Keeping Sane While Keeping Busy

June 20 2013

I’m no dif­fer­ent from many other design­ers when it comes to per­sonal projects. We like to make stuff, and since the web has such low over­head, we can make lots of stuff for cheap. 

Although work­ing on many projects may be mon­e­tar­ily inex­pen­sive, they can be very time-con­sum­ing, and that’s just as bad, if not worse. Having a full-time job in your life (whether inde­pen­dently or for some­one else), means you can’t just play all the time, even though your ideas may be ridicu­lously good.

To keep my sanity during busy times, here’s some things I try to remem­ber.

  • Say no to new ideas, at first. When you get a new idea, make a note, and set a reminder to come back to it later. (I usu­ally set a reminder for a month.) If the idea is worth pur­su­ing after you’ve let it stew in that fab­u­lous brain of yours, then pursue it, but don’t start new stuff to pro­cras­ti­nate on your cur­rent stuff.
  • Don’t start a project until you’ve com­pleted another. Think about your time in terms of money, so when you’re busy, you’re in debt. When you want to buy those sweet $100 shoes, but have $1000 in credit card debt, it’s prob­a­bly better to pay off the debt first. Treat your time the same way. Even the small­est amount of work on your large project is worth more than start­ing a tiny, new project.
  • Use agile method­ol­ogy. Don’t work and work and work and work until your project is per­fect”, but rather, figure out what it would take to ship the ini­tial prod­uct. (This is called the min­i­mal viable prod­uct (MVP) in Agile.) Once ver­sion 1.0 is shipped, con­tinue to make iter­a­tions on your prod­uct, then pri­or­i­tize new fea­tures as you think of them. Bonus: This’ll also give you an excuse to reg­u­larly announce the new fea­tures you’ve added.
  • Use a to do list app. There are dif­fer­ent levels of to do apps, but you’ll want to find an app allows for due dates and project fold­ers. (I love Things by Cul­tured Code.) Using pen and paper is fine, but I tend to write quickly and mess­ily when writ­ing to do lists, and most apps have the abil­ity to switch and move and check and uncheck to do items. When jug­gling sev­eral projects at once, it’s impor­tant than what­ever app you use allows for flex­i­bil­ity and reorder­ing pri­or­i­ties.
  • Set dead­lines for your­self, even if that means they will change later. Since per­sonal projects don’t have exter­nal clients, you can poten­tially work on them for years and years with­out ship­ping any­thing. If you’re freak­ing out about the word dead­line”, call it a due date” instead. Pick a tiny goal, and set a far-off dead­line due date. Hit­ting this goal will do won­ders for your psyche. 
  • Don’t be afraid to cut your losses. When you’re stressed you aren’t making any head­way because you’ve started too many projects and your time debt is stack­ing, stop work­ing on it, and set a reminder to come back to it later. Or you could never come back it, and scrap it com­pletely. This is okay too. Take solace in the fact that you tried, and you learned some­thing about your­self.

Above all, remem­ber your per­sonal projects are exactly that: Per­sonal projects. People aren’t paying you to make these, and the stress you cause your­self from them is worth less than your health and spend­ing time with your friends and family. In the web indus­try, it seems like an awe­some thing is shipped daily, and that can be intim­i­dat­ing.

Calm down, relax, and know that slow­ing down is fine, as long as you keep moving for­ward.