Finding focus and mental energy for side projects
December 6, 2016 7:33 AM   Subscribe

I would like to spend more free time working on side projects, but I can't find the focus by the end of a workday. Can you? Tell me how.

I see many programmers who manage to do a ton of interesting open source or other work outside of their day jobs, and I want to do that too. But I feel spent at the end of a workday and can't imagine continuing to focus on code into the night.

In general, I don't have trouble getting non-programming tasks done outside of work, and during periods of unemployment, I've been able to make good progress on personal programming projects. But when I'm spending eight hours a day writing code for work, I just can't seem to find the energy to keep writing code beyond that.
posted by enn to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm an editor, not a programmer, but times when I've needed to do the equivalent — working on editing side gigs outside of my editing day job — the only way I've made it work is to wake up early and do the side project stuff first thing in the morning. I've learned that I'll force myself do the stuff that's required for work no matter what, but the stuff that's voluntary I'll only do when I'm fresh and rested.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:53 AM on December 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


Yes, get up super early and go to bed earlier after work. It works like a charm.
posted by tooloudinhere at 8:13 AM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have issues with this as well.

The only method that I've found works for me is to not go home. Instead, I'll head to the local university, grab a table in a random building, and try to focus for a couple more hours. No one there seems to care about just another person working.
posted by cowcowgrasstree at 8:28 AM on December 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


In general, I don't have trouble getting non-programming tasks done outside of work, and during periods of unemployment, I've been able to make good progress on personal programming projects. But when I'm spending eight hours a day writing code for work, I just can't seem to find the energy to keep writing code beyond that.

I feel this way about writing (write nonfiction all day, want to write fiction at night), and my solution has been to make a big chunk of time for it on most weekends, and then do it on weeknights only if I feel like it, which might be twice a week or might be once in two weeks. The result is that I'm slow to produce work on my personal writing projects, but I'm not burning out on them either.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:31 AM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some brief exercise clears my head. I used to ride my bike home from work (30 min) and it usually reset my mental state from office politics and concerns. The other thing is, train yourself to look forward to that personal time. Protect it. Going somewhere outside the home can help.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 8:39 AM on December 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


I test engineering software during the day, and write fiction during the evenings and weekends. I think it helps a lot that my side-project is completely different from my day job, so it doesn't feel as if one type of work is taking up all of my day. If you're able to choose side-projects that are significantly different from your day job, that might help revive your energy.
posted by kelper at 8:49 AM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I see that you have a lot of good answers!

One thing that really helps me to be able to do my own projects after I get home is eat first, immediately, like do the easiest possible dinner that's still healthy, and while I'm getting that ready, prep whatever task I want to do. For me it's either creative writing, letter writing, or Christmas crafting (right now.) So I take out exactly what I need to do that, and then eat dinner. Then I go right into the project without other distractions, so either having the TV/music off completely, or having something on that is easy for me to half pay attention to while I do my thing. I give myself until 8:30pm to work on my stuff, then it's shower time and bed related, work prep related tasks.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 12:42 PM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I struggle with this too, enn. I haven't discovered a consistent best strategy yet, but some key steps for me are:

- leave work on time - no "oh, I'll just do one more thing" syndrome
- immediately eat food and hydrate
- switch to something (anything!) that is not-work
- take a walk
- caffeinate, then take a 20 minute nap
- go somewhere that is not-home
- set a timer and make very small goals, like "spend x mins doing y task" and then take a break
- get up early and work on the personal task 1st thing in the morning - this also motivates me to actually get up when the alarm clock goes off, because I'm doing something for myself, not yet another endless task for my job

Hope this helps!
posted by the thought-fox at 1:29 PM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I struggle with this. The only thing that has worked so far is absolute deadlines -- for example I agreed to help a friend write some neat code to document his around the world trip, and obviously it had to be done before he left, so that happened. But general non-time-specific goals just don't happen when life stuff comes up.
posted by miyabo at 6:03 PM on December 7, 2016


Another thing that might help is coming up with short, easy tasks and keeping a list of those tasks handy. Then, when it's time to work on your side projects, you have an easy point of entry and an easy success to feel good about.

So you might feel daunted at the prospect of coding a new feature from the ground up, but if you've got a list like:
* add comments to foo function
* make list of options for bar function and prioritize them
* refactor baz function
(... or whatever seems fairly quick and easy on the projects you're working on) - you can get a little something done, and even if that's all you do, at least you've accomplished something.

Often, though, once you've gotten started with an easy task, you may find you feel energized to keep going.
posted by kristi at 9:55 AM on December 9, 2016


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