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How to Make Time for Your Side Project (startupclarity.com)
59 points by charlieirish on Jan 27, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 30 comments



I wake up at 5am, put 60-90 minutes into my project, then get ready for work. It works out really well.

My favorite part is my evening is wide open for relaxing. I often find it hard to truly relax as my brain nags me saying I should be working on something. But with this system, the guilt goes away.

It's not sustainable though. I tend to do it in chunks and what's going on at my day job also influences whether I'm doing it. I also need to go to bed early to pull this off, which doesn't bother me but might others. The key is to listen to your body and brain and recognize when you need to back off.

I've blogged about this a couple times: http://mattgreer.org/articles/waking-up-at-5am-to-code/ http://mattgreer.org/articles/still-waking-up-at-5am/


Not sure this would work for me. I'm not a morning person, so getting up at 5am would not leave my evening "wide open for relaxing". I would feel like my time is shortened (rushed?) due to having to get in bed so early so that I can get up at 5am without feeling sleep deprived.

Conversely, since I'm more of a night owl, working at night can be problematic because I end up not being able to stop due to momentum and wanting to bring closure to what I'm working on, and then my brain not shutting down for another 30-60 minutes once I finally do go to bed.


I've been doing side-projects for over 10 years now and I did my best successful side-project work in these hours too. I was not a morning person, but when my daughter was born, I'd get up to help with dad stuff and she'd go back to sleep then since I was up, I'd work form 5-7. Not only was it productive from a work standpoint, but it cleared my mind from the side-project ideas floating in my head so I was able to better focus at work. Unfortunately now with three kids who don't go back to sleep, this has been lost and I'm back to waiting and waiting for evening hours, and then something usually comes up to take them away.


This seems much better than my current approach. I get home around 5:30pm. Spend time with my 7 month old and help out wife while she prepares dinner. We eat dinner and watch TV for about 45 minutes (I know bad habit). Get baby ready for bed around 7:30-8pm. By time baby is asleep it's 8:30 or 9. I then try to get in 1-2 hours of work before bed. Unfortunately I'm usually physically and mentally drained by this time. I dedicate the least productive 2 hours of my day to myself while I give my best hours to my company.


I do feel like my company deserves my best hours. That is why I take into consideration what's going on at work when doing this. If I feel like I can put in an hour and still be fresh for work, then I'm ok. If work is really draining and I need all the energy I can get, I back off on my personal stuff.


I also wake up at 5am on busy days before deadline, so I have two hours more to work without interrupting. Of course, I have to get to bed earlier, but my evenings are absolutely free. It really works.


Every time I read articles like this I see this common theme of watching less TV, playing less games, etc. But I think the real hard part is getting out of these. Many times you don't feel like your side project could turn into something real or you're just so burned out from your day job you just feel like doing nothing.

For me, the latter is the worst feeling to overcome. It's like you give up your soul to a job you don't really like, and it ends up sucking up your energies to do what you really want when you're finally "free" from it.


This one hits home close. Again. The first one was reading a quote from Ira Glass:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”


I could have written your post. It actually sounded like me talking.

I'm considering finding another day job that isn't quite so soul-sucking, but I've been trying to do that for the past 4 or so years without much luck.

Also, I don't watch TV, but I do play games (I go through phases of this), but I feel I do this to give me something to decompress. Maybe it's an escape, I don't know.

By the way, this thread has been very therapeutic. Thanks everyone.


I actually just went through a lot of this. Despite loving my day job as a software engineer, it was so creatively exhausting and draining that by the end of the day, all I wanted was to relax. I couldn't find even the desire to work on the things I'm passionate about. I think that was the most upsetting part to me.

I'm very risk-averse but finally worked up the courage to quit and spend my time doing what I love: writing music. I'm slowly bleeding through my savings, but it's worth it. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I never gave composing a fair shot. In the end, the biggest risk is actually to your ego. There's always another job out there, particularly if you're a software person.

I'm still nervous about the whole thing and worried about my prospects. I still procrastinate. But damn, I'm just much happier these days!

Finally made an account after years of lurking just to say this. Believe in yourself and take a leap. Sometimes it's just what you need to rediscover yourself.


Thanks for joining to share that!

Do you have a family to support? That's a big factor in how much risk I can really take. If I was single, I don't think I would have any issues taking a break to work on this project.

I actually have a pretty good nest egg established from another project I launched about 10 years ago, but I don't think it's enough to responsibly depend on exclusively to support my family while I work on this.


I have a girlfriend of eight years but no children to speak of yet. She's finishing up grad school but eventually should have a decent salary. That said, I definitely sympathize and it's a worry waiting on the horizon. We had long discussions about the future of this path and how I needed to be willing to take a step back and provide more if things weren't working out.

When I first brought up my career change, she wasn't on board because I didn't have a plan. But now that I am (more) sure of myself and know what I want to do and how, she is happy to support me and I'm exceedingly grateful for that. As long as you're communicating and your family is supporting you, I'd bet you can find a way to make it work.

I was reading about director Ang Lee a few months ago and found some inspiration in his career. After finishing grad school, he spent the next six years unemployed, writing a couple scripts at home and taking care of his two small children while his wife (a molecular biologist) worked. If he had given up then or if his family hadn't believed in him and supported him, he probably wouldn't be where he is now. Everyone's situation is different but I found hope and comfort in his backstory.


These things always suggest cutting down on your TV.

Yeah, I stopped watching it like 10 years ago. Need more ideas.


Limit HN, etc. to 30 minutes daily? If you cut your TV and replace it with mindless internet, it does no good.

I should know, because that's what I have done.


Quote: You’ve probably got lots of side-projects; they’re all exciting in their own way.[...] Focus on getting one launched [...] Otherwise, you might be spreading yourself too thin.

That's so true for me. There are so many exiting things to do, and I'm trying to do start them all (for me those are statistics, Java concurrency, Haskell). The result is predictable - a bunch of started projects, nothing completed, no satisfaction of the work done. It's easy to start, but it requires discipline to continue. I am trying to figure out what can help to build this discipline and the habit to complete.


I definitely struggle with this. I have a relatively successful side project, but I keep coming up with other good ideas. It's difficult at times to stay on task.

I made a pretty neat little app that would send notifications when products were available for purchase (such as the xbox one and ps4, which were difficult to find), and it did pretty well over the holidays, but it's too distracting from my main side project. I've looked into hiring someone to handle promotion / day to day activities for it in exchange for a percentage of profits, but I'm wasting too much time trying to figure out how the taxes work when splitting profits vs paying a flat fee.

Does anyone have experience trying to sell side projects? This project has potential, but I simply don't have the time to dedicate to it right now, and would rather focus on my main side project.


Have you considered selling on a site like https://flippa.com/?


I was just looking at that site the other night. I need to take a look around more, and get a better idea of how it works / pricing, but it looks like it could work.

Does anyone have experience selling on that site?


So I know this isn't practical for most people, but I've been able to choose how many hours I work on my day job for a while. My suggestion is: if you are a key employee or have any kind if sway, negotiate a lower or dynamic hour requirement in exchange for a pay cut. Once you start making over a certain amount you don't need more money, you need more time.

Wherever possible this will make you a happier person, not just give you time for your side project.

I actually think this will do a lot of good long term for the creative workplace as we learn to focus on efficiency and output instead of hours. It could open up more jobs too. So I know it's early and not often possible. But if it may be possible for you, I highly recommend doing it. If you do a good job you'll slowly make it possible for everyone.


Delegate the areas that you can’t do or don’t want to do so that you can build and launch your side-project.

One of the biggest bottlenecks (excuses?) keeping me from gaining traction on my project is finding a good creative designer. I haven't an artistic cell in my body -- I'm all binary. So I need a good wingman to help put a pretty face on my ideas.

And while I know I could put a barebones product together and have someone come in after the fact and put makeup on it, I really need this going on in parallel to see it coming together, which in turn helps me maintain momentum.

Am I alone in this? What have you done to overcome this?


You are not alone. I have the same problem, but have not been able to overcome it yet. I look forward to hearing some anecdotes about doing so.


I struggle with this, but have gotten somewhat better at it. The biggest thing is to just keep iterating and trying different things. You'll start to get a sense of what looks 'good'.

This is an alternative to finding a creative designer.


I'm working every mornings (it's very hard at the beginning to sleep earlier, but after some time, it's so delightful to recover this natural rythm), and I use the pomodoro technique, but with days instead of minute. 4 days of work, one day of total laziness. These moments of laziness are very important to me, they help me to regenerate but also to find new ideas and to question myself. I think that we should not overlook the virtues of boredom ... and sometimes, procrastination. Everything is a matter of proportions. Procrastination is not that bad.


The biggest factor for me, by far, has been an understanding spouse. That being said, what I've learned doesn't require that luxury.

Since having our first child I've learned, painfully, to stop trying for optimal conditions (a quiet room, a guaranteed, contiguous block of uninterruptible time), and learn to spin up and down quickly as circumstances dictate. That learning process was primarily about refusing to use sub-optimal conditions as a reason to delay work, but it's also about setting up in the family room and accepting that people make noise and demand attention and that, with mental discipline, you can work through it. Copious notes (I keep a running 'dev log' open and note my thoughts into it almost constantly) are a huge help in re-establishing context after a distraction.

There's always something you can do to keep engaged with the codebase when given a 30m slot: some brainless extraction of magic numbers into statics; cleaning up some nagging compiler warnings; things that free you up to do more creative and challenging things when there's less noise and distraction later on.


From personal experience with a family (two kids) my best time to work on a side project was always between 0am and 2/3am. The only downside is that this doesn't work for a longer period of time as you are getting more and more burned out.

The mornings don't work for me as they start pretty early.


I always felt the solution to my procrastination is something a lot deeper than just "stop watching TV and get organized". Call it lack of motivation if you like, but I don't watch TV shows because I find them too interesting, I watch them because my brain "defaults" to this action whenever I try to argue with myself to do something useful. I found out that trying to consciously make yourself do something doesn't really help. What does help however, is making a firm conscious decision and moving the action to a subconscious level. Basically when your alarm rings at 5AM, you need to stop that little battle that goes on in your head and just get out of your bed like its business as usual.


I was going to write an insightful response here, but lunch time came up and well, I'll get to it later. :)

Seriously, though, I've found that procrastination is my greatest hurdle to overcome. I always think: "I'll get to it later", or "There will always be time to get to that". Invariably, all that time ends up getting away from me and I feel down on myself for not getting to said project/essay/whatever.

So, when you have an idea, act on it. Don't wait, because waiting will kill that nascent idea as surely as anything. Make time, even if it's just a few minutes, it will end up benefiting your project in the long run.


Reflecting on 2013, I found that not making enough time for my side project was one of the biggest things holding me back.

So I made my number one goal for 2014 to launch a side project, and I hope to achieve this by carving out time, valuing my time, and lastly eliminating all wasted time.


In my opinion is Journaling an important way to stay focused on a project.

Casandra post a nice article about that: http://blog.teamspir.it/productivity/journaling-is-productiv...


Great read, thank you! Extremely relevant to me. I'm a 17 y/o high school student struggling to work on my side-project, so it must be 10x times harder for those of you where parents...




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