4 Steps for Managing a Side Project When You’re Already Busy

Whether you are trying to record your own album, start a concert series, or launch a business on the side, there are probably a few challenges you run into when trying to get your side project off the ground:

  • Finding the time you need to work on your side project
  • Knowing exactly where to put your energy so that you get the most out of your effort

Lack of time and forward movement tend to be obstacles for everyone — especially busy performers.

But completing your passion project doesn’t have to be impossible. In fact, I was able to knock out a massive side project all by myself in about six months.

That’s right, in about six months I wrote, edited, and published my first book.

And no, it wasn’t because things were slow so I had extra time on my hands. In fact, I was in the midst of the busiest time of year for not only my freelance career, but also my consulting business.

You probably know how those months work, right? Between all of the playing opportunities, teaching, and everything else, I was running around like a crazy person. It was then, in the midst of the craziness, that I decided to throw another iron in the fire and take on a huge book project.

While this certainly wasn’t an easy process, I was successful. My book even climbed to #1 on Amazon.

My trick? I implemented four key strategies to bring my vision to life.

After years of learning the hard way, I’m sharing my top tips so that you can take on — and complete — any project, no matter how busy you are.


Let’s get started.

Understand the Project First

Before you begin any new project, you need to understand what the project actually entails. I have found the absolute best way is to do what I call a brain dump.

The goal of a brain dump is to get everything out of your head and into a document. It doesn’t matter if it’s a note on your phone, an Evernote page, or a sheet of paper. Your goal is to just get all of your ideas out.

Personally, I prefer a good ol’ fashioned sheet of paper for this.

I recommend writing the idea for the project in the center of the page and jotting down everything that comes to mind when you think of how to make your vision a reality (e.g. the people you need to meet, marketing ideas, topics you want to cover, etc.). Do this for at least 30 minutes

Here’s what the actual brain dump for my book looked like:


Once you do this, you will have a visual representation of everything about your idea. It might not be pretty, but you will quickly start to see all of the components of your project.

When I do mine, I like to create little bubbles around sub-categories to help me organize my thoughts. You might look like a crazy person with this hanging on your wall, but I promise it will help keep things in perspective.

Finding Time vs. Designating Time

Time is the ultimate barrier for most people trying to get work done. Let’s go ahead and call this what it is: an excuse.

That’s right, I said it.

“I don’t have time” is an excuse, and you need stop saying it right now. @SethHanes Click To Tweet

When things are a priority, you will get them done. The key to doing this consistently is to stop trying to find time and start focusing on designating time. If you’re serious about getting to work on your projects, whatever they may be, you must designate time to focus on them.

The reality is that most people waste an enormous amount of time throughout the day. How much time do you spend blankly staring at your newsfeeds, watching YouTube videos, or just binge watching Netflix? If you’re anything like me, probably a fair amount.

In case you need any more convincing, you can download RescueTime for free and it will track your web browsing activity.

You might be horrified to see what you actually do in a given day, but it will force you to re-evaluate how you are spending your time. Even blocking out 30 minutes on your calendar each day will make an enormous difference if you make the commitment to designating time to work.

Focus on What Actually Matters

After you’ve done a brain dump of your ideas, you should have a pretty good idea of what you’re up against. The secret to making rapid progress with anything is to focus on the tasks that actually matter.

It’s really easy to immediately start setting up Twitter accounts and buying domain names, but the reality is that those things probably don’t matter when you first start working on your projects. Your goal should be to focus on what is actually going to keep you moving forward.

Got a big project? Focus only on the tasks that will keep you moving forward. @SethHanes Click To Tweet

This is a lot more difficult than it sounds because it feels good to focus on the easy things and avoid the really difficult work.

There’s a time and place to set up a fan page on Facebook and tell all of your friends about it, but it’s probably much later. Focus on developing the product or service you want to create first.

This will be hard but, once you can commit to doing the work that matters, you’ll be way ahead of the game and making consistent progress towards achieving your goal.

Get to Work

At this point you have all of your ideas out on paper, you’ve designated time, and you’ve committed to focusing on what matters at the moment. Now it’s time to get to work.

The key to getting a lot of work done is to remove all distractions. You don’t want to hear and see notifications on your phone or computer.

Personally, I like to go to the library, turn my phone on Airplane Mode, and shut down my internet access using an app called SelfControl. By doing these things, I am removing as many barriers as possible between me and getting to work.

Once you’re working, I recommend that you break each work session down into small chunks that you can easily accomplish. By breaking things down, you will set yourself up for a series of small wins.

When I was writing my book, I broke down every section of the book into note cards that I taped on my wall. My goal was to get through one section each day.

That’s it.

It didn’t matter if that meant taking twenty minutes to write 300 words. The only thing that mattered was that, at the end of each day, I could walk over to the wall with my red marker and put a big slash through one note card.

I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to know that you’ve made significant progress towards your goal every single day.

Maybe that means sending three emails each day to people you need to connect with, building one page on your website, or just arranging ten bars of music for your group. Find those small wins, whatever they look like to you. They will keep you motivated and moving toward the things that matter.

Make a Commitment

I want to hear from you!

Do you have a side project on the backburner?

If so, what’s keeping you from moving ahead?

Tell me about it in the comments below.

side-project-brain-dumpSeth is a Philadelphia-based horn player, digital marketing consultant, and the author of the new book, Break into the Scene: A Musician’s Guide to Making Connections, Creating Opportunities, and Launching a Career.

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