10 Steps to Start Your Side Project Today

Do you have a project that you want to start but everyday life is stopping you? Family, work, bills, obligations… It’s difficult to find the time, resources and opportunity to begin. And then there’s the practical problem of finding the energy; modern life can be exhausting and it can be hard to stay awake, let alone start something new.

Don’t give up. Most people who start something new do so under less-than-ideal circumstances: full-time job obligations, unemployment, a young family to support, health-issues etc. However, the fact is, it’s possible to still start. It may take longer than you want and it will require you to change your mindset and behaviour but many have successfully started a project that changed their lives. Here’s how to join them.

How to get started on your project

  1. Wake up earlier. Legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” When you’re tired you do what’s easy, not what’s necessary. An appropriate amount of sleep is one of the most overlooked ingredients of success. Aim for 7 hours – no more, no less. You don’t need more sleep, you need to get to sleep earlier. (Eventually, you can become a 5AM riser.) It’s near-impossible to start anything of substance when you’re fighting to stay awake. Exhaustion is a modern phenomena as sleep has been invaded by laptops, phones and the internet. The first step to getting started on your new project is to get enough rest.
  2. There’s no such thing as the ideal time. If you wait for the perfect time to start, the world will just pass you by. There is no ideal time, there’s only now – where you are, with what you have. You don’t need to wait; you don’t need to buy one more course or read one more book. You need to roll up your sleeves and do the work.
  3. Think big, act small. This is a useful principle to keep you motivated and to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Success is not one or two large steps but thousands of accumulated actions over time. It’s easy to lose heart when you see how far you have to travel. Don’t worry about the distance, concentrate on performing each step to the best of your ability. Each time you sit down to work on your project, ask yourself “What’s the most important thing I can do in the next five minutes?” and start from there. You build a cathedral brick by brick. In fact, that’s the only way to build anything.
  4. Quit comfort activities. John Lennon famously said, “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time”. And that’s true. But if after your chosen activity you experience a tinge of guilt or you recognise deep down that it was not the best use of your time, then it wasn’t time you truly enjoyed. These activities are fun but subconsciously they’re a form of escapism from a less-than-ideal life. This is not a criticism but a wake-up call. If you spend hours on non-productive activities and you truly enjoy yourself with no guilt or regret afterwards, great. However, you have no grounds to complain about your life if you spend every waking moment building pretend empires online, playing poker or shooting zombies. Choose.
  5. Motivation comes after you start. How much do you really want it? If you can only work when you feel motivated, you’re not going to get much done. Motivation is always a latecomer to the party and only appears after you start working. The next time you struggle to start something, count down from three, scream, shout,, swear and then start. The screaming is an effective release of pent-up frustration and shocks you out of just thinking and into doing. If you’re still having trouble starting, try working for just 5 minutes.
  6. Incorporate working on your project into an existing routine. Studies have shown that you are more likely to adopt a new habit if you add it to the end of an existing habit, e.g. after you brush your teeth, do ten push ups; after you make a coffee, think of three things to be grateful for; after you finish eating something, practice one minute of mindful breathing and so on. Identify a daily routine which you can tack working on your project to the back of, e.g. after you put the kids to bed; after you’ve cleared the dinner table; after you wake up, work on your project’s 80-20 activity.
  7. Outsource. You don’t have to go it alone. For example, there are many sites (e.g. Upwork, Fiverr, Elance and 99Designs) where you can hire affordable, capable freelancers to work for you. If you’ve hit a bottleneck in your project, is there someone you can hire to solve the problem for you so that you can move on? Make use of the resources all around you – books, courses, YouTube, websites, tools, people. Whatever you’re stuck with, someone out there can help or point you in the right direction. Don’t work on your weaknesses – outsource them. Keep building on your strengths instead. For example, if you’re better at talking than you are at writing, record your thoughts and have them transcribed. If video is more your thing, produce video content rather than force yourself to start a blog. Always look for the most efficient way to get the work done.
  8. Build momentum. It’s important to get off to a good start. Many projects die because progress is slow and their owners lose enthusiasm or become frustrated. Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” Like a sprinter, it’s important to get out of the blocks strong. Momentum also has the valuable side effect of attracting people who can help you. When you’re doing work that resonates and others start noticing, you’ll find more people willing to be part of your project. It’s why successful podcasts, for example, land all the big guests. Success feeds on success.
  9. Value the process. Overnight success is unlikely so don’t lose heart when it feels like nothing is happening. Manage your expectations. Real success is an unending stream of triumphs, setbacks and diversions. Think “process”. If you attach your success to outcomes, i.e. a destination, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you know where the value really lies – in the journey itself – you will get more out of your project and will more likely to enjoy yourself too. The act is more important than the outcome.
  10. Put your work out into the world. Whether it’s a new business, a painting or your latest recipe, show your work to the world. You can:
    • advertise on Facebook;
    • post images on Pinterest or Instagram;
    • upload videos to YouTube;
    • get fans and funding through Kickstarter;
    • publish a book with Blurb;
    • build an online store with Shopify
    • sell products on Amazon;
    • sell digital products on Gumroad;
    • start a podcast…

It’s never been easier to let the world know about your project – you are surrounded by tools and opportunities. There was a time where promotional channels were only available to large corporations with deep pockets but if you have something that other people want, you can carve out your own place in the world.

Takeaway points

  1. Circumstances may not be ideal but that’s no excuse not to start your project. In fact, that may be all the more reason why you need to begin.
  2. Many people have been where you are and have succeeded in launching something that changed their lives forever. It’s a question of how much you want it.
  3. If the idea of starting your project fills you with dread and disdain, you’ve chosen the wrong project. Find something else. You don’t need passion (although that certainly helps) – it just has to interest you.

Action steps

  1. Set aside two hours a day to work on your project. If you can manage more, great. But at the very least, two hours. Where can you find three hours? Reduce time on Netflix, gaming, TV, surfing; wake up earlier; use idle time (e.g. commuting, waiting); hire a virtual assistant/outsource non-essential tasks. The more time you can give your project, the faster you will see results.
  2. Target bottlenecks. What’s stopping you starting? Make a list of all the things you need to do to get your side project off the ground. Note that not all tasks are created equal. Some are positively a waste of time. Use the 80-20 rule to identify the important tasks (i.e. the 20% of tasks that produce 80% of the desired result) and focus on those. If you need to hire freelancers to help you with performing those 20% tasks, then do so.
  3. Start building an audience. If you want to put your work out into the world (and we hope you do), start building your following, i.e. your 1,000 fans.

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