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Summary:

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 […]

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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  1. I agree Dawn – and too many side projects won’t just compromise your business, they can wreck your quality of life.

    My policy from now on is that if there’s a side project I think I would like to do, I will take it on, on a limited trial basis only. I put a time limit on it and at the end of the trial period if it’s not working out I ditch it.

    You need to be pretty ruthless about this and not allow yourself to be persuaded by other people’s disappointment.

    Tim

  2. It’s good to have all the the projects well structured, to see how much time you can spend on projects and which are the most important. Good time management idea.

  3. I’m pretty bad at turning down side projects (and in my case, I’m the one proposing them – there just always seems to be a good reason to do them… =)

    Let me be biased and recommend TimePoke (an app we built on Google App Engine).

    What I’ve discovered is that the most important part of keeping track of your time is that it helps you stay on task and gives you immediate feedback on how long a specific task took (I think we all have trouble estimating time – not just engineers =).

  4. Great article. I also found a 5 part (and it seems ongoing) set of articles on optimizing your time on projects like this here ->

    http://timwarddevelopment.blogspot.com/

  5. My favorite application is http://www.code-roller.com where time managment and project management are interwoven. Your detailed designs get automatically converted into tasks that you can load balance with your defect fixing tasks and any tasks (like prioritizing your paid clients).

  6. Self management is a continual struggle. Non-biased feedback is one way I try to stay on top of this. A couple of tools I use that automatically track my on-line and desktop activity are Wakoopa and RescueTime. Both show time spent using various apps along with site time as well. I also use PageAddict to tag various sites and breakdown my visits on a personal level.

    I still have an Excel spreadsheet that I use for other time management activities and planning. While the above sites are good to tell me what I have done, the spread sheet allows me to project what I am going to do for the week and try to hit those goals. Having goals really is my secret to being productive.

    Good luck, everyone needs to take their own path.

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  9. I strongly agree Larry McKeogh: “Having goals really is my secret to being productive.”
    Concerning the other comments I too agree, that it is important to know at the beginning of first projects how much time they need. However, if you are familiar with your profession it is no longer necessary, that’s my experience.
    Instead you waste time by creating statistical values only about the time demand of your projects. If you have to document time for your customer/client or whomsoever to be able to charge him/her, it naturally seems ok, but for this purpose you need not – time consuming – collect statistical data. When it is necessary to estimate the duration of a certain project I make many of my estimation by rule of thumb. It never has been less accurate than fussy use of previously collected time data. The larger the project, the more interdependencies may overthrow your perfect plan. My way is, to estimate as best I can, pile up the parts within a Gantt sheet or similar and then invest more time into dynamically guide the project. Nobody will see the real future and the best knowledge about duration of tasks cannot avoid troubles.
    Possibly, I don’t have too less imagination of your kind of work. However, my experience is, that often the worst side project is too much analyzing, categorizing, elaborated prioritizing instead of applying time agility in using a few time management criteria only.
    And every moment be aware of your goal!

  10. Dawn,

    I designed BubbleTimer for this exact problem, ensuring you spend enough time on tasks that you’ve decided are truly important.

    My problem has always been trying to do too many things at once. I use BubbleTimer to set daily and weekly time goals on the important things and to hold myself accountable. It works out well for me. Check it out.

    Thanks,
    Sean

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