DEV Community

Cover image for 3 Actionable Tips To Avoid Abandoned, Unfinished Projects
Matthew Collison for Skill Pathway

Posted on • Updated on

3 Actionable Tips To Avoid Abandoned, Unfinished Projects

Why is the "shelved project" so unbelievably common? We all come up with these great ideas, then excitedly spend hours writing / coding / planning / recording / {insert verb here relating to getting this project to completion}, only to find that self-doubt, lack of motivation or just simple change of heart creeps in for whatever reason. It can be very demoralizing.

It's a prevalent issue - one we've tackled within our own organization because we curate so much content between such a small team. Every post, course, and series of content is defined as a "project" for us, and our prior years have seen dozens of projects collect dust. So what have we done differently this time round to make sure we don't fall prey to the same patterns?

Even with reading dozens of different articles about staying motivated and staying the course, no amount of "chunking tasks", "creating lists and praising ourselves" or "recognizing the small wins" has worked for most projects. We think we've hit the "special ingredient" now, and it makes complete sense when you watch others who do seem to always follow through...

So what is this "special ingredient"? Self awareness.

The ability to deploy self-awareness at all stages of a project is so important because, without it, we tend to just "go with the flow" - and when you're on autopilot, you'll follow the same broken patterns that caused those other 10 projects to be shelved.

We want to challenge you to audit your self-awareness by actioning these three things on your next project and try and implement them immediately on your current project. Every point is designed to draw a much clearer line between a project that you're destined to finish, and one you probably shouldn't get started on because it's not going to play to your natural motivations.

Be completely honest with yourself upfront as to what your motivations are to start this project and look at how that motivation plays out long term

Motivation is individual - unique to you. You enjoy what you enjoy, and different things cause different results over the long term.

So on that note, are you starting this project to make money? But is the subject matter of it something you actually find boring? Chances are, you'll have an "ideal picture" of how this thing you're going to build will make you money, but once the novelty wears off, you'll be left with the dread of having to put your name and effort against something which you either don't care about or actually aren't proud of.

On the flipside: if you are building something which you are insanely passionate about, motivation will pull you in direction of completion - without you having to push yourself. Because you genuinely enjoy it from the get-go. for instance: if you're mad about dogs, and you're building an Instagram page for dogs, you probably already browse pictures of dogs for 30 minutes every day anyway. Putting out your thoughts and pieces of content about other dogs, inspirational stories, and your own will come naturally. It's just about pursuing your passion.

So try and find a project that ties into a passion of yours. How does this relate to us in our organization? We are absolutely crazy about helping people. If you sent us a message with any question, you can 100% guarantee an answer. Because we just love helping out. There's nothing more exciting to us than distilling down a complex concept into small, metaphorical parts and receiving comments as to how that thing "finally clicked and now I understand".

Constantly evaluate your capacity to get the work done, i.e. do you know how many hours this will take, and are you pacing yourself properly

It does vary between culture, but a lot of us have the not-so-great habit of burning ourselves out. We all have individual lives and when we put pressure on ourselves, whether it's from our parents, partners, mentors who claim "sleep is for the weak", we're following arbitrary principles when it comes to controlling our energy expenditure.

So this needs to stop. We need to stop listening to outside influence on how we should manage our time and effort and really look internally to see what will work for us. Everyone is unique in this.

You have three options at all times. And the more self-aware you are, the more chance you have of picking the right one:

1) Put way more effort in than you can sustain, eventually burn yourself out and give up.
2) Never even get started because you're completely doubtful and are worried about the burnout
3) Put in an amount of effort that doesn't tire you, and consistently deliver (even if it's just 10 minutes a day) on your project for the next 5 to 10 years

Option #3 is always the best option - it allows a buffer for life, work, relationships, etc. The amount of work you can put in will change as the years go on, and something is always better than nothing. Option #1 and #2 will always lead to nothing. So figure out your "optimal workload capacity."

Side note - you really need to learn to deploy patience here. Our only advice on that is, if you're passionate about what you do, patience comes naturally because you're doing what you love and you begin to love the process

Know what you're getting yourself into!

Even if you're super passionate and have deployed patience and good pacing - there are bound to be a number of "side tasks" that will need your attention down the line. As the novelty wears off, it's easy to feel doubtful because of the weight of these extra things, whether it's tax implications, legal research, the need to learn marketing, or any of the other thousands of things that might relate to your project crop up - self-doubt can creep in.

This is where you either need to get really good at delegating or get really patient and enjoy the process of learning the individual skills required to deliver. You might not enjoy every aspect but perhaps you have the tenacity to go for it - either way, you've got options: either bring the expertise in to get those jobs done, or figure out a way to do it yourself.

And you really need to do this upfront! If you don't think ahead 6 months, 1 year, you might end up wasting all that time on something that was never practical in the first place. Take the time to think forward.

Help us write the next chapter on this topic

This is a struggle so many suffer with - and we know these 3 tips are only a tiny fraction of the thousands of unique insights that will empower people to finish their side projects. Comment below and let us know what your individual struggles have been, and how you are trying to overcome them.

PS. Special thanks to Baruch Hen for his original request for advice on the community. His question inspired us to make this post so we can help as many people as possible who are experiencing the same problem.

We'll be releasing our free front-end development course at the end of the month

You'll learn how to build a beautiful portfolio for yourself, and put it live on GitHub. We provide a professional design that you're able to customize and our lead mentor shows you the exact thought process he takes when building projects like this.

You'll also gain HTML & SCSS skills in order to create the front-end, and jQuery to call an email API for the contact form.

Does this course interest you? Head over to the Skill Pathway website and register your interest, so you can get immediate access on release day.

Top comments (5)

_baruchadi profile image
Baruch Hen

Thank you for taking the time to write such an elaborate advice!🙌

I bet this will help plenty of other people who are in a similar situation as I found myself earlier this week!

It's time to re-evaluate those projects 😄


matthew_collison profile image
Matthew Collison

You're welcome!

We really hope it will. Mindset is often the hardest thing to overcome so we hope this sort of content opens new avenues of thinking and possibilities in the minds of people going through the same issues.

slajobschennai profile image
SLA Jobs

And indeed, I’m just always astounded concerning the remarkable things served by you. Some four facts on this page are undeniably the most effective I’ve had.

andrerpena profile image
André Pena

Great article. I failed so many times with side projects until I internalised some concepts, some of them are on this article.

Once I read a quote from Ben, from, that I really related with. He said that, before he started, he wanted to work on something he would see himself doing 10 years ahead. Knowing what you'll still like doing after so long is the hard part and it takes a lot of experience and self-awareness. I'm 34 now and working on side projects consistently for over a year but before that it was all blured. You have to really be patient.

Also, build something super niche because you need to minimize the chance a big company will come and crush you, but this is another topic.

Have a great Sunday

matthew_collison profile image
Matthew Collison • Edited

Thanks so much André!

It's fascinating that Ben said that because we had a very similar framework when getting started. We had already been training, motivating and inspiring developers within the companies we worked for the last 10+ years, and because we loved it so much, we knew we wanted to do that at scale and in perpetuity. This means we want to impact millions of beginner over the coming years.

Hindsight is 20/20 but we do feel that if we had read this article when we were beginning to be mentors, it would have clicked much sooner and we wouldn't have wasted so much time on side projects that never came to fruition.

Your point about being super niche is great! The long tail wins in 2019 - and has been for a few years. You're far better off trying to build a product solving a specific need than trying to build the next Facebook - because then you're stacking the odds in your favour.

Have a great Sunday - although it is Saturday where we are! Feels like a Sunday though 🤔