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Creating something is not easy. Probably everyone that has done it before will tell you that. It gets even more difficult when you don't have all the time you would like because you are selling your time to someone else.

That is my case: I have been working for others for more than 5 years and I have always tried to get the most out of my free time to work on my own projects and create new things.

One of my latest side projects is where we are about to reach 600 registered users and 4.5k tech videos. We built CodeTalksTV in around 4 months while working full time and these are the 5 tips I followed in order to perform better and embrace the spare moments as much as possible. I hope it helps you, the way it helps me 🙂

Everything has to do with motivation: how to find it

Internal motivation

I define internal motivation as the one that you already have from the moment that you are thinking about starting a side project. However, it is not only the willingness of "wanting to do something". Because, that something has to be a project that you are super passionate about, otherwise, you will not dedicate the necessary time and you will leave it aside at the first chance you get.

External motivation

Internal motivation goes hand in hand with external motivation. For me, external motivation is the crazy assortment of resources that, nowadays, you have at your hands which can be really helpful in giving you the strength to work on your project day after day.

In my case, I consume content that is closely connected to the world of entrepreneurship, indie hackers and technology such as blogs, podcasts, books, newsletters, videos, communities...

I think it is always of great help to hear success stories from other entrepreneurs and to hear how they have created something from scratch. Personally, this type of stories motivate me a lot, because if these people can do it, why wouldn’t I be able to do it too?

Here is a list of resources I use to get that extra piece of motivation I need:

  • Podcasts

    • IndieHackers: very detailed interviews with people who are building projects where they explain literally everything on how they built them and how the projects are doing after their launch.
    • Rework: podcast from Basecamp, the company. I really like how they do things in a different way.
    • Y Combinator: looks like it has been inactive for a while, but still interesting to listen to the episodes they still have on Spotify Podcasts.
  • Newsletters

    • Blogging For Devs: I really like Monica's content and she is building an awesome community of devs who like to create content. 100% recommended!
    • Engineer Growth: interesting and very actionable tips to grow your project or business.
    • Growth Insider: also an interesting resource for actionable tips. Lately, they're doing some cool case studies about well-known apps and services.
  • Books

    • Deep Work: this is one of the latest books I've read and I got super inspired by how people get into that deep mental state where they can work without any interruptions. No social media, no messaging, no distractions. This is one of my goals.
    • Elon Musk biography: Elon... always inspiring for me.
    • Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days: a deep look at how some big business started.
    • Zero To One: I think this one is very well known but still a good one to have on the list.
    • The $100 Startup: good motivation to start your own thing.
    • ReWork: like the podcast, also from Basecamp. This is a good book on how to do work "differently", which is the way they do it.
    • It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work: also by Basecamp and also about how they work differently. Love these people! haha
  • Videos

  • Other resources

    • Case Studies: this recommendation is one of the last but definitely one of the best. Every case study of these guys is a piece of art. And the tips they provide are pure gold.
    • IndieHackers: as with the podcast, the entire platform is a very good resource to get inspired and connect with like-minded people. case studies case studies

Announce it to the world.

In my honest opinion it is a worthy way to put some pressure on yourself in order to not give up once you’ve started a project.

Ok, maybe not to the world, but going public can simply mean telling a good friend, your partner, or a family member. If you are part of a community like IndieHackers you can start a project and then keep updating it with milestones which I think is a great way to feel that accountability.

IndieHackers Milestones
IndieHackers Milestones

If social networks are where you feel the most comfortable, it is also a good place to say that you are starting a personal project.

Also, if you have a personal blog you could get a side benefit from writing about your side project: content marketing. That way, if you get people to follow your progress, you can get potential customers or users because they know the effort you are putting into building something that they may want to use.

The idea is to keep showing progress, feel the need that you "owe" something to someone, and you have to keep working to show new things.

Do. NOT. Waste. Time

Time is limited. And having a full-time job does not help your gig, as you probably spend most of your active hours working for others. That's why making the most of your free time is crucial. If you don't have too many obligations apart from your work, you might be surprised that you have more free time than you think.

Taking into account that a day has 24 hours, of which you work an average of 8 hours, and depending on whether you have to get around to go to the office or not add 1 or 2 more hours of commute: 10 hours. An average person should get enough rest by sleeping for about 8 hours. This is 18 "busy" hours, which leaves you 5 hours each day to take advantage of. In addition to weekends, with a good organization, you can do many things with this free time. Of course, I’m assuming you don’t have children or people to take care of, as it can be trickier that way. But a tip I have is: get the most out of your weekends, and the couple of hours you might have after putting the kids to sleep.

These types of calculations are done many times to see that we really have free hours a day, but obviously each person has its life and each day is different. What is very clear to me is this: if you really want to do something and you have the right motivation, you are going to get the most out of every free minute you have in your day. Imagine that you put 2 hours per day into your project, those hours will add up to 60 hours per month. And 60 is better than 0.

In addition to make the most of your day, be mindful of when you are the most productive during the day. There are people who have more energy and a more active mind at certain times of the day so find your perfect time.

For example, while we were building CodeTalks I was living in Australia and I used to wake up very early, around 5 or 6 am since during the summer months it dawns very early and at a very good temperature. These conditions gave me a whole lot of energy, hence I always took a couple of hours to get my hands deep into this project before I had to go to my actual job.

I'm aware of how easy it is to say this but then how difficult it is to actually accomplish it. Getting home after a long day at the office the last thing you want to do is to get back to coding or researching, sometimes your brain is just off and asking for some YouTube or funny memes.

There are some methods you can follow to do better. Personally I like to write down a list of things I want to accomplish and feel the reward of crossing out items of this list. Make sure you keep it short so you don’t lose motivation. And then, to inject me some quick dopamine into my brain, it’s nice to get some small breaks to do something non-work related.

I really like this small app a friend of mine built: Dopamine. With this app, you can start a timer when you are working and you'll earn some "dopamine points" that you can spend on YouTube, social media, or somewhere else. So basically for every 60 minutes of work you get 15 dopamine points to spend. Every dopamine point equals 1 minute. I think it is an interesting concept to balance working and enjoyment time.

Dopamine app
Dopamine app

Take care of your body

In a word: move.

Whether it is going to/coming from work walking or doing some exercise at the end of the day.

I personally enjoy going back home walking from the office (around 25-30min) as well as going for a run to take a break between work and get on with my project.

I think it’s very important to clearly separate your working day at the office and your "working day" on your side project. It will allow you to be much more productive after work.

We also underestimate the importance of good sleep. More than 5 years ago I bought one of those smart bands so I could track my sleep (among other things) and it has been very interesting to see how the amount of time I spend sleeping correlates to how sharp and energized I feel the next day. I have also been able to know the exact amount of sleep I need to be fresh the next day: ~7:30h of total sleep with ~2hours of deep sleep. If I get that amount of sleep I'm sure I'll be good and full of energy for the day 💪🏾

My average sleeping time in a week
My average sleeping time in a week

I recommend you do something like that. If you don't have a smart band or don't want to spend money on one (although you can get one for cheap) you can do it with your smartphone.

Take care of your mind

Just like exercising helps to clear the mind and stretch the muscles, I think it is also important to take mental breaks from time to time.

If one day you feel like doing nothing when you leave the office, no problem! it is also necessary to relax the mind so as not to burn yourself.

Watch some Netflix, meet with a friend for a coffee (or beer!)... it's up to you, whatever helps you relax your mind. You can also try meditation apps.

Calm App - Sleep, Meditation and Relaxation
Calm App - Sleep, Meditation and Relaxation

My goal with this article is that you can get that extra motivation to start working on your projects too. Hopefully, I achieved it 🤞🏽

I would love to hear your ideas and projects so I encourage you to write something down in the comments or contact me at my email!