Picking Up Where You Left Off

If you have a side project, you have limited time you dedicate to it. Evenings and weekend are always shorter than you'd like, and that time is often filled with errands, excursions, and ideally, rest.

The small and inconsistent amount of time isn't the primary challenge, though. It's how that breaks your flow and momentum. Whatever the side project is—a novel, piece of furniture, open source project, app, garden, or painting—when you have a free moment to work on it, it's easy to get stuck on the first question, "Now, where was I?"

Day jobs provide that context hour after hour, week after week. Everything is familiar and the thread between what you worked on yesterday and what you should work on next is strong.

Take a week off from your day job, though, and you find yourself adrift. People returning from vacation often talk about spending a few hours or more catching up or getting back in the groove.

With a side project, though, it might be a week or more since the last time you worked on it, every single time you work on it. Plus, you usually only have a few hours; time spent getting back into the flow is time not making progress.

What can you do to sustain momentum with side projects and get into the flow quickly? Here are a few ideas that might help.

Find the right place to stop

Some authors stop writing in the middle of a page or paragraph, no matter how well it's going, so they have a place to start the next time. Maybe they reached the day's word count goal or maybe they're in the middle of  a particularly great section. When they sit down the nect day, they're eager to return to the story and can jump in easily. It's the perfect answer to the question, "Now, where was I?"

Be intentional about where you stop for the day. If you're designing a web page or screen for an app, for instance, try stepping away from the laptop after you've made significant progress, but before it's complete. The next time you dive in, it will be much easier to start.

You still might need direction, though.

Leave a trail

When you're in a state of flow, it feels like it will be effortless to pick up where you left off, no matter how many days pass. That's rarely the case.

After be surprised at how hard it is, time after time, I started taking a preemptive step. When I wrap up for the day, I make notes for my future self. What are the next three things I was going to do if I wasn't out of time? What problems still need to be solved? What steps do I need to reproduce to get my local testing environment in this state again?

Notes like these are a big help when you have an hour or two to spare and don't want to spend half of the time retracing your steps.

Choose the smallest way forward

Some progress is better than none. Keep a list of small tasks that are perfect for when time is short or things just aren't clicking. A little progress is better than growing frustration with a blank page, canvas, or screen.

Your side project, and the time you invest in it, are both so valuable. I hope this helps you get the most out of every hour you invest in your craft.