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Ali Spittel for Ladybug Podcast

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Three Tips for balancing side projects and a full-time job

Side projects are an excellent way to express yourself creatively and build up your tech stack. But how do you find time to work on your side project when you have a full-time job and other responsibilities at home? In a recent episode of the Ladybug Podcast, we discussed some useful strategies for giving your side projects the attention they deserve.


Ask yourself some important questions: what needs to be done right now and what can wait. Also, what do you actually want to do? Most of these side projects are completely optional, you get to decide if you want to spend your time on them or not. You need to find your why with your side projects, why are you passionate about them, and why do you want to do them. You don't need to do everything, find the things you love doing and focus on them. It may not even feel like work if you really love it!

When you’re thinking about these projects, you also may want to think about future time commitments for them. When you're starting things, they're shiny and new and fun. But will you still care about the project a year in the future? What is the time commitment still, then? How much time do you have consistently to spend on these it? These questions can really help you decide what is important to prioritize and to decide what is actually realistic for you to take on. Is it just something that’s super one-off that you can do in a night or two? Or is it something that’s bigger that you still want to be working on in a year?

Focus on Building Habits

It may help to have your side projects should align with your ultimate career goals. "Atomic Habits" discusses the idea of not having finite goals, and not focusing on one finite point in time as your goal. Instead, position yourself on a trajectory to reach an outcome. For example, if I want to have a very successful soccer team, and I’m a soccer coach, my goal shouldn’t be to win 10 games, my goal should be to hire or to hire to have the best players on the team and build a good team dynamic. That’s pointing out a trajectory to succeed. If focusing on winning 10 games, you’re not positioning yourself in any sort of way to be successful.

Make sure that you know your why, and that you’re putting yourself in the right direction. So, if you want to become a senior engineer, blog about code instead of knitting cat sweaters. Position yourself in such a way that you’re always working towards a goal.

Do what works for you

Productivity systems are very different for everyone. Some people block off work times on their calendar, other people do whatever they feel like at the time, other people set three goals per day. Try different systems and see what works for you and makes you the most productive.

In addition, different people prioritize different things, and they also need different things. Some people need more social time, other people need more rest time. That is totally okay! Do what's best for you, and don't put a ton of pressure on yourself to always be working. Everyone needs downtime.

Learn More

We gave a ton more advice for balancing side projects, and we also did a deep dive into what we're working on in our episode Side Project Balancing Act.

Top comments (13)

deleteman123 profile image
Fernando Doglio

Nice! This topic is one that many of us struggle with. One that I recently started applying is: remember that everything your working on right now will be there tomorrow. Take some time off, spend it with your loved ones. It's too easy to forget about the world when your working on a passion project.

That's my two cents, great article! Thanks for sharing!

create_transmit profile image
Andrew VanDuivenbode

Great advice!

A habit that I recommend is:

  • Prioritize 1-3 most important tasks for the most important project the day before
  • Do the most important task first thing in the morning when the brain is fresh and before the distractions of the day begins.

This helps create momentum and consistent progress through the week.

ryanrousseau profile image
Ryan Rousseau

I struggle with this. I have a side project I've been running for about two years now. I don't touch it for months at a time but sometimes I get the urge to change something or implement that feature I've been really wanting to get to.

And that's not even counting the ones I haven't even started.

This was shared in my feed today:

kamranayub profile image
Kamran Ayub

One recent tip I heard was to make sure you defined a goal for the week, then work on it first before anything else. Once it's done, you can feel good knowing you made progress. This is similar to the idea of "paying yourself first" to control spending. This is how I've been making progress on my project where each week I have a list of small chunks of work to do and once I do, everything else is icing (and funny enough, the biggest barrier is taking action so usually once I start I just keep going!)

omrisama profile image
Omri Gabay

Important to mention people shouldn't feel obligated to work on side projects

tailcall profile image
Maria Zaitseva

I have a long-running side project and it's been reeeeally hard to keep developing it since I started a full-time programming job. Like, my users are asking for new features and bugfixes all the time, and declining their requests feels pretty sad. But I'm just a human, I only have so much time in my life, so that's the way it goes, I guess.

christocarr profile image
Chris • Edited

Am I dyslexic? I keep reading Emma's last name as Webekind. Sorry! No disrespect.
Back to the discussion and I have a question. How important is it to have consistent GitHub contributions as a junior looking for a role? I'm always worried that I don't push enough code every day.

danjconn profile image
Dan Conn

A great summary and another great episode. I tend to be someone that flits from project to project, but none have any deadlines other than what I impose on myself. There was some super advice in this episode, thanks :)

paulc_creates profile image
Paul Caoile

Thank you for this.

It's definitely a balancing act. I have been learning and doing projects everyday waking up very early but I find myself borderline burning out because of lack of sleep. I have to hit the reset button and recuperate.
I'm now reading atomic habits by James Clear.
Changing the process and making an effective system is definitely much more effective than just setting goals.

cjoy profile image
Chris Joy

This is probably the biggest thing I struggle with right now. Especially when everybody is working-from-home due to covid.

One thing y'all need to remember is to NEVER use your work computer for personal projects. From a legal perspective - you will screw yourself over. I also find that I'm more productive when working on side projects if I put away my work laptop in my wardrobe - right after finishing work. I then bring out my personal laptop (out of my wardrobe as well) and immediately start working on my side project. This way, I'm still in a "work" state-of-mind when working on the project.

Saying this, it's important not to burn yourself out. I myself am trying to find a long-term solution in balancing work/side-hustle/personal time.

yaser profile image
Yaser Al-Najjar

Nice one!

Besides what you mentioned, I believe "chaos is the natural order".

So, embracing how chaotic our lives can be (with tons of projects / plans) makes things really simpler.

avgenakis_g profile image
George Avg.

Hey interesting post.
We will use your tips while building our startup!

Have a look how you can automate your job search using

johnlukeg profile image
John Luke Garofalo

Great post, Ali! Thank you for sharing.