Small Steps to Completing Substantial Side Projects

Small Steps to Completing Substantial Side Projects

Dustin Lien
September 11, 2018

I’ve been writing a new book for the last 4 months (hoping to release in December), and I’ll be honest here—writing books is not that fun. For the most part, I don’t enjoy the process. It’s tough.

Writing a book is a substantial task, and although I don’t always enjoy the process of organizing chapters and content, writing a certain amount of words per day on average to stay on deadline, and all the little stressful design and marketing tasks that go into it, I do enjoy completing substantial side projects that have purpose behind them.

It feels awesome to start a big side project, wrestle through the mud, and come out the other end victorious. Like a gladiator.

Completing side projects can be difficult though.

By definition, a side project is done…on the side. Most of us have full-time jobs or businesses that we run each day, and even with the most exciting side projects, it can still be a challenge to block off time to work on them, especially after already working a full day’s work.

I’ve been thinking through how to make it easier to complete big side projects, and not dread the process or feel like I have to force it. Here are some things you might find helpful for completing your side projects as well:

Step 1: Decide you’re going to finish it

I believe there’s importance to doing the things we say we’re going to do, and not just what we tell other people we’re going to do, but what we tell ourselves we’re going to do. Don’t start things you don’t intend to see through. Finishing is better than starting. Starting and not finishing is often a waste of time, and it trains your brain to accept that pattern, and even expect it. Define what “finishing” looks like, and then decide if the project is important enough to follow through with. Respect the project.

Step 2. Set a reasonable timeline

When I started writing my book, I set an arbitrary goal to finish the draft in 30 days. That broke down to needing to write multiple thousands of words per day, without missing a day. Possible, but at a high cost of unnecessary stress, sleep deprivation, and no free time. After about a week, I took a step back and realized if I was going to finish the book, and have it turn out great (rather than just being rushed and done), setting a more reasonable timeline was necessary, and would make the process more enjoyable. Patience is better than pride.

Step 3. Divide and conquer

I thrive on the feeling of accomplishing tasks as I know a lot of people do. It’s also less intimidating to work on something when you can see it will only take an hour or two to knock it out, rather than staring a Goliath-sized project in the face. Smaller chunks = easy wins. Focus on just moving the needle one notch every day. Small things add up, and accomplishments compound. Before you know it, the project will be done and you can share it with the world!

Step 4. Be disciplined

Make time each day or each week that is dedicated for working on your side project, and stick to it. I mentioned my book to a friend recently, and he asked how I find the time to write it on top of everything else I have going on. My answer, “A little bit each day adds up.” The kicker is, if you’re not disciplined enough to make time for those little bits, the big bits will never get done.