Two Tasks Per Day
Posted on Sat 17 December 2022 in Life • 3 min read
The Side Project Dilemma
I like to work on side projects in my spare time. Some have seen a "completion" (though there's plenty more I want to do), while others never make it to a release. Some have been apps (like TrackYourStrength), others are games (like Always Tell Me The Odds). The biggest mental hurdle I have when working on side projects is that I also want to balance that free time with purely leisure activities, like video games and reading.
I hesitate to call these leisure activities the "fun things", because working on projects that I want to work on is also fun. The leisure activities are usually better at helping me decompress and relax, while the projects are better at making me feel accomplished and helping me learn something new or hone a skill. Both are fun, but serve different emotional needs.
What typically happens is that I enter a period where I work on the side project a lot and do almost no leisure. Then, I'll hit a roadblock or have some event happen in my life that causes me to struggle to get back to working on the project. While in this rut, I'll have an internal debate about starting a new project versus working on the current one. Meanwhile, I'll play a bunch of video games or endlessly scroll social media. While this isn't inherently bad, I prefer having some kind of balance.
My Current Approach
Recently, I've been trying an approach to this idea of balance by scheduling two small tasks per day for my side project. Once the task is done, I stop myself from working on it and do something leisurely with the rest of the free time.
A challenge I've found with this method is that I really need to have small enough tasks. This means that larger items need to be broken down, otherwise I never get to it or I feel like I'm not making progress. For programming projects, I've been trying to open Github issues whenever I see something I should do, then tag the issue with the estimated scope of effort. If it's large, I know I'll have to break it down. If it's small, it helps to know it can be a quick task on a future day if I don't have a lot of time or willpower. These five minute tasks are great for keeping the progress going.
Scheduling my free time is something I avoided for most of my life, because I'd rather just enjoy the moment and do whatever I felt like I wanted to do at that time. However, having some kind of loose time frame in mind for the task means that I can be a bit flexible based on what comes up. For example, I've been trying to do one of my two tasks before noon each day. This gives me a chance to do it first thing when I wake up, or if my day job has things I need to do then I can do it at my lunch break. Then, later in the day, I can do another small task when I have a chance.
Stopping work on the project after completing a task has been very helpful in finding the balance I've been looking for. This allows me to have guilt-free leisure time while still feeling satisfaction from making progress on my projects. When starting a new project, I'm a little more likely to keep the momentum going by trying to get things in place to have a functional game or app, but as development continues then the idea is to only make small changes.
One downside to this approach is that it often feels like I'm barely doing anything on the project. To help combat this feeling, I've been trying to do weekly recaps at the end of the week to look back on the tasks that were completed. This helps show that the little things are all adding up to progress.
Using this approach for the past three months has been very useful for balancing my free time. I plan to continue this method, but might tweak the amounts or days as I go to find what works best for me. If you use this approach or plan to try it, let me know what works best for you so we can compare notes!