A year ago, I switched jobs from being a web designer to a digital marketer. Consequently, I've decided to do design + coding projects on the side for practice and... just for fun, really.
Codepen projects are my first choice for personal projects (you'll see why later). I've done 26 pens and have spent more than 135 hours on them. I have spent an additional 36 hours on secret side projects that I tell no one about. These are the numbers for 2019 only.
And my main takeaway from all this is...
Being constantly productive and motivated is hard.
I have always struggled with motivation so while doing these side projects, I've taken on a mission to try different methods to find out how to keep my motivation level consistent.
Here are a few tips I've discovered along the way but I guess they have also become my personal mantra.
Be honest about my own shortcomings
When it comes to personal projects, I'm an excellent starter, but a terrible finisher.
At this point of writing, I have a total of 7 abandoned coding and illustration projects. The worst part is that they will forever be an undeleted folder in my computer.
Because "what if?".
On the same topic, I've discovered a lot of flaws that I've come to terms with:
1. Hard goals don't work for me.
If I set a goal such as "A pen a week, 52 pens a year". Do you know what will happen when I hit 52 pens in September? I'll probably stop working for the year 🙈
On the other spectrum, if I miss a week, I will be sad because I failed to hit my goal 😞 There are a lot of things in this world to be sad about, I've decided to not add another one on the list.
I've pretty much set my goal to be: "Let's just try to work on one pen a week". Fuck yeah, soft goals!
2. If I take on a larger project, I'll burn out fast.
The 7 abandoned projects? Big projects which will require commitment of at least 50 hours. If a person who works on long-term big side projects is a slow-burning candle, I'm definitely a really short matchstick.
This is actually the reason why I chose to do pens; I only spend about 5-15 hours on each pen and the workload is very manageable.
3. If I work continuously every day for a long period of time, I will also burn out fast.
At one point, I was putting aside 2 hours almost each day for side projects. That lasted for 12 amazing days.
After that, I spent 2 weeks doing almost nothing. The problem here is that I did too much, too quickly and had a minor burnout.
Not to mention, I sometimes do not follow through the "2 hours" rule. I have a weird quirk (another flaw perhaps) of finishing what I've started on the same day/session. So sometimes, that "2 hours" is actually 6 hours.
I decided to try a different style. I would take longer hours, but less days in a week.
Before this, I would work (as in, real work that I get paid for) between 6-8 hours a day. Now, I would spend about 10-12 hours for work for one day a week and then about 4 hours the next.
This then allows me to spend 8 hours a day coding away and finish a project on the same day*.
*The good news is that having coding as a hobby means that I'm online all the time and can get to Slack messages and work requests swiftly, so I'm technically partially working. I'm not sure if this concept can be applied to offline hobbies. Sorry :(
So, how does this apply to you?
Find out what works best for you. If you find that setting aside an hour every day works better, capitalize on that. If you find that the best motivation is setting goals, go for it!
I must stress that it's a bit of trial-and-error to get it right, so don't be demotivated if you haven't found what works for you on your first try. It took months for me to get the wheels running.
Setting strict time limits
The only reason I started tracking time spent on each project is because I thought it would be cool to have lots of data that nobody asked for. I get a nice-looking report with a graph too.
It didn't take me long to realize that I could really use it to help me pace myself with projects, which became very essential to prevent burnouts.
Another flaw I found out about myself was that I would spend hours on details that don't really matter for each project. A very clear example I remember is this pen.
I remember looking at the timer running at 4 hours+ and I was almost done with it (or so I thought). My total time spent ended up being 7.5 hours.
It was also while working on this pen that this conversation happened:
Me: Which looks better? This or this?
Friend: Olivia, there's no difference.
Another example. Total time taken: 10.5 hours. 1 hour to code the layout, 9.5 hours to tweak design details 😂
"Yeah, I'll do only a few minor tweaks." - said no obsessive designer, ever.
So? New rule!
I started implementing a cut-off time of 6 hours. At 4 hours, I'll start to wrap things up, even if it means that I don't get to do items which I've set out to do.
The first 'feature' I usually cut off is responsiveness as that is usually the most time-consuming feature*. Yes, it's a conscious decision to endure Twitter comments saying a pen should be responsive.
* I'm not condoning doing this for production/real-world things. It's 2019 guys; responsive is a must.
Bonus: I also set strict break days. If I do spend almost a full day of coding, no projects for the next two days. Maximum rest!
Speaking of breaks...
Breaks are very ok
On this note, I've decided that procrastination is okay too.
There's no reason to force myself to do something when I'm not up for it. The caveat is that I use the break or procrastination time to do something that could potentially contribute to the projects.
Some acceptable ones include browsing design sites like dribbble for inspiration, reading tutorials and watching cat and dog videos for feel-good vibes.
I succeed doing this about 50% of the time. Most of the time, I'm just fucking about on Reddit. I'm fine with this 😁
Discover & do what you enjoy
Like I said previously, no reason to force yourself to do something you do not enjoy.
People enjoy different components of web design/web development. Some love to make things cross-browser compatible and some enjoy optimizing site performance (bless you amazing souls out there, my potato iphone 4 thanks you*).
* No longer alive. Died on me.
For me, it's coming up with an idea in my head and seeing it come to life. The weirder the idea, the better. If I think a concept cannot be done with code, I try to prove myself wrong by trying it.
For this reason, there's always something 'wrong' with the pen. If I were to critic my own work, I'd say that the code isn't the best, the code structure can be tidier, the user experience is sub-par, and I probably shouldn't use so many hacks... and a lot more I critic myself harshly for. The accessibility advocates also have a lot of things to say about my code 😂
Despite all of this, at the end when I'm showing off something I've built, I feel really happy and I want to do more.
All of my pens- if I were to revisit them, they still make me smile or laugh in some way. To be fair, I have a terribly low humor threshold. If you need someone to laugh at your dad jokes, my laugh rate is 100%.
I digress. The point is, find what you enjoy doing and ride on that train to the end.
In my opinion, if you're doing personal projects, be personal. Make yourself happy. Do the Marie Kondo test- does what you are doing spark joy in your life? If not, thank it and trash it.