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Your Side Projects Need Deadlines

Around the end of November, I was forwarded an email from Amazon that contained a promotion for Amazon Alexa Skill developers. If you published an Alexa skill by the end of November, they would send you a free sweatshirt.

Alexa Sweatshirt for November

I had been wanting to create an Alexa app for a while, so I did a little research to see how long it would take. It seemed pretty straightforward so I put my current side project on hold for a couple days so I could experience Alexa development, and get my free sweatshirt of course.

I only had about five days total, and about two days before the deadline I started to question if I had enough time. There was a bit more to it than I originally thought, and I was not dedicating much time to it anyway. I played with the idea of just submitting it late, but I didn’t want to miss out on that sweatshirt!

So I put a little extra time in. I didn’t focus on everything being absolutely perfect. I basically created a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and shipped it out a few hours before the deadline. After a couple of rounds with their historically strict verification team, Habit Log was officially published to the Alexa Skills store.

The Perfection Problem

As I mentioned, I had put my side project on hold to work on the Alexa app. It’s been over a month, and I’ve worked on my side project every day since. Yet it’s not ready. Admittedly, there’s a lot more to this project than just a simple Alexa Skills app, but if I’m honest with myself I know I could have launched an MVP by now.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in building something that is “perfect”. Especially with a side project you run yourself. There is a problem with this sort of thinking, though. Perfect products with no users are quite the opposite of perfect. Making progress is much more important.

Progress Over Perfection

There were more features I could have added to my Alexa app. There were some adjustments I wanted to make to the user experience. It’s far from perfect. Yet it’s out. It’s the furthest any of my side projects have ever made it, actually.

Imposing Deadlines

This recent epiphany has caused me to begin imposing deadlines on all side projects. It’s a bit of a paradigm shift to be putting deadlines on yourself, but I find it’s not all that different from deadlines that an employer or customer create.

The first step is to create a list of features and tasks that have to be done in order to call the project complete. I’ve always been opposed to drawing this out too far, as things can change and I’d rather be building something than thinking about it. But this step is absolutely crucial to complete a project on time. After all, how do you know when you’re done if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish?

Take a look at the tasks that are left to be done and throw some estimates on them. It’s not all that important what unit of work you use as long as you stick to one. Personally, I set aside the same amount of time each day to my side projects, so I use days as a measure.

Once the estimates are in place, put a little padding on them. This allows for the inevitable roadblocks and unforeseen issues and features you’d like to add. At this point, you should have a total in some unit of time. Open up a calendar, do the math and and add an extra day or two. Don’t think about it any more than this. This date is your deadline.

The Inevitable Delay

As important as it is to have deadlines and ship out your projects sooner rather than later, you don’t want to release garbage. Delays happen. Hereare 16 video games that were scheduled for 2016 (or earlier) and were pushed to 2017 (or later).

Coming 2015?

Allow yourself at least one delay per project. Do everything you can not to use it, but if you must, take the delay and make a better product. But use only one. Don’t let delays be a crutch. They’re a last resort.

Now Get to Work

Never spend too much time estimating. Estimating is easy. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re being productive by spending day after day estimating out the smallest little details. You’re avoiding working.

Try out setting a deadline for your next side project and sticking to it. I for one am determined to finish mine. I plan to submit my side project January 23, 2017. How about you?