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.