Up until a few months ago, I used to work on side projects mostly after work, for just about an hour or two. Often I did not really get much done. Now I have set aside one day per week where I work on my side projects, and this greatly improved my productivity. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I won a book about the pomodoro technique in a contest organized by the Trello team, and so far I am quite impressed: It’s amazing how much you get done when using this technique!
One day per week
After I had finished the project with my last client in February last year, I had some weeks where I could work exclusively on side projects. During this time I wrote JSXP2 which is almost a complete rewrite of JSXP and I wrote most of the code for gclimbing.com. I was very productive.
Before and after this time I was working full time for clients. I only worked on my side projects for a few minutes to a few hours after “real work”. Getting things done was much harder when working like that. I was tired after a long day of work, and the relatively short time I was working on my side projects meant that I never really got into “flow”. Still I was quite productive some time, but mostly when I had longer blocks of time where I could work on a single project.
This year, I decided to set aside (at least) a whole day per week to work on my own stuff. I only work on client projects for four days a week. Monday is my side project day. This is when I write code for my side projects, try to learn new things, write blog posts, read books, prepare talks and so on (*).
Now that I have a whole day per week I get much more done. I know that not everybody can work in their “day job” for only four days per week, because most employers will not allow this. Anyway, setting aside large chunks of time for side projects once a week works better than working every day for 30-60 minutes - at least for me.
A few weeks I discovered the pomodoro technique because I won a the book about it. It is quite simple: Write a TODO list for the day. Work for exactly 25 minutes, then take a break. This is called a “pomodoro”, because the time is measured with a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato (The italian word for tomato is pomodoro. A differently shaped kitchen timer might work too). Log all interruptions during these 25 minutes and try to minimize them. Log how many “pomodoros” (pomodori?) you spend on every item from the TODO list.
The book about the technique is interesting and easy to read. It is also quite short. I have been trying this technique a couple of times now, and so far I really like it. When working for 25 minutes without any interruptions you can get a lot done. And the breaks make sure that you can concentrate for the full 25 minutes in the next pomodoro. I think I’ll need some more days of using this technique until I get really used to working like that. Still, even after a few days I see improvements in productivity yet I don’t feel overworked, so this technique really seems to work!
(*) I also read books and work on blog posts when riding the train an on other occasions. But: Different Story ;)