Don’t let your career suffer: How side projects improve your job performance.

Do you worry that your side project will get you fired? Are you worried about poor job performance if you embark on a side project? DON’T BE, you actually doing your boss and career a favour.

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I started my first job a few years ago, and the first thing one of my seniors asked is whether I think it’s a good idea to have so many side projects while having a full time job,”it is not like this job is going to be easy?” Being the new recruit in the team and not to seem too alternative, I became more careful with whom I shared my side project passions.

Fast forward a few years, I now have experience managing a full time job, part- time studying and a few successful side projects for some time. I think back to that question I got and should of replied” HELL YEAH, I think it’s a fantastic idea – here is why.

It is rational for your boss to become concerned that their employee’s side project will consume their staffs time and energy. Leading to instances where you’re not fully engaged or you’re doing just enough to get by while busy with your side project. You tend to justify this, by saying that it’s only for a short time, then things will go back to normal or worse yet, you put off the side project.

The problem is:

  • Side projects always take longer than you anticipated.
  • You tend to never stop having side projects, especially for good programmers – we simply love building or trying out new things.
  • Worst of all – we love our craft as we constantly try to improve, and cannot stand for someone telling us we are average or slacking off.

Side projects left unchecked create a Lose – Lose situation where your employer is left with the cost of an unproductive staff member and you are left with both a flat career and a boss that is trying to phase you out.

But at least you have your side project right?

 

It could certainly be the case that the sacrifice is worth it.  But you’re essentially hedging your career failures for entrepreneurial success or assuming that your side project will make up for your job’s shortcomings. Which can very well shift you into a mindset of “I don’t need this company, I got this side project that’s going to make it”, and when those tough periods come around at work, these kind of phrases start to scream even louder.

Also, your side project may not be ready to provide you with the income you’re accustomed to, or it was not designed for profit but rather something like exploratory learning, a hobby or a labour of love.

There is a better way

It doesn’t have to be you against your boss, there are companies that hire aspiring entrepreneurs and go a step further by actively supporting them in growing their off-hour projects. Below you will see how popular software companies actually make it part of their employees work schedule. It’s not only software companies that are doing this, advertising agencies like Rockfish attribute much of their success to their policy of encouraging team members to start their own business on the side.

You don’t have to change jobs just to pursue your side project, but you can be open and honest about the benefits for both you and your boss.

How & Why side projects enhance your career

Inspires Curiosity, Creativity and Perseverance

Side projects build curiosity,creativity and perseverance. These are all highly desirable traits for any employee. Employees with side projects also understand the value of time and are less likely to squander it, because the more productive they are – the more time they get to work on their side project – that they love.

Broader Exposure

Side projects provide you with exposure to sections in a business that you may not be focused on in your normal day to day activities. For example, as a developer you may not be exposed to the sales and marketing aspects of your software company but in trying to monetise a side project – marketing now becomes relevant to you. Apart from the obvious curiosity, you start to ask better questions when you doing your job because you considering your impact on other aspects of the business. Also your boss will notice your eagerness to learn and understand more about their business; and how you can better provide value to areas that are not even part of your normal job function.

Psychological Recovery

At Google, 80% of your time is spent on the job you got hired for and the other 20% is spent exploring fun, passionate side projects. This policy is well known amongst software engineers and prestigious software companies like thoughtbot. According to Marissa Meyer, an ex-employee of Google, as many as half of google products(like Gmail, Adsense , Gtalk, and Google News) come from that 20% time. The result is more creative and productive employees with a nurtured, entrepreneurial flare for adventure.  

Why is their side project boosting their work performance?

In a study by a San Francisco State psychology professor Dr. Kevin Eschleman, who analysed the effect of outside creative hobbies on over 400 employees. He concluded that the reason for improved creativity, collaboration , relaxed and in control employees is due to recovery from work.

So how does recovery help?

Recovery is embedded in the core of side projects. As described in Eschlemanan analysis, creative activities provide valuable experiences of mastery, control and discovery that uniquely influences performance related outcomes like a full time job. In a study done by European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, they describe the effects of a lack of recovery and the reason for creative activities –

From a psychological perspective, it would be better if people engaged in activities in which they sought challenges and tried to match them with their skills. Evidently this also applies to work: Optimal experiences correlate positively with mental health. However, in our society leisure is used as an “escape” from work. “Escapism” in this respect means that people do not seek meaningful leisure activities for their own growth and development, but instead resort to passive activities to escape from everyday strains and problems. Such behavior is frequently associated with a passive lifestyle and boredom, which in turn might feed into apathy and depression. Eschlemanan

Minimizing unnecessary expenditure

Dr. Julie Schor suggests in her book,that side projects can save you from unnecessary expenditure as it breaks the Work -spend -work spend mentality. This means – we work hard to spend more , and as we spend more we have to work even harder- This is a scary reality and vicious cycle that side projects combat by fostering a more creative and productive form of leisure and down time.

 

Happiness and creativity

Pursuing side projects  helps you become more valuable, interesting and engaged in many other areas of your life. Passionate people are difficult to ignore, their energy is attractive and contagious. Your boss will recognise your new energy as it spills into your everyday work.

Keep in mind that a side project need not directly relate to improving or be in your current field, it just needs to be fun and exciting for you.
Exploring different or multiple paths until you find your interests, is time well spent. Playing around with different approaches develops flexibility which is useful in an industry that is constantly evolving. Also, you will be able to treat your project like play instead of work, which maximises your happiness and enjoyment.

Reconstruct your mental framework

Having a challenging hobby or side project that you enjoy can relieve stress and provide you with a new mental framework of thinking. Some of your best ideas don’t come while you’re sitting in front of your computer but instead when you’re fully engaged in a creative activity that puts you in a different frame of mind. Even complex problems, are easier to solve when you put yourself in a different headspace.

 

Side projects are the new CV

People are more interested in what you can demonstrate or what is in your portfolio over your position. Side project provide you with a portfolio of skills that you can use on your CV to show recruiters that you are no ordinary candidate. It show you’re ambitious, curious, creative and pro-active.

 

How to prevent poor work performance

 

So you now understand the benefits of a side project, so how do we juggle a full-time job and pursuing your side project.

 

Sustainable pace

Don’t work late into the night, so that you cannot perform adequately at your full time job. You want to schedule the days you want to work on your side project and for how long. It’s better to code 2 hours every night, than 10 hours one night and be completely non-functional the next day. Be consistent!

 

Meaningful goals with manageable milestones

The biggest challenge with any side project is finding the time for it. Setting aside time to achieve goals that are important to you will help make it a priority in your life.

It is also important that you can distill those goals down into manageable milestones that you can track on a daily basis.

 

Focus

Procrastination and distraction affects everyone, so do not let your guard down. By adhering to your schedule, being cognizant of your meaningful goals and staging your environment to banish distraction, you will push yourself to what is really important.  

 

Be agile

In my experience, side project help you discover more about yourself like:

  • Are you more effective in the morning or evening?
  • Are you capable of managing uncertainty?
  • Are you willing to adapt and pivot if needs be?

The key here is to identify what works for you and do more of it, and if it is not, try something else. Side projects afford you the luxury of being able to experiment, so be flexible.

 

Overlapping Interests

By combining interest of your side project with that of your full-time job, will help synergistically fuel one another. This will also create a comfortable balance between the two, which can even assist in you getting buy-in from your boss.

 

Examples of side projects that did it

 

Now you probably thinking that your situation is unique and that this advice cannot work for you but here are some examples of successful companies that started as a side project, while working full time just like you.

 

StumbleUpon (Social Network)

Garret Camp and a few of his friends from the University of Calgary started a successful social network with over 25 million users, which started as a firefox extension.

 

Craigslist

Craig Newmark, while working as a programmer in San Francisco created a small message board where he could post social events. The sites popularity surged when he opened it to the public to post job offerings.

 

Uber

Travis Kalanick and Garret Camp, built a prototype for Uber as a side project, which is now one of the world’s fastest growing company. Travis attributes the birth of Uber to Garrets curiosity and passion for side projects.

 

TeuxDeux

Tina Roth Eisenberg impulse for fun side projects led her to create TeuxDeux, a todo solution that appealed to the aesthetically -conscious user. While it may not be a multiple million dollar application it does supply Tina with new income stream to supplement her lifestyle.

You got this !!!

Side projects are financially rewarding, it can create career opportunities, it is the safest environment for you to experiment in, it teaches you valuable skills and it’s good for your health. Start something. It could change your life.

 

So now that you know that you, your job and boss can benefit from your side project what’s stopping you?

 

I am keen to know what specific problems you have in balancing your side project. Let me know in the comments below.

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