Side Projects: Garden of Slow Reflections



Reading Daniel Tenner’s blog about side projects today, I had an uncharacteristic feeling of “Hmmmm.”  I have 3 of Daniel’s blog posts in my Evernote reference files at present.  The first was about picking technologies, the second was a delightful parable of “The salesman and the developer” and the third was about “How to hack the beliefs that are holding you back.”  Something I need to re-read in light of the RestartGTD conversation with Austrailia.  

All of which is to say that generally when I read Daniel, I think “Dang!  I wish I had blogged that!”  Not today however.  Today I think Daniel did not go far enough.  W00t! An opening for me to build on!!!

Daniel’s post was building on a Post by Andrew Dumont that takes a hard line on side projects.  The hard line might be summarized visually as:

Source: Telegraph.Co.UK

See also:

Here is the textual representation: 

Know that when you start just a side project, you’re starting so much more. It’ll completely consume you. The worst failure in any side project is to devote time, energy and sanity for any sustained period only to close the doors.

Side projects are a means to an end.

They need to start with an end-state in mind – create a passive income stream, validate my idea. They need to have deadlines and key metrics – six months to profitability, 10 paying users to validate my idea. But most importantly, they need to be a sprint. The longer a project lingers, the harder it becomes to keep morale high and pull the plug if it’s not working out.

Now, interpreting this passage as a blanket statement on side projects is taking Mr. Dumont out of context.  Andrew is talking about startup founders getting distracted by side projects.  A serious problem for burned out minds.  And, in his tweeting Andrew pointed out a FANTASTIC Scott Belsky essay “What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space” so the above is not warmongering to extinguish side projects.  

But, it does represent a left-brained view of managing work that has become the defacto politically correct way to reason, in work groups lacking trust.  So, I liked it when Daniel took (slight) exception to Andrew’s hard line saying But if you want to start a side-project today for the heck of it? Go for it.” 

Daniel did not go nearly far enough for my tastes, which was my problem really.  But the itch created by Andrew and Daniel got me thinking about GTD and my side projects.  

The purpose of this post is to take side project ideas, immerse them in the GTD amniotic fluid, and use them to explore “side project GTD thinking.”  

GTD of Side Projects

For me, GTD side projects have been a great source of mental unburdening.  For each side project I make a manilla folder and then gather 3×5 cards and letter pages with thoughts about the side project.  Side projects started as a way to mind sweep more fully.  I did not like having isolated cards with ideas that clumped together.  So just to get the ideas off my mind I would clump them into folders.  And then, I group folders into Target Totes (see before/after and scroll down).  

When I listened to GTD and David Allen said “most people have 100 projects going but can recall only” 7+/-2, it rang true with me.  Except, I think I have way more than 100 projects going.  And these projects are not all what I’d call “core” to my work.  Many of them are projects that my brain thinks up and won’t let go of until I write them down.  

After 3 years of GTD however, I notice that side project folders have a tendency to evolve into core, focused, time-constrained projects.   When I realize that a side project is now a “core” project, I sit down in my school office, a clear desk, and the folder with the accumulated detritus of cards and pages, and then a sense of calm comes over me as I see that all the ideas my brain trusted me with, are all accounted for.  

I’ beginning to be convinced that side projects that my brain wants to build, but that do not do work for me today, are a kind of “over the horizon” work radar.  By teaching me mind-sweeping and organizing, GTD has made it possible for me to have the idea in the previous sentence. 

Previous to GTD I would stop these side projects by feeling too guilty to do anything about then when I had “real work.”  The guilt kept over the horizon projects disorganized and stuffed into my overwhelmed brain.  Mind sweeping them out gave me back creative capacity.  Organizing over the horizon ideas converted randomness into a down stream GTD by product that I can use to further increase my productivity.  And, cut stress.  When you realize an over the horizon project has just landed in your lap, opening a folder to all your ideas in one place is the opposite of stress.  Prevents guilt from getting a toe-hold to derail the work.  

Or, so it seems…  

bill meade

If you’ve read this far (thank you Daniel Tenner!) you should follow RestartGTD’s rss feed.   

p.s., Daniel Tenner and Andrew Dumont, if you feel misinterpreted by the above, let me ([email protected]) know, I’ll refine your input into the post!   






















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