If you're anything like me then there is a good chance that you're mind is often jam packed with great ideas and side projects to keep you distractedly busy during those spare moments. And if you are like me you probably get extremely excited by these new ideas and sometimes you just really want to throw yourself head first into something, even when you're not quite finished the work on your last great idea.
What to do, what to do?
One Focus at a Time (OFAT)
OFAT is a process/mindset/hack I've been using to help keep me focused on achieving goals in my side projects. It sounds simple because it is - only focus on one major project at a time you dufus!
Not you, me. I'm the dufus. Or at least I was the dufus until I started following OFAT.
The rules for OFAT are simple:
Set a scope goal AND a time frame
You must set both at the start. This is important. For example I said "I am going to have first draft of my screenplay written by December 2016."
Whichever milestone you hit first is when you can stop working and change projects. This stops you from dragging on with a project that gets 'stuck' or finding inconsequential tasks just because you have time left. As soon as you are done you move on.
In my example I managed to write my screenplay by the first week in October 2016 so I spent October-November working on a different idea I had. It was liberating to know that I had achieved my goal and so it was OK for me to look at something new.
Do recurring reassements BUT ONLY TO REDUCE SCOPE/TIME
Never add to your time or scope! You can cut it down but any additions are for the next version of the project. You may well jump into this work as the next project straight after you finish the current one but it is important that they are considered as separate pieces of work.
The way I like to assess my current project is to ask myself simple questions that challenge my thinking. E.g. What can I cut to make this easier? What would the simplest version of this project look like?
Keep a notepad at all times
New ideas don't wait until you are inbetween projects before presenting themselves. Like an annoying 3rd cousin who drinks all your alcohol, they just seem to pop up whenever they damn well feel like.
Don't ignore them. But don't get distracted by them. Keep a notepad and jot them down. Whenever a good idea strikes give yourself permission to pause whatever you are doing so that you can make a quick note. Then jump straight back into focusing on your current project.
The challenge here is not to go into implementation mode. You want to allow time for the ideas to fully form but not actually start working on them. That's for later, when you have finished the current project.
I recommend keeping this list of ideas in a single place so that when the time comes to pick your next project all your ideas are together. That way you can be confident you are focusing on the most important, or most interesting, idea for your next project.
Celebrate the end
I've mentioned this many times before. It is important, no matter what size the project, to have a symbolic celebration of the end. It doesn't have to be a massive launch party on a 100ft yacht with 50 friends and unlimited alcohol. Although if you are in that ballpark feel free to send me an invite.
The point of celebrating is twofold. First, it rewards you for your achievement, and thus creates a feedback cycle where you get happy hormones running around your body when you get shit done which will in turn motivate you to keep achieving. Second, it stops you from dragging out the project. When you celebrate the completion you mentally sign off on the project and free up your mind for looking at the next project.
Take a break and keep balanced
At end of project take a break no matter what. Make it in proportion to the length of project. If you busted your arse on something for a year than you should take a good few weeks off from it.
Also, don't go jumping straight in to next project. Some people might think they can take time off from one project by looking at a different project but I like to have a little no-work break just to recharge. It also helps to clear your mind before you make a commitment to the next project.
That's OFAT in a nutshell. That is how I've managed to do so many side projects in my spare time over the past few years whilst also working full-time and growing my family.
When working on your own side projects getting the balance right is tough and I know I have definitely made many mistakes along the way but landing on this OFAT process has helped me immensely. Now I feel able to commit to my projects so that I can enjoy them but still have a life.
How are you going on your projects?