We’ve talked a lot about side projects (like why you need to start one in the first place). But actually starting one is, um, hard—especially after you’ve been at work all day.
But if there’s something you feel compelled to get out into the world—from a book you’ve written to cupcakes you’ve baked—and you’re not able to do it through your day job, there’s only so much resisting you can do before you sit down and decide to actually do it.
I’ve been side projecting for more than three years, and there have been times when it’s been totally exhausting. But mostly, because I love and am so passionate about my project, the work energizes and inspires me—even late at night on a Tuesday. You just have to get past that first big step: getting started.
If you want to get the ball rolling on your side project without completely overwhelming yourself, here are five small steps to take.
1. Set Your Intention
Before you start anything, you have to get clear on why you’re starting this side project and what you want to get out of it. Are you throwing yourself into something you love just because it makes you happy, or are you throwing yourself into it because you eventually want to turn it into a career?
Getting clear on your why—no matter what that why maybe—will help you stay focused and motivated. Need a little reminder to keep you going strong? Write why down on a Post-it and stick it on your laptop or print it out and hang it somewhere you can see it while you’re working.
2. Find Your Space
Whether your side project is writing a book, handcrafting wedding invitations, or refurbishing furniture, you’re going to need a space to work on it. Is there a space in your house or apartment that you can make your own (even if it’s just a corner of the dining room table)? Or maybe there’s somewhere close by—like a library or coffee shop—that you can retreat to for a few hours a week.
Finding a dedicated space for your project, wherever it might be, will make the experience feel much more enriching and fun. Plus, having a place to consistently return to will make it easier to get work done
And if you’re able to create a quiet space at home, fill it with whatever inspires you—e.g., pictures, posters, or fresh flowers—to make the space feel even more like you.
3. Get Your Tools
What do you need to get started on your project? Paint? Books? A good desk chair? Lots and lots of flour and sugar?
The point isn’t to spend tons of money on getting yourself stocked; it’s more about setting up your space with the few things you need to make the experience feel exciting. Whenever I start a new project, for example, one of my favorite things to do is go shopping for journals and pens. It may sound lame, but I love the writing process so much more when I have new tools in hand.
4. Make a Plan—But Just for the Week
When I first started my side project, I created a calendar for myself with specific times and days that I was going to focus on it—and only it. That is, until week two, when something popped up during one of my dedicated side-project days and the whole thing stopped making sense.
Now, every Sunday, I take a look at the week ahead and I make a plan. Planning just a week ahead allows me to be both flexible and realistic about the work I plan on getting done. And it helps me prioritize the side project up against everything else that’s going on that week.
5. Find Other Side Project-ers
Beginning to build a community around your project will inspire you, keep you motivated, and give you other humans to turn to with questions that only other side-projectors could know how to answer.
Not sure where to look? Take it to Google and see if you can find any community forums dedicated to whatever it is you’re working on—like cycling or marketing. See if there are any Meetups or events in your area focused on your side project. And don’t forget the power of your own social media platforms and community. Let people know what you’re working on, and chances are someone will know someone (who will know someone) who is working on something similar.
My last tip: Set realistic expectations for yourself and your project. If you’re only fitting in your work at night and on the weekends, you probably won’t be able to work as quickly as you could if you were dedicating all day, every day to it. But if it’s something you find energizing and fulfilling (which, ideally, you should), you can find a way to get it done.
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