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I have a 9-6 full time job and trying to develop a project on my own. I can only work on it during my off hours, meaning after 7pm.

It looks like I have full 5 hours till midnight, but after dinner there are usually different family things that need to be done: spend some time with wife and kids, do something around the house etc. Combined with the fatigue after a day of work... well, I find it difficult not only to allocate the time but also to persuade myself to actually sit down and do the work when I have a spare couple of hours.

As a result my project, which could probably be done in 2-3 weeks of full time, languishing for ages with very little progress.

How can I do better?

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Your question seems to imply that it is actually possible to work full time, raise a family, and do other things. LOL. –  Jeff Apr 2 '12 at 18:22
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up vote 13 down vote accepted

That's tough. One option is to spend an hour a day on it after work. Progress is slow. But slow but steady is better than nothing. Planning on how you can make small tasks helps find the motivation. It's less overwhelming to create a form with one element than a whole app.

Other options are to work on it during your commute (if you take mass transit) or during your lunch break.

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+1 for "But slow but steady is better than nothing. Planning on how you can make small tasks helps find the motivation." –  Mahbubur R Aaman Jun 5 '13 at 1:08
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Choose an hour or 2 per day that you can sit down and work on your project. Block it off and don't let anything get in the way. I'm doing the same thing as you and it's slow going but any progress is better than nothing. I find the mornings before everyone else is up is the best time to work on things but you have to be diligent about getting enough sleep if you do this. Not getting enough sleep destroys any sort of morning work time.

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"Don't let anything get in the way" is tough, because it really means "don't let anything less important get in the way". We all have our priorities. –  Patrick Szalapski Aug 15 '11 at 16:56
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There are a few things I do, because very much like you with work, family, home there is very little time for side projects or as my wife says "do more work".

  1. I spend some time up front (like 15 minutes) mapping out features, tasks, etc that need to be done to complete the project. I then group these into kind of logical stopping places (kind of like you would do with an agile sprint but not time based). BTW sometimes this is hard to figure out but there is always a way to structure something to have logical stopping points.

  2. I then kind of tuck this away or give it time frame I want to complete it by. I usually keep a list of the top 3 side projects I want to complete with a time frame I want to complete it by.

Now the tough this is finding time to do this stuff. Two approaches I have tried.

  1. "The Opportunity Knocks" approach: Pick a night and "bang it out" your not to tired, the kids actually went to bed on time, your wife is reading a new book she bought. I pull out the stuff I wrote down and then just start cranking until I get to one of those logical stopping points, then try to get to the next.

A few points about this approach

  • I found my progress is sporadic at best, sometimes I would find myself being fairly "prolific" in terms of getting stuff done and other times, not so much.
  • One thing I like about this approach because I'm sure like me early on in your career all nighters where nothing you could do them for weeks on end with no issues. Now this ability like a muscle is wearing down. And so like muscle to keep it you have to exercise it every once in a while.

    1. "Pomodoro" approach - So I started using this time management technique in my day job worked wonders for my productivity. So I figured why not try it with side projects. So basically I take that task list from before break it down into 25 minutes increments of work (or as close a I can get it) and every week try and do a certain # of pomodoros a week (I currently try for 8 a week for side projects).

A few points about this approach

  • The big thing here is that 25 minutes is not that much time and because you have a set amount of time and focusing for that time (at least for me) really help me progress on these types of projects.
  • This is one of those things that even when your tired if you just say to yourself I'll just do this for 25 minutes and then I'm done. You'll find yourself more often than not doing 3-4 pomorodos. Kind of the same thing with working out, just tell yourself you'll go for 5-10 minutes and more often than not you'll do the whole workout.
  • I actually track the effectivenss of this using Rescue Time, I can definitely tell you that I have been much more effective moving these project along.
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Perhaps open up the project to allow collaboration. This could move the project forward.

However, as simple as going from a team of 1 to a team of 2, the infrastructure to support it could be compelx to setup, initially.

Good luck!

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It's not planned to be an open source thing. –  z-boss Aug 17 '11 at 17:30
    
Sorry, my bad choice of words "open up". I didn't mean open sourcing it. I meant getting more collaboration by asking for help. –  tehnyit Aug 18 '11 at 9:02
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First, change your expectations. You don't have a full 5 hours a day you could be spending on your project - you have a family, and you can't expect to be able to ignore them all evening. If you start out by thinking you should be able to do 5 hours of work, you'll always end up disappointed and unmotivated. I find that if I expect rapid progress and don't get it, I'm never happy about how the project is going, but simply readjusting my expectations gets my motivation and satisfaction up.

Try telling yourself you should be able to do about 1 hour of work a day - find the best time to schedule that hour given your family's schedule, and try to get the most out of it when it works out. Maybe try scheduling a longer chunk of time on a weekend, if possible.

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I'm exactly in the asker's situation, and this is excellent advice! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 18 '12 at 16:07
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This is not based on anything I have read, but I find it works for me for difficult projects. I keep a small log for the project. If I do nothing else, I at least update this log with a date and problem/issue. Even if that issue is simply "I'm too tired". This I find instantly gets me working on something smaller and puts me into troubleshooting frame of mind.

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This is very good advice. –  toby Aug 31 '11 at 20:51
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  1. block out time to work on your stuff, make it known to your family members that these are your "work hours". In the past I have blocked out between 12-22 hours per week. How much you do is up to you. Make sure you leave sufficient time for your family though.

  2. work more efficiently by using GTD and/or pomodoro techniques, the trick is to get yourself in the "flow" state as much as possible, and minimize distractions in whatever way works best for you.

  3. This is a non-intuitive one, and I am not sure it works for everyone, but in my opinion a big one: work more efficiently at your job. In my experience: Working more efficiently and being in the "flow" state consistently at my job gets me through the day with less stress and I end up with more energy and feel refreshed after I get home.

  4. Eat well, and do not work hungry. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough.

  5. Sleep well. This is as important as eating well.

I hope some of it is useful to you and good luck!

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The answers to the effect of "set aside a small amount of time each day so you make gradual progress" are great but easier said than done. Stuff comes up and some days nothing will happen. There's no way around that in your situation. The key is to not let that kill the moment so that one unproductive day turns into 7 before you know it.

In my opinion what you need is a commitment device to force yourself to make that gradual progress. And my very biased suggestion for doing that is Beeminder, which is like StickK for data nerds. In other words, Beeminder combines goal tracking with StickK-like commitment devices -- keep all your data points on a "yellow brick road" to your goal.

Btw, the problem of one unproductive day turning into 7 is why one of our (more obtuse) taglines is "safety rope for slippery slopes". If you're bound by a yellow brick road then you have some flexibility and you can take days off when stuff comes up -- up to the point that your overall average dips too far. If you're about to drive off the edge of your yellow brick road then you're forced to squeeze in some work.

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Except for the "set aside a small amount of time each day " advice, I would like to add another one (maybe not applicable to everyone):

Get up earlier in the morning and work on your side project for about 2 hours

It has two benefits:

  1. No distractions from your family which would be more productive than working during the evening with your kids running around (and your wife yelling at you). I would suggest go to bed earlier in the evening (since you normally work until the midnight). I personally think 2 hours working without distraction is more efficient than 5 hours working with distractions. The basic philosophy is the same as set blocks of time to work. However I found that doing it in the morning has another benefit (see point below).
  2. My mind is more creative in the morning (See Mason Currey's Daily Ritual). Although it can not apply to everyone, you are surely not as tired as you are in the evening. And I also find my mind more clear (not necessarily creative) in the morning.

I have finished several side projects since I adopted this methodology. And I wish it can help you as well.

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I can't say I've looked in detail at everybody's answer, but it looks like the trend is to focus on potential for improving the effective use of your spare time. In this case spare time would be any time that hasn't been "blocked off" for your day job or your family. I think the family thing is pretty much immutable - you've chosen to have a family, and arguably you have a responsibility in that regard, not to mention, of course, a desire to spend time with them and of course, in the long term time spent with family can only be a good thing.

So ... your job. Tim Ferriss in his popular book The Four Hour Work Week suggests critically analysing the time you spend at work, and in particular, the time that you actually spend adding value for your employer. If it turns out that you're spending three hours a day actually doing real work, well then clearly, apart from life's necessities like eating and ablutions, the rest is simply ... wasted. That's a lot of time that could be spent on your project. I'm not suggesting that you only work three hours a day (remember: "work" here means real value add), but I'm willing to bet that it's not eight hours.

Once you've figured out your real daily input, the next step is to convince your employer that you can do whatever you're doing at home, or at least somewhere "away from the office". This is the tough part for most people because it involves a pitch. The fact is, though, if you can prove that you're delivering as well as you are at the office whilst at home, the pitch is simple - "more time to do work since no travelling etc.". The are a variety of ways to pitch this, but they all result in your employer seeing benefits and it really isn't a difficult sell to make, especially if you're the sort of person who takes pride in your work. The purpose of this is to be able to spend time on your project without it being too obvious - remember, this is time that goes wasted every day due to interruptions, water-cooler conversations and other typical work-place distractions, so it's not like you're "stealing" from your employer; you're just being more effective to both your and your employers advantage.

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There are 3 areas you can address that will each help you complete the project:

1. The project itself

The first thing to do is to pare down your project to the absolute bare minimum that could possibly be useful. Now you've got your real project. Put everything else on a "nice to have" list and forget about it.

Once you've done this (and be really ruthless), estimate the time it will take to do this simpler project. If the time is more than you're likely to find in a year, scrap the whole thing. You'll never finish it, so you're wasting your time.

Who will the project benefit? Just you? Just a few people? Scrap it, and find something else to do.

Right, now you've got a real, lean project that's worth the effort.

2. The task backlog

Generate a prioritised list of tasks that you can complete when you have time to work on them.

You don't need to generate the whole task list all at once - just make sure the highest priority items are broken down into small enough jobs that you can tackle them when you have the opportunity.

One way to do this is to create a list of the main features that your project needs in order to be complete. Put the most important near the top. Estimate the time it will take to do the top couple of things. If the estimates for the feature comes out at more than 2 hours, break the feature down into smaller chunks and revise the backlog. Rinse and repeat.

3. Making time to work on the backlog

Other answers cover this better than I could.

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