Managing Time for Side Projects

I’m quickly coming up on my two year anniversary at my day job. I’ve learned quite a lot in my professional experience as an iOS developer. But one unfortunate side effect of doing something that I love during the day: it’s hard to find the time and motivation needed to work on my app projects, even when the desire is there.

Max’s tweet was originally about trying to work too much. But I felt inspired to address some of the issues as to why I feel I don’t work enough, whether or not that’s true.

The Problem(s)

Here are a few of the issues I’ve found myself facing:

  • Too Many Ideas – My mind seems to come up with new side projects at least once a month. Of course, there’s no way for me to complete (or even start) many of these. But this has been happening for a while. I still have a file in Evernote with about 6 years of app and service ideas. I want to work on one, but I sometimes get distracted with my list and lose focus on what is achievable.
  • Wrong Project Scope – For the ideas that I am able to actually work on, I find myself dreaming up massive plans. ‘Maybe I’ll completely rewrite X!‘ ‘I could do Y like this, but if I do it like this, it’ll be future proof and everything!‘ What was going to be a simple project that I could enjoy working on becomes a large project that might as well take my full time.
  • Too Little Time – I know what you’re going to say. “Isn’t that the whole point of this post?” Well, yes. But it’s worth mentioning. It’s hard to work on side projects when you spend time playing games or watching TV.  If you’ve set aside time for yourself, you are in control of what happens with that time. And that doesn’t always mean those desired projects get a share of it.Nor does that take into account responsibilities you might have if you’re a husband or father and the time you need to spend with your family.

The Solutions(?)

Before I had my current job, I did a lot of my development work on the side. Sometimes I even found some time during the lulls of the day to get a little bit of work done. But now, I have to try other things.

A few things I’ve ultimately realized:

  • I have to make up my mind. Some work I’ve done on my projects lately has stalled because I can’t make up my mind on what to do. In one example, I’m considering using Realm as a data store. I use Realm at work. It’s something I’m fairly comfortable with. But then I think that I could use this time to try working with Core Data again. Or maybe I’ll just stick to using SQLite directly but use a new library. Soon, I’m stuck in this cycle of each direction being one to consider, but I end up doing nothing but considering choices and don’t end up going any one way. So I’ve started telling myself, as my own boss on these projects, that I have to make a choice, stick with it, and move on.
  • I don’t have to be perfect. Similar to the last point, these projects exist for me and me alone. While I am particular about the quality of my own work, I am not going to be pushing these through any kind of code review. So I can let some things slide. If anything, it gives me things I can address with future releases. But ultimately, I don’t need to perfect something before I release it. So long as it works, I can be content.
  • I have to know what I’m doing. I’ve been a fan of Asana for several years. While it was great for my day jobs, I started using it over a year ago for my side projects.  It doesn’t need to be as complicated as my day job (with Epics, Work Requests, and Iteration planning), but I do need to have some idea for what I want my deliverables to be. Setting that for my various projects, including reasonable feature sets for various stages of release, is helping me to make progress.
  • I need a long term plan. I decided earlier this year to go overboard and plan out my 2018 project goals. I’ve got quarterly release goals (mostly Alpha and Beta releases), planned App Store releases, and a general idea of what I would like to accomplish this year. All of it is set up to be achievable but not overwhelming. So no, I’m not launching 6 new apps this year. Yes, I’m hoping to have at least 1 app update and 1 new app on the App Store by December.1

Overall, I’m not getting as much done with my side app projects as I’d like. But as I am a developer during the day, that takes a lot of my developer energy. And lastly, I have to balance my interest in side projects with my family, which has my ultimate priority. Thankfully, it’s kept me from being a workaholic.2

In my case, I just have to accept the reality: I can’t do what I once could. But that’s okay.3


  1. I said it was achievable. I didn’t say it was impressive. 

  2. As much as I love to work. 

  3. I started this blog post shortly after Max’s initial tweet, and that was 4 days ago. Shows you how my time is allocated.