Eat, give kiddo a bath, put him to bed. At this point it's about 8:30pm, Since I get up at 4:30, I tend to start winding down here and go to bed at 9 - and hopefully asleep by 9:30.

Tuesdays and Fridays are a bit better: Tuesday they drop him off, the wife is off Friday (4 10s) so when I get home and work out, I have a few hours I could blow. We usually watch our weekly movie here if the toddler "allows it", but I could work with the TV going (she wouldn't give it up).

Saturday and Sunday are my big work days for getting stuff done. I have to compete with my wife's attention since we don't see each other much all week, and I usually have a "honey do" list of things to do, but I put aside at least 2-3 hours each day for that. Add on watching the kid, doing grocery shopping, and my wife's social events, it often cuts into my time considerably.

Time doesn't fly when you get old so much as when you get married and have kids. ;)

There is time leakage all over this itinerary you have listed.

Up at 4:30am, leave for work at 5:30

It takes me 15 minutes to get up, shower and prepare breakfast which I then eat in my car on the way to work (2 pieces of wheat toast). What do you do in this hour?

Also you realize that most people don't have things like occupational therapy for Carpal Tunnel taking up time in their day? (Incidentally, I "had" carpal tunnel for 2 years until someone on Slashdot told me about http://www.rsi.deas.harvard.edu/mb_what_is.html and I haven't had CT problems in 8 years, so just passing it along).

so when I get home and work out, I have a few hours I could blow. We usually watch our weekly movie here if the toddler "allows it"

Again, major time leakage. First, with three kids under 10, a full time job and a 15-20 hour per week side job I don't look at any time as "time I could blow". The concept of a "weekly movie" is completely foreign to me.

I'm not saying you shouldn't enjoy wasting time on things like movies, but you shouldn't correct someone when they say that most people are capable of making the time if they shift their priorities around.

I certainly wasn't "correcting" anything. He gave his schedule, I noticed he seemed to be single with no kids, and showed him my schedule (which is pretty light in comparison to other parents or parents with two high school kids with activities, etc)

Yeah, there's time leakage, but not as much as you make it out to be.

Up at 4:30, ok, I hit snooze for 10 minutes once. I then sit and drink some coffee and look at hacker news. 15 minutes or so. I shave (my head too, I'm a baldy), do my morning business, and shower. That's about 20 minutes. I usually have some dishes from the night before that need cleaning, or a dishwasher that I empty.

Like I said, I could work during Movie time, but you know what, I love my wife and enjoy spending time with her. I also have other hobbies (seems you mentioned above that your work is your only hobby)

I also notice some of the other wifes don't work and take care of the house and kids. My wife works full time, and I'm a good husband that does my share around the house and and equal share raising the kid. Sure, I could push more on her and be selfish, but I'm not going to.

My only real time leakage is in the mornings (I like and feel I need time to wake up) and on Friday with a weekly movie. I don't really care that you think it's odd. 2 hours a week watching "TV" is so minimal people I know call me a freak. The fact that it seems alien to you to set aside time to relax and not think about anything says volumes about you (not necessarily bad things, mind you).

Thanks for the link. Looks a little, uh, suspect. My wife is a Physical Therapist though, I'll run it by her.

Edit: Link might not be relevant for me, only been doing OT for a couple months, before that had an EMG done and nerve damage was shown to exist.

Link might not be relevant for me, only been doing OT for a couple months, before that had an EMG done and nerve damage was shown to exist.

Yeah, I had multiple EMGs done on both hands. Nerve damage in both. You know when you're doing an EMG and it is supposed to raise up super fast and then drop down super fast in a very thin inverted V? Well mine was a plateau of a couple inches wide, that's how much nerve damage I had.

It's been over 8 years since I've had a symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome though. I type 130 words per minute and probably type the equivalent of a novel per week (I do a lot of SEO stuff in my side gigs) and never have a problem.

If you really want to learn what's causing your problems - get Healing Back Pain by John Sarno or The Mindbody Prescription (same author). Check this 20/20 segment out from several years ago - I can't find the original Google Video version that I watched, this seems to be a substitute:


It's not "in your head". It's real physical problems. It's not "not applicable" to you because you have real physical issues that show up on tests.

Or, just ignore what I've said and carry on.

Eating two pieces of toast for breakfast is no way to live. Eating them while driving and you've given up.

The toast that can be eaten in the car is not the true toast. That is at best, previously warmed soggy buttered bread.

I feel a Neil Stephenson level discursive diversion coming on, complete with descriptions of the proper feel of toast on the roof of the mouth as the butter softens, but doesn't eliminate the sharp pointy bits, but it's late, and I should be paying attention to my wife while the kids manage to sleep.

(((Thank gnu that the kids sleep now. 7 years of one of them waking up every. single. night. gets very old. )))

Tell us, oh wise one, how we may enter Breakfast Nirvana with you. Teach us, oh enlightened Breakfast Master, how to enter into the Kingdom of Breakfast Heaven.

I eat two pieces of toast in the morning for breakfast because I want to eat two pieces of toast in the morning for breakfast. Just like I haven't eaten red meat in 26 years because I don't like red meat. I am not starving myself, I am not sacrificing my tastes, I am eating exactly what I want to eat.

Should I list other things I enjoy doing that happen to be healthful that you can disparage?

Some ideas, from one with a small child:

Lunch breaks are great for side projects, even if you have to go work in your car in the parking lot, or the cafe down the street.

Also, if your commute is via or can be via public transportation, or a car pool, you can work on that.

See if you can get up at 4.30 on weekends as well. I bet your spouse and child don't, so it's an instant extra couple of hours.

Hope that helps.

wow. I read this comment after wasting all day on reddit and HN doing nothing.


Time is limited. You have to "spend" it wisely on stuff that's important to you. What do you spend your 4 hours of "free" time each night? Wife & Kids? Bar? Football? learning new languages? Every choice is made at the expense of other options.


Also... look in the couch cushions. I find lots of stuff there when I can't find something.


Although, I've found that setting a good foundation (having some goals, using inspiration wisely, and having a task system) really help as well.

Yap. Totally agree. We are great at filling in our daily life with stuff giving us the perception we are too busy. But how important is that stuff.

We are great at keeping track of our money but very poor when it comes to keeping track of where and how we spend our time. Once you do you find out where & how you spend your time you will find opportunities. Always. Then optimize!

I remember years ago when I 1st decided to sell our TV and go TV-less. The best decision I ever made. It was like a massive block of free time opened up each day. Next was removing stuff that was not adding value and finally maximizing my time i.e. instead of sleeping on a commute I would review my GTD list etc.

It works largely, as long as you are careful to recognize when too much is too much and your brain needs rest. Take care of not burning out (I'm a father with 2 kids who use that technique fairly often - it definitely has limits).

I found I have so much more time when I have lived without a tv. Recently in Australia they cut of analog broadcasts, and I just haven't gone out to get a digital box.

There is no shame in not having the time and mental energy for side projects. Working full-time is hard, and not everyone is born with the capacity to be an intellectual superhero.

It's good that some people are, but I think the relentless focus on people who achieve great, nearly superhuman things sets an unrealistic standard for the rest of us. If you can't find the time, energy, inspiration or focus to do other ambitious things on the side of your regular day job, there is no shame in that. You'll be a perfectly good person if you do your day job and fill the rest of your time with low-powered hobbies, or even mindless things like TV or reddit.

Even in Norway, with our 9-5 culture with 5 weeks of compulsory holidays and court-enforced overtime payment, it can be hard to get enough distance from things to do other stuff on the side. And it is always a question of priorities. If your time goes to your personal side projects, there will be less time and attention to maintain your health, your relationships and your family. This is simply not a question. I don't even want to think about doing this kind of thing if I was working the startup grind, or even the regular West Coast "60 hours a week".

Don't feel bad if you can't do this. Your mental health will thank you. Time and time again, I see intelligent people display a focus and ambition which almost merits an OCD diagnosis. Many of us should take a step back and investigate what we really want to do. If your side projects are important enough, take a part-time position instead of trying to fit it in alongside your full-time job.

A lot of people project an image of themselves as an "Intellectual Superhero". This may make everyone feel lesser because no one actually is an intellectual superhero.

I leave my house 90 minutes before I'm due at work. It takes me between 15 and 30 minutes to get to work, depending on traffic and public transportation. Instead of going into the office, I go into a coffee shop around the corner and write for 45-60 minutes, and then head up into the office.

I've managed to keep this up for 3 months straight now, and while I'm not anywhere close to being ready to publish, I've got more words written in my book(s) than I wrote in the last 3 years combined.

As another wise person once said: there's no such thing not having time -- only not making it a priority. Everything comes down to priorities. Do you not have time to do side projects, or is making side projects not a priority for you? Make a list of everything you do in your time, and fo reverything that is a lower priority than your side project, bump it off the list. Don't do it. Do your side project instead.

Drinking with buddies less important than finishing your side project? Schedule it for another time. Is Breaking Bad less important than finishing your side project? Watch it on Netflix later.

And so on. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.

I decided a few months ago that publishing a book was one of my top priorities. What wasn't my top priority? Watching yet another episode of some TV show on Netflix. Instead of watching 3 episodes a night, I can watch 2, go to bed an hour earlier, wake up an hour earlier, and have time to write in the morning before work with zero distractions.

Works for me, anyway. Good luck.

The short and skinny for me:

> The short answer is: I work on side-projects whenever I have a spare moment. I sacrifice other things (watching TV, reading the newspaper, playing video games) so that I can do creative work.

In late August of last year I had come to the conclusion that I needed to start and finish a small project to get a feel for what it takes to see things through and gain perspective on what it takes to bring an idea to reality. I've been building things for as long as I've been able but in software it's never, "finished," and I always have my nose to the grindstone. So I picked a hobby I'm passionate about, scoped out a project I felt could be reasonably completed in my spare time and at the advice of a friend I signed up to be a vendor at a local comic/arts/games festival... and I only had an idea!

Needless to say it put a lot of things into focus. I did sacrifice time with my wife in the weeks leading up to the event. I spent every spare moment I had when I wasn't at work or taking care of my family on it (with the occasional night off of course). I realized pretty early on that I wasn't able to do everything: I farmed out illustration and typesetting work to other freelancers. I never did find an editor in time which hurt the project a little I think. But every step of the way up until that milestone I was thinking about what I needed to do next in order to get there.

And when I was finally there? I printed twenty books. Sold six. And couldn't have been happier with the outcome. I have a website up, the beginnings of a fun little project and this year my goal is to work on marketing and promotion: something I have never done before.

You just have to play with the hand you've been dealt.

Congrats on shipping!

Could you share a link to the book? I'd love to see it.

BTW: My next book is specifically aimed at helping developers with marketing - http://justinjackson.ca/marketingfordevelopers/


Thanks for taking a peek. Let me know what you think of the site.

If it's something that really interests you, get in touch. I really like to get reviews/feedback. :)

This looks really cool.

However, my first inclination was to close the tab because I didn't get it.

I love playing board games (Dominions, Pandemic, etc) and have always wanted to try D&D. Am I your target audience?

Then I found your value prop at the bottom of the page:

"Dungeon Masters Delight is a series of books that aims to collect useful hacks and tricks for the discerning dungeon master. It aims to fill in the gaps of literature concerning running and developing tabletop role playing games. "

I've put together some changes here


I used http://www.webedit.io to do this review.

That looks much better. Thanks!

Update: Changed the subtitle text and added links to the "Buy" and "Subscribe" pages.

Good on you for getting it done. This also happens to be relevant to my interests — purchased.

My problem is not that I don't have 2 spare hours a day. The problem is this time is severely fragmented, with 15 or 20 minutes being the largest fragment.

Working on code takes some concentration which is hard to attain in 30-60 seconds; it's closer to 10-15 minutes, but then the time is up.

I struggle with this as well. My coping mechanism has been heavy use of lists. I write down what I'm going to do before I do it, if it is going to take any time at all. Sounds brutally inefficient, and I guess it is, but I've found that the "sync up" penalty was much worse overall when I didn't use the lists. This way I know exactly where I was and can ramp up a bit quicker.

The other satisfying part about lists (esp. hierarchical, I use Todoist fwiw), is that there really is a lot that can be fleshed out about what needs to get done on a project when there is even a little spare time. I'm not going to code during the 5 minutes spent waiting for the dentist, but outlining some fairly low level tasks I need to complete is doable and useful.

I used to work 30 minutes every morning on side projects. I did it for 2-3 years. It wasn't hard to get focus as long as I did it every day. It worked as long as I did it every day. Reserving a slot of time for working allowed me to not feel guilty of watching tv, going out... I felt good about having done what I wanted and knew there would be 30 minutes again the next day. Here are a few things that helped me :

- Keeping a todo list on a paper under my keyboard to start quickly.

- Reserve larger things that takes time like refactoring for the week-end (2-3 hours ).

- I tried to use the same technologies I used at work to avoid learning time.

- I asked my wife to avoid asking me things at that time

What takes up the majority of the time in your day?

Try these:

* Sleep one hour less a night.

* Don't drink alcohol.

* Prepare all food for the week in advance.

* Cut down your time from awake to shaved, showered, dressed to 15 minutes.

* Work less at your day job.

* Sleeping less than the norm makes you stupid, I try to avoid this.

* I don't drink alcohol at all.

* Nice idea about food, which I mostly follow. Not all food can stay palatable for a week, though.

* Faster startup is a nice idea, too.

* Working less on my day job would be nice, but probably my employer won't be happy. I'm not overworking.

I find it really useful to prepare all "menus" in advance for the week. Preparing food in advance for the week doesn't really work for me as I like to eat fresh food. Not having to decide what to eat on the fly saves me so much mental bandwidth. It can make the shopping more efficient too.

I would say sleep is the single most important thing. Never cut that corner if you don't absolutely have to.

My best moments of clarity are on my hour long morning drive after a good night's sleep, not when I'm actually doing the work.

Why is this downvoted? It's good advice.

The only 'controversial' one is sleep - which can vary by experience. If you're sleeping 9 hours, cutting 1 hour back to 8 shouldn't be catastrophic. If you're already only sleeping 6, then it's a different story.

> The short answer is: I work on side-projects whenever I have a spare moment. I sacrifice other things (watching TV, reading the newspaper, playing video games) so that I can do creative work.

I tried this approach for a while, but it greatly degraded my quality of life. Eventually I found that I was always hunting and hoping for a spare moment, instead of just enjoying whatever moment I was already in. It's true that I get less side project stuff done now, but I'm happier, so that's what counts for me.

I know the feeling -- It makes me seem like I'm always distracted when I'm around friends and family because I'm either thinking about or working on a side project. What I need to do is stop multitasking and focus on the right things at the right times -- and the author suggests good ways of doing that while not sacrificing quality time with others: wake up early, use lunch (don't like this idea), wait 'til kids asleep, etc.

Every "main project" I have (or have had) began life as a "side project." Literally. 100% of my non-consulting income (and my consulting income is peanuts) for the past 5 years has been from side projects that stuck and did well enough to go full time.

Given this, it's absolutely imperative I continue to invest time into experimenting and trying out more side projects, because they could well be my main gig in a few years.

I know exactly where Justin is coming from. I'm married with 4 kids. I'm glad my wife supports my side-projects. After the kids are put to bed (around 8-9 p.m.) I will work until midnight. My wife will hang out in the office with me while I work. On the weekends I wake up at 6:30 a.m. and work until around 10:30 a.m. From there I will spend the rest of the day with the wife and kids.

I tend to set a goal for what I want to achieve in a given period (for me it's about 4 hours). It's easy to be all over the map when you don't have a full day to commit. With a strict schedule and a goal anything can be achieved.

Thanks: yes, having a supportive spouse really helps.

In some ways, having the constraint of a family is helpful: you know you only have x number of hours. There's no time to fool around.

One thing I can suggest. Don't commute to work and if you do make it as short as possible. This time is wasted.

Depends on the commute - I bought a small laptop so I could work on my side project while on the train. I've found that I can get a lot done in the 10 20-minute legs of my weekly commute. I'm sure it is less efficient than taking the 200 minutes in a solid stretch - but it was easy to fit into my life so I kept with the habit (which is the hard part for me).

(At least until I stumbled on a good book - totally off the wagon now)

I've been doing this 40 minutes total a day for almost a year. I've probably doubled my knowledge of programming in that time. Something about the short time and nothing else to do gets me to focus like crazy.

Not always the case if you can ride public transit. I've gotten a couple coding projects done on the bus.

Couldn't agree more. That's been one of the biggest changes in my life since I switched to remote work. Now, I can commute by bike (10-15 minutes at the most).

I talked about it here: http://justinjackson.ca/remote/

Not necessarily. For me, commute time (about an hour a day, on a bike) is down-time, during which I can think about and strategize on projects. Traditionally, it's also a time when insights and inspirations strike, though obviously that may not be the case for everybody.

I also find that having a little psychic space between work and home helps me better regulate intrusions between them.

Or if you do, take the bus or train! I still commute once a week to the city and that 40-60 minutes is priceless.

Sometimes commutes are unavoidable, but I've found that podcasts and audiobooks make this time feel less wasted and helps regain the time taken away from personal entertainment time when working on side-projects.

If it's a good book or episode I sometimes look forward to the time to myself in my car.

For me, my 30 minute commute is time to wind down for a bit. I couldn't tolerate a longer commute than that though.

Scheduling time for yourself and sideprojects is super important. I just started to do this recently and it's making a world of difference. So lock down a night a week or whatever and make it your "sideproject" time rather than grabbing a beer with someone or whatever.

Great Post Justin! I love how open you are with this stuff :)

Super true; it's the same principle as "pay yourself first" in finances. Locking down time in advance truly helps.

For a long time I fell into the trap of thinking that I needed to find a block of a few hours so that I could sit down, get into the zone, and get some side-project work done. The result of that was that I never found a 4 or 5 hour block unless I took a day off work and so I made slow or no progress.

More recently I've made the concious effort to do small pieces of work wherever I can fit it in: lunch break, get up an hour earlier, an hour in the evening, etc.

If your tools are set up for a quick start then it's pretty easy to get some good work done in a spare 30 minutes and all those small pieces of work soon add up to a finished product.

I made the decision not to get married or have children so that I would have time for side projects. Unfortunately, single people are often expected to stay later to enable those with family obligations to leave earlier.

I made the decision not to get married or have children so that I would have time for side projects.

Same here.

Unfortunately, single people are often expected to stay later to enable those with family obligations to leave earlier.

I just don't do that shit... to hell with expectations. You only get one life, and I don't know about you, but I have my own dreams I'm chasing.

Maybe parents are just more likely to have the guts to stand up to this kind of abuse.

You're expected to work overtime? Refuse. Quit. There are no other healthy options. I do occasionally work overtime, but it's my own choice, and I get the time back when things cool down again. Becoming a father didn't change my approach one bit.

This. When I became a parent the decision to say know got easier to make. I didn't really notice a difference in what was asked of me. I just wouldn't put up with shut anymore. My time became wayyyy too important. Literally every extra minute at work was a minute I wasn't raising my son to be awesome.

This--makes it all the more difficult for childless employees.

My first reaction on reading your decision to not get married or have children in order to have more time, is that you should think about adopting a more balanced approach to life.

Screw that. It's not my fault you settled down and knocked up your partner. If we have the same level of responsibility, we work similar hours. Done.

While I too look forward to the impartial application of policy, employers have their own interpretation of who, in fact, is "done." I have bolted from less than mutually beneficial working arrangement, myself.

Quit. Find another job. Your time is too valuable.

You work as many hours as you decide to, so does everybody else. Get abused as much as you like, but please don't try and make others feel bad for not doing the same.

One thing that I didn't fully appreciate till I had kids was some of the hobbies I did before weren't really that important to me. There's a difference between the things you do because you truly want to and those that are just filling time or you're doing them because you feel like you have to.

Once you identify and remove the time-wasters, it gets easier to make time for other stuff, and I still get away with spending time with friends and some tv here and there.

Set up times to work with people. The best stretches of pounding out productive side project work usually start with discussing it with a friend, both lamenting how much we're wasting time and messing around on it, and then we show up at one person's apartment or a coffee shop and hack on our respective side projects for 4 hours straight.

the real answer is also generally:

"do minimum at work, you don't need to actually do more than that"

it frees your brain to work on the side stuff. its not just time that is needed. many of us keep working and thinking about work even when they're not technically "at work", for hours. Or the "i really should have this finished".

Nope, you don't.

Justin, I did not see you mention wife and kids activities anywhere in the article. 1. Does your wife work? 2. Who takes kids to their activities? including playing the basement, reading stories to them, taking them to McDonalds 3. How much family time do you spend per day? 4. How does your typical day and weekend look like ?


For sure:

For reference: I work 8 hours a day at my day job, with an hour for lunch.

1. Wife does not work outside the home (full-time caregiver) 2. We both share kid activities - I try to take as many of these as I can. 3. Basically from 5:30pm - 8:30pm I'm in dad mode: dinner, chores, playing with kids, reading bed time story, putting them to bed. 4. Typical weekend: I wake up early Saturday & Sunday and work on personal projects. The rest of Saturdays is hanging out with family. Every Sunday we try to go skiing as a family.

Wow, not bad. I've got 2 small kids, but 4 kids sound like a different level, kids don't scale in my experience.

I'm approaching my side projects strikingly similar, got just one thing to add: Time not spent physically working on projects can still be spent working on projects. I routinely solve both technical and non-technical problems I'm facing in my projects after thinking them through during a walk with the boys, or chores. I enjoy and treasure the time with them, but spending time with toddlers doesn't seem to require my full mental capacity.

That said, I'm doing this not because I think I ought to have side projects just for the sake of it. I'm doing it because this is my best shot at building the future I want to have for me and my family.

Manage your own 20% at work. Depending on your environment (colleagues, management expectations, your personal levels of productivity), this can be doable. Not necessarily 20% (that's a lot), can be 10, or even 5, but that's still something.

is it really possible ? I think whatever you do during your work hours becomes property of your employer, not you.

* if they find out

If you do not have kids - I really do not see how you can say you do not have time for side projects. I live in manhattan, work between 50-70 hours per week, have a girlfriend, exercise 5 days a week for 1 hour, drink a lot, and watch some tv (HBO only), and have multiple side projects.

Here is what I do not do: watch sports (huge time suck), watch TV (unless im programming at the same time), commute to work (5 minute bike ride), go to bed early, have kids, program because I have to.

I would love to see a csv with one column that is "Have side projects (Y/N)" and "Watch sports weekly" in the other .... I think you would see a trend

You and I are very similar (I live in Seattle not Manhattan and my commute takes 20 minutes not 5), but I do watch sports. And I still have side projects. I am in fantasy leagues as well, and I still have time for side projects.

Do you mean all sports? Or maybe Baseball, Basketball, and/or hockey? Since those sports have multiple games during the week, they can be a time suck. For hockey, I generally only watch Hockey Night in Canada on CBC (assuming I can find a bar that will put in on). For basketball, I generally only watch the 4th period during regular season (they don't start playing till the 4th). Baseball I don't watch on TV because they only show the pitcher and batter, and all the other cool parts aren't shown. But football isn't a time suck at all unless you are trying to watch EVERY game on Sunday. But even when I go on binges of watching every game on Sunday, I still make time for my side projects.

As mentioned in the article, give up useless timekilling activities (TV, Facebook, etc).

The other big thing for me is cache warming. If you are doing non-mental activities such as showering or driving, use that time to plan what you're going to do next on your project. Pre-solve the problem: write the code, book, whatever, in your head. When you have free time - even if it's only fifteen minutes - dump the contents of your brain into your laptop. Don't spend that fifteen minutes thinking "where was I?" Do that in advance, and maximize your output in short stretches of time.

This approach is literally magical for me.

For those of you who write code for your side projects how long does it take for you to get ramped up and going. Sometimes it can take me 30 minutes before I feel like I'm in the full swing of things and if I only have an hour total of free time that means next to nothing gets done. Somedays I find it particularly hard to flush out problems I've been thinking about at work switch gears and work on problems for my own projects. My mind will just get stuck in a state of trying to crunch on the work issue.

Start freelancing, then raise your rates and use my little calculator [1] to "make time", then work on side projects.

Also: as someone who did a lot of side-projects over the last few years, my advice is "start a side product" instead (if you want to end up living out of it, that is).

[1] https://www.wisecashhq.com/goodies/bootstrapper-calculator

Perhaps some validation would be useful, but 20 days per week?

Good point - I'll add some validation in there, thanks!

Oh I thought it said 20 HOURS per week.

Sorry for the confusion! I'll clarify the wording.

I emphasize working with days (vs hours) because I find it really pleasant to have days dedicated to one project instead of more than one.

In my organization, each day is dedicated to one main topic (consulting, or my own product, or something else etc).

Hope this helps!

That's what happens when you allocate 20 days a week toward bootstrapping.

Great discussion here. I particularly like the debate over whether of not there is merit to the notion of conservation of mental energy. I did a side project https://github.com/gengstrand/clojure-news-feed over the winter holiday. It was not exhausting to me because it was a learning project so I found it to be fun instead of tiring.

I always find there's a lot more time available than people realize. If you cut down your time wasted, it really ads up. I like to think of it this way: There's 24 hours in a day, I spend 6-8 asleep. Where are the other 16 to 18 hours going? If I spend 10 hours a day working, that's 6 to 8 hours evaporating. If I can capture just an hour a day to work on something fun, it really adds up.

Yup, there's those that are doing things and those complaining on hacker news that they dont have enough time to get everything done.

I usually sacrifice sleep. You can't do it too long or it can get to you, so I will do a week of little sleep and then one or two weeks of a good nights rest. In my mid 20's though, I sacrificed social interaction for my "side projects". To be frank, sometimes it's my work. (a whole other rant about lack of incentive)

On my commute... it doesn't sound like much, but when you add it up, it is close to 8 hours per week

Try and get an hour before work in, or an hour right after work. I like to sit at a coffee shop or a bar for this. Then finding some weekend time should be trivial.

It's a marathon not a race, well, at least for many of us.

Edit: Oh yes, and there is always 15-30 mins you can squeeze in at lunch breaks.

9pm to 1am. after the kids go to bed. I don't watch tv. at all. ever. When you find stuff you're excited about, its easy to stay motivated. I keep my side work fresh and new.

Early morning (5AM-7AM) OR after the kid and SO goto bed between 9:30 and midnight... Then I quite my job and went all in so I guess it's not a side project anymore ;)

Man, I really hate article titles that are a question...

Definitely agree with setting a deadline. I set a 3 month deadline recently for a large side-project and we're just about ready to launch on schedule :)

Immediately after dinner from 7:30 PM to 10:30 PM. Then all afternoon/evenings on weekends. I forgo most leisure time except time with wife and baby.

For me it´s cyclic, every six months I fall into a creation craving period. An understanding wife and not so intense daily workload helps.

Something like a bipolar disorder?

You have to MAKE time for stuff out side of work.

I can tell you how I do it, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend my path to anyone else. I'm not even 100% sure I'd recommend it to a younger version of myself, although I'm also not sure I'd recommend against it either.

Basically, I'm single and childless, and darn close to my every free minute goes into the startup project. When I was working full-time, that meant "after work" M-F and the majority of my Sat and Sun. hours. I make an exception during football season to watch the Dolphins game on Sunday (yeah, yeah, go ahead, say it... I'm a glutton for punishment).

I force myself to take a break every once in a while and read a novel or watch a movie or something... but truth be told, lately, even when I watch movies or something, there's an angle related to the startup. For example, I've been reading and studying a lot about sales lately, and I've seen more than one sales book mention "be like Columbo".

I had kinda wanted to rewatch some old Columbo episodes anyway (yeah, I'm old, deal with it) so I've been watching Columbo and thinking about "how do you apply his attitude / approach to this 'diagnostic business development' thing"? And the movies I make time for tend to be ones that I find inspirational (Rocky, The Karate Kid, Rad, etc.) that help keep me motivated.

About 6 months ago, I dropped down from full-time status to part-time status at my regular job to free up more time for the startup. I had a little bit of money saved, but not enough to quit outright... luckily the owner of the company was willing to be flexible and let me do that. I've pretty much burned through my savings though, and we aren't profitable yet, so I'm going back to working full-time next month.

These days I forgo most social activities like dating, parties, and most non-technical social events. I rarely mountain bike anymore, and almost never set foot in the gym. I bailed on going home to see my parents for Christmas so I could use those few days of "down time" as recovery time. I stay amped up on more caffeine than could possibly be healthy, and do everything I can to the tune of heavy-metal[1] or hard-rock of some sort. My mantra right now is "Caffeine, heavy-metal and adrenaline". \m/

I know, I know... you're thinking "dude, you must be miserable". Nah... I enjoy this in a certain sense, and since I'm 40 now, and haven't achieved anything yet, my mindset now is to say "fuck it" and go for broke. It's now or never, ya know? My mindset is to achieve the biggest and most ambitious of my dreams, or - when life finally breaks me - pull a Leaving Las Vegas deal and go to Vegas and try to drink myself to death.

Do not try this at home...

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQQcOQsCFnw

Wow, I'm reminded of the saying "be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it" (i.e. at the expense of everything else).

You just might be successful in your startup, but what is that worth if there is nothing else in your life, and no one to share it with?

Valid question. All I can say is "it's complicated". I'm pretty content with where things stand though. The being single and childless thing also isn't just about the startup thing... it's also a function of me never having met anybody that I felt that strongly about, to want to settle down, get married and have kids, blah. And it could still happen, I'm just not defining my success in life, or happiness, by whether it does or not.

I understand the "it's complicated" thing. My best to you.

5am - 7am

Where do you find the time for side projects?

doing less work at work

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