If You Don’t Have Time for a Side Project, You Are Probably Just Lying to Yourself

 

side projectsHaving a side project to work on is a tremendously powerful way to develop new skills, improve your career capital and recharge from the repetitive tasks you do at work. In a couple of months (or less) you could learn how to code, or train to run a marathon, improve your social skills or write a novel.

Despite these advantages, most people never even get started with their side projects.

They make excuses, saying how they don’t have time, how next month will be less busy or how they’re more dedicated to their job or their families to embark on such extracurriculars. Look, I know it can be tough to find the energy to embark on a side project. But unless you are working 100 hours a week (and you’re probably exaggerating) or the parent of a newborn child, you are probably just lying to yourself.

Stop Watching So Much TV

Most Americans watch around THREE HOURS of television per day. Sure, there are probably a few people watching like 10 hours a day, but that’s still a lot of people vegging out for over an hour a day. For a lot of folks, TV can be swapped with social media or video games to the same effect.

You really only need average 35 mins a day on your side project to net 4 hours a week on your side project. That’s 200+ hours over a year – which would allow you to do a tremendous number of things.

 

The Mayor of Newark Has a Side Project

Cory Booker is the well-known mayor of Newark, NJ and unofficial Senatorial candidate, has also co-founded a video sharing startup called Waywire. Now, I don’t care what your political stance is, being the mayor is a lot of work. And if you believe even half the stories that make him one of the “hardest working mayors in America” you’ll understand that Booker is not just punching the clock on his public service duties.

Yet that has NOT stopped him from creating something new from scratch – on the side.

Paul Graham Spends 3-4 Hours a Day on Hacker News

Paul Graham is the cofounder of Y Combinator, which funded my startup Ridejoy and other, far more successful startups like Airbnb, Heroku and Dropbox. In addition to running Y Combinator as a partner and being a husband and father, he also spends a lot of time working on Hacker News, the Reddit-like community he created that gets 1.6M pageviews daily.

How much time? Three to four hours per day, according to a recent article on TechCrunch. Sure, Hacker News is tangentially related to his job running Y Combinator, but most side projects do provide real tangible benefits to your main work responsibilities.

Start Slow

Swayed? Thinking about buckling down to really take on that side project? Cool. But don’t start too hard.

From my research on human behavior change, I think one of the big missteps of human psychology is that we’re overly optimistic about our own abilities to change. We bite off more than we can chew.

Instead of diving in for hours one day, try spending 10 minutes a day on the project for a week. Consistency is great than intensity. You’ll make more progress in the long run if you keep at it a little bit each day, than if you immerse yourself once every few weeks.

I estimate it took me about 100 hours over many months to learn enough programing to build the first version of RewardBox, but there’s no way I would been able to do it over 50 hrs/wk for 2 weeks.

What’s a side project you’ve wanted to start? Let me know what’s holding you back in the comments.

How to Give (Negative) Feedback Effectively

Getting honest and useful feedback is a wonderful gift. Obviously positive feedback (“You’re doing a great job with this project!”) is awesome because it makes you feel good and motivated to keep up the good work. Negative feedback, (“Your site is extremely hard to navigate and I wasn’t able to complete the signup process”) can be painful to hear, but if you can swallow your pride, it’s actually an amazing opportunity to improve what you’re working on.

On the other side, being able to deliver good feedback (especially negative feedback) means you have the opportunity to influence the people and projects around you to make them better. But because many people shut down when recieving negative feedback about themselves or others, it’s important to deliver that feedback in the right way.

As a startup founder, I give and receive a ton of feedback both positive and negative, so this is something I think about a lot. Here are some suggestions I have for delivering negative feedback effectively. Follow them and watch your feedback’s influence increase.

DO:

  • Show you care about the project/person
    “I’m totally behind your efforts to help disabled athletes in China…”
  • Show you understand and are aligned with the projects goals
    “I know you are focusing on just one market at this time…” 
  • Show that you’ve thought through reasons why the implementation might be what it is
    “I bet you saw good reasons to use three buttons instead of two…”  Continue reading…

Launching always takes longer than you think (Guide to YC)

One lesson I’ve learned is that launching always takes longer than you think. If I got paid every time I heard a founder say their product was “two to three weeks away from launch” I could start angel investing.

Case in point: it’s been over a month since I said I was almost done with my cool YC-related project.

Well, better late than never is my motto. Last week I put up what I called the Unofficial Guidebook for Y Combinator Applicants at http://guidetoyc.com. In it, I shared everything I’ve learned from applying to Y Combinator, getting in, going through the program, understanding more about how the YC partners think and connecting with other founders.

I had friends who were applying to Y Combinator and asked for my advice so I would review their application. But I felt like most of my best advice was about how think about applying rather than specific feedback on their application. I wrote up a Google Doc on my thoughts on each section (team, idea, distribution, video, etc) and over the past few months have fleshed it out to what it is now – a 20,000 word guide on every aspect of the YC application process.

I put it up on Hacker News and in 24 hours got 6,500+ unique visitors spending over three-and-a-half minutes per visit. It was really great to know that people were digging my stuff.

After that, I worked closely with the awesome team at Hyperink, (a YC company that’s transforming publishing) and we were able to put together a beautifully laid out and carefully edited 92 page document that’s available as a free PDF download and also in mobi and epub versions in just 10 days.

It took longer than I expected – because I went through and re-edited several sections to make it as clear and readable as possible. I also integrated feedback from various YC partners who commented on the content. The Hyperink team did an amazing job turning things around quickly and professionally.

The result is something I’m proud to share with you.

Get your free copy of Guide to YC here.

I hope you enjoy the guide and I’d love to hear any feedback you have on the book. Please rest assured: regular blog posting will resume shortly.

Photo credit by Nils Öhman

7 Ways to Get More Energy for Side Projects

Photo courtesy of R’eyes.

Whenever someone signs up for my email newsletter, they get a personal email reply from me thanking them for signing up and asking them if there’s something I can do to help them. I get to meet a lot of interesting people that way, learn new things and hopefully provide some value.

A while back I got an email from a reader who works as an analyst at a multi-national bank and asked me this:

Quick question for you. A lot of times I come home from work and I’m too exhausted to work on my side projects. How do you manage your energy to get the most out of your day? – Thanks, Josh

With his permission, I’m reprinting his question and my response. I thought readers of this blog would find in valuable since I find that many of you have very cool side projects that you’re working on.


Great question. I think there is something about people’s baseline energy levels that plays a role here – some people are just naturally more energetic than others. But outside of that, here are a couple ideas to have the energy to work on your side projects:

1) Reduce your commute.

Commutes add a lot of stress to your life and suck up your time. Instead of driving, could you take a bus or train and sleep / work on your project? Or work from home one or two days a week?

2) Wake up earlier.

If you’re tired at night, why not go to sleep earlier and wake up an hour earlier than normal. Take that 1st hour to work on the things that are important to you. It’s like investing in yourself before paying others.

3) Exercise.

Are you working out consistently? I know that if I don’t work out, I can start feeling sluggish and slow. Taking the time to work out might feel like it’s detracting from your time to do stuff, but it can add a lot more spring to your step later on in the day – and if done consistently over time, give you more energy on a regular basis.

4) Quality food.

What kind of food are you eating? I know that when I get stressed, I eat a lot and mostly junk, and it tends to make me feel like crap. Drinking lots of water and eating more fruits and vegetables, and being *slightly* hungry (instead of stuffing yourself) can give you a lot more energy.

5) Energy “vampires”.

There are certain people that we hang out with (boss, coworkers, friends) that can really suck all the life out of you. If you’re hanging out with a vampire, see if you can reduce the time you spend with them or maybe even cut them out of your life.

6) Better projects.

Maybe you’re just not that excited about the side project you’re working on. I know people often will “want to want” something but not actually desire to do it. Be honest with yourself and see if this is something you’re really passionate about doing and enjoy the process.

7) Get a partner.

If you can partner up with someone, it makes the project a lot easier and more enjoyable (if you find the right person). See if there is someone at work, or a friend, or even an online contact who might want to work with you on the things you’re doing. That startup post is 10x better because I coauthored it with another guy, Derek, who I first met on Twitter and now is a really good friend.

How to Make a Great Startup Product Video

If you can’t see the video, click here to read this post on the web.


We have a lot of big news happening today at isocket. Check out our blog for all the announcements including the launch of BuyAds.com, the premium ad marketplace. We’re also covered in VentureBeat, TheNextWeb & Tracking202


(April 2012 Update) isocket has refreshed the video and added one for their marketplace BuyAds.com so I thought I’d include the new videos. They still keep much of the same feeling and style as the original and I think a lot of theses rules still hold true.

isocket

BuyAds

I don’t blog much about my work at isocket here but I think you’ll like today’s post on how me and my coworker Ryan (I really don’t ever stop talking about him do I?) put together this sweeet video with our production team in just four weeks.

Please actually watch the video before reading the rest of the post – it’ll make me feel good and you’ll get more out of it. =)

Startups (and bigger companies like Google and Facebook) have to work hard to explain new products or major refreshes to existing products. While you can do a lot with copy, diagrams and photos, sometimes it’s not enough. Video can be a powerful way to engage, entertain and education your customers and get them pumped to use your product.

First off – let’s get it out there: Getting a great video done is not cheap.

Epipheo Studios, who I consider to be one of the industry leaders (along with Picturelab), charges $15k for 90 seconds of video and it takes them 8-10 weeks to do it. We paid roughly the same amount for a three minute video with a turnaround time of four weeks.

The kick-ass team we worked with is MediaSauce.

They are a Indiana based creative agency and Ryan had actually once worked there selling creative engagements – so he trusted the people and the quality of work they could produce. But neither he nor I had ever handled an engagement like this from start to finish and it was definitely an eye-opener for us.

We are very happy with the final product and have been pleased with the initial response. One customer even emailed us saying how they pumped themselves up by watching the video a couple times before applying join isocket. That kind of feedback is what makes videos so awesome.

So without further ado, I offer some things I learned through our engagement that I hope helps you understand more about the creative process and how to structure an engagement if you ever decide to do a video for your product/startup/company:

Continue reading…