To get the most out of the side projects you work on, every project should provide you with at least one of four key benefits.
Side projects are my jam! At any given time, I typically have a handful of side projects on the move. At the time of writing this, I'm actively working on six projects. Throughout the remainder of the year, I'll probably spin up and down another five or so.
For me, personally, if I'm not busy (ideally creating something), I'm probably bored. But boredom isn't the driving factor on why I work on side projects.
I work on a side projects for what they give back to me. And in my experience, any side project can lead to one or more of the following benefits:
Let's look at each of these in a little more detail ...
Side projects are a great way to change the pace of life. There's an article I really like by a friend and colleague of mine on why a creative shift can be more valuable than a vacation, through the eyes and experience of Joss Whedon.
Side projects can be truly refreshing.
It's easy to feel like you aren't in control over what you do during the day. Full-time jobs can be demanding, typically relying on many other people for any given portion of it. And it can be difficult to pull away from undesirable circumstances during the day when you (and your partner, family, etc.) rely on the income that job provides.
But a side project can be a relief to the demands of everyday work because the bounds of a side project are (relatively) limitless. If you want to be the boss, great, go be the boss. Shoot, you could do the same thing you do all day at work, but having full control and ownership of the thing you create can feel so refreshing. I build websites every day at work. And I still build websites at home because I love it and I get to do it exactly how I want and no one can tell me otherwise.
Side projects can be anything you want them to be, and that can be a welcome break from the demands of a full-time job. That is refreshing.
A side project can also be a great space in which to learn something new. Although I didn't need another project, earlier this year I started picking up candle making. That's not because I'm going to be the next great candlemaker and not because it's going to make me a ton of money (or any, for that matter). But because it gets my brain moving in a different, more methodical way, and that's desirable to me.
Another way to look at this could be to create a playground — a sandbox, so to speak — that serves your day job. In the website-building industry, the tools we have available to us are constantly evolving. There's virtually no way to keep up. I occasionally use a side project to try something new and if it proves valuable, I take my findings back to my day-job team.
No matter how you get there, a side project can be an unexpected source of discovery, which can, in its own way, also be rejuvenating.
I often say that anything you do can be considered a project, and I really believe that. Even something that takes up to 10 minutes each day, like meditating, can be considered a project. If it's routinely taking time out of your life to do something meaningful for you, then sure, it's a project.
And not all projects have to be about learning or making something great. Some projects can just be about you, your health, and your happiness. Regularly exercising, adjusting your diet, or taking your dog on daily walks can all be projects in your life, and they can exist solely to make you and your life better.
I save success for last because I think it's the most complex of the four benefits.
When I talk about making a side project successful, many immediately jump to the conclusion that I'm talking about financial success. And that can be true. A side project can certainly be financially successful enough that you could turn it into a full-time gig. Shoot, here's a list of 21 side projects that became million-dollar startups.
But, to me, we use constructs like money and wealth to mask what we're really after. I think that all anyone really wants is to feel good, to be happy. Most of the time that doesn't mean money, although it certainly can. But when I talk about a project being successful, I just mean that it is providing you exactly what you want it to provide you, and that what it provides makes you happy. Only then can you consider it successful.
Side projects are an incredibly important part of my life. I work on each one for a different reason, but every project I work on provides me at least one of the four benefits listed above. I find it crucial to ensure that every side project provides me some personal benefit. Otherwise, why work on it?
And that's what I'll leave you with — if you stay guided on your side projects, you will ensure that each project plays the role it should play, while providing you with exactly what you seek from it.