Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August of 2017. It was updated in August of 2018 to reflect the most recent side projects of the Buffer team.
It feels like everyone I know has a personal side project on the go. Whether it’s a neat blog, a new app, or even a non-profit, there seem to be endless ways that people are incorporating side projects into their lives, and as it turns out, there are some great reasons to do so!
There are tons of benefits to starting a side project. Everything from increased creativity, to personal growth, and even helping with professional development and opportunities.
Having creative hobbies has been shown to make people more helpful, collaborative, and creative in their job performance. As an added bonus, employees who had creative hobbies felt more relaxed and in control outside of work.
Side projects line up quite well with our value of focusing on self-improvement at Buffer. We’ve always been keen to support our team’s side projects by cheering them on, being beta testers, and offering thoughts or advice. We even have a whole Slack channel dedicated to sharing about side projects!
But how do you make time for them and which ones should you choose?
Here are some tips and tricks from the Buffer team for choosing a side project and getting started.
Photo by Thought Catalog
Working on side projects: Ideas, advice, and experience from the Buffer team
How to Choose a Side Project
Let’s start with the how, how do you even get started with a side project? We looked to some people at Buffer who have plenty of experience to grab their thoughts and ideas for you. (More on each of these Bufferoos and their projects in the next section.)
One way to choose a side project is by looking at what you’re passionate about. Tigran says:
I think for a long-term success it’s important to start a side-project that you’re really passionate about. Otherwise, it gets harder in the future to find motivation and work on the project in your free time.
I love that Tigran is thinking about motivation here, if you’d like to work on your side project consistently, then staying motivated is definitely key. Todd backs Tigran up, as well:
I resonate a ton with what Tigran shared with being passionate about the project. I’ve found my love for making things to be a surprising driver with keeping at the craft.
You might think that taking time outside of work to spend time on a side project could be taxing for your energy levels, but Emily mentions that it can, in fact, be the opposite!
My advice for sustaining a side project outside of work is to find something you truly love! If your side project provides you with energy and acts as a form of therapy and self-care, it’ll be much easier to find the time for it!
Self-care is such an important practice, it can help you prevent overload burnout, reduce the negative effects of stress, and refocus. All positive results that might improve your performance in your day-to-day job as well.
Of course, fun is a great reason to do something in your free time. But sometimes we get so caught up in work and life that we might forget to incorporate it into our lives. I love this quote by Nina Dobrev: “Even though you’re growing up, you should never stop having fun.”
We should all never stop having fun, especially if it makes us smile or laugh. Studies have shown that laughter can help with stress and immune responses, too.
Bufferoos on the team mention fun as a huge motivator behind kicking off a side project, here’s Max:
For me the most important thing for a side project is to always have fun whatever the situation.
And the same goes for Todd:
I do it first and foremost because I enjoy it.
A compelling reason to kick off a new project might be learning a new skill. Andy has developed multiple apps as side projects and mentions learning as the main influence:
Lots of the projects I work on also scratch an itch to learn about something in particular which is how CouchQuiz started to learn more about the Apple TV and tvOS.
Todd mentions that learning can be hugely rewarding as well, even if you’re starting from not knowing anything about the skill you’re learning:
Perhaps the most rewarding thing for me with learning any new skill, is being able to see where you started and how investing time and practice makes you better. I think that’d be the advice I’d share, give it time, especially if it’s a new skill. You may be discouraged by your skill level at first, but look back a year later and you’ll likely be impressed with how far you’ve come.
Photo by rawpixel.com
How to Make Time for a Side Project and Stay Motivated
Next up, how do all of these Bufferoos fit in the time for these additional projects and plus stay motivated to keep working on them?
Choose one or two
For Jordan it’s all about narrowing it down to only one or two side projects to make more progress on those:
I found it helpful to weigh all the many side projects I wanted to work on and pick only one or two. Otherwise, in the little free time I carve out, I only make a tiny bit of progress on six things instead of substantial progress on one or two. That’s doubly important as gaining momentum with side projects is intrinsically tied to their progress, as in – it’s tough to be excited about coming back to one when it’s been in the same state for a year or so.
Set small goals
Tigran uses small goals and milestones to stay motivated:
While working on the project setting small goals and milestones are vital to keep excitement up and to continue progress.
Get friends involved
On Max’s end, he had friends get involved with his side project and found it super helpful:
It’s was also mandatory to work with at least one friend to keep the motivation day after day.
Focus on urgent not perfect
For Courtney, the time crunch was real so her and her co-founders focused on getting things done and not making them perfect.
We don’t have the time to make things perfect. We barely have the time to make things happen at all. But when your time is at a premium, you’re forced to focus on only the most urgent priorities – and knocking them out while you still have a tiny window of time to spare.
If we’d waited until everything was perfect, we’d probably still be waiting.
The 39 Side Projects the Buffer Team is Working on
Now that we know how these side projects were chosen and how Buffer teammates stay motivated, here’s a big list of all of the side projects that the Buffer team is currently working on. Maybe you’ll get some ideas from this list, too!
Blogs, Writing & Communities
Courtney: Girls to the Moon
Courtney is the co-founder of Girls to the Moon, a Nashville-based social enterprise company that brings together inspirational leaders, creative events, and impactful content to guide girls to become their best selves, impact their communities, and create a more inclusive culture.
Darcy: Fit Foodie Mom
Darcy runs a blog called Fit Foodie Mom where she shares quick and effective workouts, healthy recipes, how-to’s for fun kid’s activities and parties, and self-care and self-love for moms.
Nicole: Writing Historical Novels
Nicole writes historical novels. Her blog touches on her writing journey. Right now, she’s working on her latest manuscript and has a whole drawer full of unpublished manuscripts that she’ll one day unearth.
Andy: Woof Warehouse
Andy works on a Shopify store that sells dog bandanas and accessories. He focuses primarily on the tech side of things, customizing the store, plugins, and branding, while also caring for and photographing the adorable pups.
Federico is the co-founder of Lande, an independent brand based in Lake Como, Italy. They are on a mission to provide their customers with the best quality tools for a sustainable life.
Adam: Bad Wolf Podcast
Adam works on a podcast called Bad Wolf, a discussion and review podcast all about Doctor Who with his co-host Aaron. They review new episodes, discuss the latest news, and even talk some Classic Who.
Dave C: Support Breakfast
Support Breakfast is a podcast that Dave co-hosts that started as as a weekly breakfast for London-based customer support folk to get together, eat pancakes, talk about experiences with support, and keep each other company.
Hailley co-hosts a podcast with her friend across the Atlantic, the two of them navigate the professional world while talking tech, travel, and reading plus doing their best to make work work.
Software, Games, and Apps
Andy: Alpenglow, DayNight, Magic Bean, CouchQuiz, and ShutterSpots
Andy works on a whole bunch of side projects, here they are:
Alpenglow: An iOS app to check sunrise, sunset and golden hour times. Also sends out notification reminders and pulls in a forecast for whether or not the next sunrise or sunset will be photo-worthy. Currently at 2000 monthly active users.
CouchQuiz: Trivia app for iPad and Apple TV that you use your iOS / mobile devices as buzzers to send your answers in.
DayNight: iOS app to help with day night awareness for the blind and visually impaired, originally inspired by an Alpenglow user. Next feature is to add the ability to detect whether lights in the room are on or off.
Magic Bean: Recently returned to my first iOS side project and rewrote it in 8 days. It’s for an app built by Wildbit called Beanstalk which hosts Git repositories and allows you to deploy to servers. Magic Bean lets you keep up to date with activity and deploy from your phone.
PlayPal: An app for arranging dog play dates at dog parks with other PlayPal users.
ShutterSpots: An app for photographers to discover amazing photo locations nearby. Think Yelp for photo locations.
Eric’s side project is a mini-game where players trade virtual cities on the Ethereum Blockchain. Already 150 cities have found their mayor, and more than 600 transactions have been made through the smart contract.
Hamish: Code Companion and Levels Theme
Hamish has two side projects he’s working on:
Code Companion: A Desktop app that will interactively help people learn to code. It’s still in the very unfinished early stages of development, but he’s super excited about it.
Levels Theme: A WordPress theme he built and designed with a friend to help people sell their own products (with a focus on books/courses.)
Jordan: The Respawn Timer for Halo and Spend Stack
Jordan has two side projects on the go at the moment.
The Respawn Timer for Halo: For Halo: Combat Evolved fans. See item respawn times though Chief’s visor.
Spend Stack: An iOS app to help keep a total of your grocery shopping with tax included.
PixelMe is an URL shortener for Ads manager that adds a retargeting pixel to every link you share. So every time your business relies on a third party website like Amazon but you can’t install a retargeting pixel, you can use PixelMe. They have 300 paying customers.
Tom R: Lessons Invoicing and Teambook
Lessons Invoicing: Lessons is an iOS app that helps small, independent instructors, coaches, and teachers invoice their students. It’s designed to be simple, fast and get out of the way. So far, it’s been used to collect over $2M for independent instructors!
Teambook.io: Teambook is a simple, automated team directory for small-ish companies (< 200 people). It uses Slack to populate a searchable and editable team directory for everybody to use.
Over to You
That’s enough about us, we’d love to hear from you, too! Are you working on any side projects? Feel free to drop a link in the comments! If you are, how do you make time for them and stay motivated, are you working on more than one?
Cover photo by Joanna Kosinska