I have a "real" project I'm working on to make money from, and a side project that is vastly more interesting.

I'm having a problem where every time I go to work on my "real" project, all I can think about is ideas for my side project. How do you guys deal with that? Just power through the real work?

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    Make money from your side project. – mouviciel Feb 25 '11 at 16:32
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    I'd suggest you tell your "real" project client not to pay you for 6 months, then buy something ridiculous that you can't afford and get it financed at a bank. Then, don't pay them...ever. When you don't have the money to put food on the table, voila! The "real" project is now way more exciting and easy to focus on! *Note: Don't do this. Please. – Ryan Hayes Feb 25 '11 at 16:36
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    I love swimming in a pool, but that activity does not pay my bills. Too bad I am not Michael Phelps. – Job Feb 25 '11 at 16:46
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    I have the opposite problem. I'm usually too tired after work to work on my side projects. – mwgriffith Feb 25 '11 at 18:42
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    Possible duplicate: programmers.stackexchange.com/q/47073/226. – Adam Lear Feb 25 '11 at 20:09

I understand your dilemma, but you must prioritize and complete the project that will earn you some money first before you consider working on the project you are more interested in. The sooner you finish the money maker, the sooner you start on the side project.

On a side note, make sure you write down some of your ideas for the side project in case you forget them later.

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    Definately write the ideas down. You don't want to forget them! – Michael K Feb 25 '11 at 16:35
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    @Michael: The problem is he can't forget them. ;p But so yeah, write them down, try to forget them with the comfort you have written them down. ;p – Steven Jeuris Feb 25 '11 at 16:39
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    I actually find writing stuff down helps me to forget things that would otherwise lodge in my brain – jk. Mar 23 '12 at 13:54
  • The sooner you finish the money maker, the sooner you start on the side project. -- Six years in, still haven't "finished the money maker" :( – Septagram Jun 5 '16 at 23:05

It's all about discipline. If you don't focus, and run one project to completion, you'll never finish anything. If you stop and divert to the interesting project, what will you do when the next interesting project comes up? Divert to that one too? Pretty soon you'll be sitting in a swamp of half finished projects, all of which are stuck on some tedious little thing that you really don't want to do.

I have this exact same problem. I have to fight against it constantly.

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    Especially considering that everyone looses interest when it becomes about refactoring, bug fixes, better abstractions etc... as every project does at the end of the alpha phase. If it was about interest only, no one would finish any project. Even the best project will become annoying and tedious during the final stages. – Jonathan Henson Mar 23 '12 at 15:29

There is nothing like real work to motivate a successful side project. Do the following:

  • Force yourself to do your real work. You need food on the table. Also, the more you force yourself to do real work, the more productive you'll be on your side project
  • Figure out how your side project can make you money. Prioritize work to get you there, without sacrificing your real work.
  • Start making money with your side project. Quit your real work.
  • Find out that working on your side project as real work sucks, and is nowhere near as productive. Find yourself working on a new, exciting, side project.
  • Rinse. Repeat.
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  • Yep, that's how it works. – Ryan Hayes Feb 25 '11 at 16:49

I developed a routine of getting to work (okay, it's only for the walk from the bus stop to the office building) which is basically reciting what I have to do that day and weighing up the tasks, maybe make a few mental notes on where to start.

And similarly, when I leave, I do a winding down routine, so by the time I get to the bus stop, I've completely forgotten about work. (Well, usually. If I left an extremely nagging problem unsolved, it will go home with me.)

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Dedicate a whole day to the side project, just to feel you accomplished something and take it out of your mind. When I do that, it gives me the peace of mind I need for working on my regular project for the next two weeks or so. At some point the struggle starts again, and I suffer for two more weeks. A little at first, then a lot. Then I dedicate another full day to my side project and the loop starts again.

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Focus on your primary task, and if an idea comes to you, scribble it down on a piece of paper. It helps to keep a pad of paper handy, or some loose pages. When you are on break, or can otherwise spare a few minutes, review your little notes and write up more detailed versions - I do this in a notebook for tracking ideas and to-dos. Then I can refer back to that when I am in a time and place to spend time on a side project.

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I learned this "technique" a while back and it's so simple, it seems stupid. However, it works wonders for some of us.

Open a session of Notepad (or other simple text editor) and in HUGE point font type in your immediate responsibility.

Keep the document open, and if you are prone to not "full screen" the applications you work with, make sure that a small portion of the document is always visible. If/when you get distracted, click over to the document and read the short statement reminding you of what your current task is.

Yes, this sounds silly, but for some of us, seeing something helps jar our minds to focus on what we need to focus on. Eventually, your mind will be trained to just see the corner of Notepad and think "Oh, yeah let me get back to that."

It's just a way to re-condition your mind to stay focused on your work.

Now I have to go. Notepad is telling me to create a few, new user accounts...

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