Managing My Time and Avoiding Side Project Overload

Photo by Joel Washing

Photo by Joel Washing

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how I was experiencing side project overload, and based on the number of comments, I am not the only one.

In that post, I said that “I’m starting to experience serious side project bloat resulting in personal overload. I’ve let my side projects take over to the point that I’m having a hard time making room for my paying client work.” I also offered a few suggestions for managing it: the “one thing” policy, combining activities, and finding co-leads. There are also some really great suggestions from other people in the comments.

The tips in my previous post work well for me, but I found that they weren’t quite enough. I needed more structure. I thought that you deserved a follow up post with more information about other changes I have been making to more effectively manage my time.

I’ve put in place a new structure for prioritizing and tracking the time that I spend on various activities. I’ve lumped them into three categories with daily target times to spend on each category along with a prioritized list of activities within each category. Here is an example:

Category: Work that generates revenue (my highest priority category)

Activities (in priority order):

  1. Client work
  2. Other paid work (like WebWorkerDaily posts)
  3. White papers or training classes

Here’s the logic behind it. The problem that I need to solve is that I spend too much time on side projects and attending business development events (meetups, user groups, etc.) while things that would generate revenue in the longer term get put aside with no time to work on them.  I have a certain number of hours allocated to this category per day, which forces me to work on Nos. 2 and 3 if I don’t have enough client work for the number of hours specified. I’ve also intentionally set this number to be slightly over my typical client workload, which also helps encourage me to work on those longer-term efforts.

I also have a category for proactive business development, which is focused on those business development activities that I have a tendency to put off. Activities like proactive outreach, meetings with potential clients, and proposals are included in this category. I’ve intentionally excluded business development events from counting toward my time allocation for this category, since I already attend too many of those.

Right now, I’m managing all of this in a spreadsheet so that I can visually see what I need to do and track it, but I will need to move to a more robust application.

What is your favorite application to track your time over multiple criteria (clients, categories, etc.)? What other tips do you have for making sure that you work on the highest priority activities?

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