Indie Hackers Self Care November 27, 2020

How do you stay focused while working on your Side Project?

José León @jrleonr

Every day is the same struggle. It’s my fault, but it’s stronger than me.

I wake up. Make a delicious cup of coffee, talk with my girlfriend for a little while, and sit in front of the computer. Ready to go. Determine.

But I guess… it won’t hurt if I take a quick look at my newsletter stats. Maybe write an article just before going 100% in with my job? And what about a quick tweet? What if my side project got famous overnight? Should I check analytics? No, all good, 5 visits.

Ok! Time to go all in. But I am sure that someone replied to my tweet, and I don’t want to ignore them. Maybe I can learn something.

What if… Wait. What time is.. 11?? It happened AGAIN!

And it’s uncomfortable. I sit on the corner of the chair like I was escaping from something, feeling bad, having a constant thought, “you have to do other things, this a long-term goal, no need to worry about this now…”.

I find it very hard not to think about what I want to do and focus on the things I have to do.

So I wonder…

How do you do it? Do you experience the same? Do you have any systems or strategies to focus on what you have to do while you have other things you want to do?

  1. 9

    You need to set daily goals. As long as you reach them then you’re free to get distracted. At least that’s what works for me.

    1. 2

      That's probably the key. I start my day seeing random things. I may take 10min with the coffee to think about what I want to achieve instead of just sitting down in front of the screen.

    2. 1

      Similar story here. Maybe not daily (for me) but certainly a laundry list of "to dos". There is always more that needs to be done, but if I can knock out 4 was a good day!

      1. 2

        Yup - I have a constant time slot for my side project things. This along with a backlog of todo's keeps me making progress. At random im looking for inspiration, learning and thinking product.

        1. 2

          You are all very organized. I never used a calendar/time-slots or a thing like that. It'd be nice to at least try it for real.

          1. 1

            Haha. It does help w/ sanity. I'd say start big with dedicated 1-hour slots for...whatever, every so often. Before you know it, you will be slicing your whole day into 15 min intervals of neurotic efficiency!

  2. 4

    "...but it's stronger than me."

    No, it isn't.

    Two things that might help, but the most important thing is to master that mindset. Don't let limiting beliefs stop you from doing what you want to do.

    1. Get better reasons. No work has any inherent meaning. Writing isn't boring or exciting. Coding isn't fun or arduous. Not inherently. It's all meaning that we are putting on the activity. So - change the meaning, and support that meaning with reasons that get you excited to do the work.

    2. Read "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield. I read it at least 1x per year to remind myself that the resistance is real, but it is also us, and so we can overcome it.

    1. 1

      I don't have a problem doing the things I want to do.

      My problem is to focus on my full-time job!

      I read the book a couple of times. Fantastic read for a writer!

      1. 1

        Awesome to hear you've read the book.

        I think my comment about "better reason" still can be helpful though. It may just be as simple as changing the meaning behind that full time job.

        Jobs don't have any inherent meaning. They aren't boring or fun or hard or easy unless we decide that they are. So how can you change the meaning so that it's easier and more fun to do the work?

        1. 1

          Excellent question.

          I need to think about this.

          Because one side says I want to write, and the other side is saying, you need money. So attitude plays an important role.

          Thank you!

  3. 4

    The lazy anwer is, read Limitless by Jim Kwik.

    The free tips are:

    • Dedicate the first part of the day for output only, that means, you wake up, you make coffee chat with your girlfriend and start outputting stuff, idealy you should start with the output before even making the coffee.
    • As soon as you start taking in info (newsletters, emails, twitter, indie hacker, reddit), you lost half the battle with procrastination :).

    The important thing is that you need to take measures against yourself, it's no shame in admitting to yourself that you are weak, in the end, we all have limited willpower in a day and it sucks to use it on things that we really want to do. That means you create also physical boundaries.

    For example, if you usually wake up with your phone in the hand, like I do, just change the most common icon that you click in the morning (Facebook was in my case) with an app that is output only (Google Keep, OneNote, Google Docs) and start writing whatever you get in your mind, try and be output only for at least half an hour, then you continue with your day as normal.

    You can always go back and check whatever garbage you have wrote, but at least you have something you can use and from time to time it will be a golden nugget.

    If you still don't have enough willpower to click the right thing when you have your phone in your hand, go for the drastic measures, put a notepad with a pen near your bed and don't use the phone as an alarm clock, use an actual alarm clock, that way you can output on the notepad/notebook with no visible temptations around (minus your girlfriend, I guess).

    I hope this helps :)

    1. 2

      I always start the day by checking all the sites you mentioned. That's probably not helping.

      Very valuable information. I'll buy the book!


      1. 2

        I bought it. Reading it tonight!

  4. 2

    Hola José !

    So, since late 2017 when I started to learn web development I have developed a system that works for me.
    While doing so I was working on Colors & Fonts and I realized that small goals were king.

    An example.

    Now that I am working on Wicked Templates I do this:

    If I am building the landing page

    I set myself as a goal to have 100% of the markup done within 5 hours.

    This includes.
    Layout Research
    UX research
    Design Research

    If I am styling the site

    Within 2 hours I go through design inspiration websites, and collect colors and typography.

    Taking inti account that I have a full work schedule I only work on my brakes, this ones are 1h or 30 minutes.

    When I get home I spend the time with my family until I put my daughter to sleep.

    Then from 22.00 I work until 02.00 minimum until 04.00 maximum.

    Every single task is a small task.

  5. 2

    I think a thought that helps me a lot is just focusing on accomplishing something. There are some days where I don't get a lot done or get distracted or a task takes longer than expected. When viewed day by day it doesn't seem like a lot, but when looking at everything from a larger perspective you can see how much you have accomplished.

    It's kinda like compounding interest. If you can just get bare minimum a small task done each day, then some days you will do more, and eventually you'll have accomplished quite a bit.

  6. 2

    Yep, sounds familiar 😅

    To avoid this, I've came up with a routine that works for me:

    • On Sunday afternoon, I plan my week and define some tasks that I want to do during the week, like "finish feature X for project A" or "work on the SEO for project B". Not very specific, but enough to help me sit down and say to myself "ok, let's work on this".

    • Then every morning, I look at my list of things for the week and write down very specific tasks for that day. This tasks should be achievable in 1h or less. This help me focus on one thing at a time and jump to the next one as soon as I finish one.

    • Finally, on Sunday I review all the things that I've done. This helps me realise how much I've progressed and keep me motivated. Then I plan the following week and restart the loop 😊

    I've been following this routine for 4 years now and even built a web app where I log all my weekly tasks and review them. If you want to give it a try, check it out 👉 theLIFEBOARD

      1. 1

        Yeah it's free.
        It's in early access as I'm still adding features every week 😉

    1. 1

      Thanks Antonio.

      Before an app I need a system.

      I'm not that organized. I need small wins to check what works for me!

      1. 1

        As other have mentioned, I think the best way to start is writing down your tasks every morning before you even turn on your PC.
        Hope that helps you find the system that works for you 😊

        1. 2

          Thanks! The app looks amazing. Congrats!

  7. 2

    Follow what @basakbuilds said and few others you like from here.

    Then time box your tasks. Give your task a reasonable amount of time and finish it by that time.

    If you miss it don't regret just let it go, you can form completing tasks as a habit over time. So start over with your tasks and do it again.

    Edit: Treat yourself when you complete a big task (your favorite food, a 5-min call with your loved one, etc), you'll trigger your brain's reward pathway each time you treat yourself this way. It just makes forming a habit easier.

    1. 1

      Tell me more! How do you apply that to your daily life? what do you do?

      1. 1

        I just said :) it's not that complex.

        I plan the tasks for my day and break that into subtasks. I'll try to keep it as less as possible, it's better to do less and reflect on it for the rest of the day than planning more but doing just one and be worried about it.

        I would go ahead and time box these task events. Like currently I have,
        Finish landing page for Coulf (1 week)

        • header bar (20 mins | 9pm - 9 20pm)
        • hero (40 mins | 9 30pm to 10 10pm)

        I would take a few minutes of breaks to drink water, check notifs, or just look around the room in between.

  8. 2

    Hi Jose, I have the same pain. It's all up to us to manage our time amongst all these distractors. 2 things that work for me are:

    1. Write the task you want to finish on a piece of paper and ONLY AFTER THAT sit in front of your computer. I learned this from Blake Emal ( on twitter.

    2. Use a timer (I use the pomodoro technique). 25 minutes of work (writing a blog post, getting solid shit done etc.) and 5 minutes of fun (looking at tweets, answering them etc.). Rinse and repeat.

    I also wrote about my experience over here:

    When these two systems are not in place, my mind wanders off 100% of the time.

    1. 2

      Hi Basak,

      The first idea is fantastic. I'm going to check how I can apply this to my life. The fact of writing down something makes it more powerful.

      I need to take more pen and paper, which is a powerful technique than rewiring the brain, but the computer and the phone distract me. I've been very attached to the screen in the last couple of months.

      The second idea, I tried before, but It didn't work for me. I feel very stressed when there is a chronometer running. I can't relax or focus.

      Thanks a lot for your comment. Very useful!

      1. 1

        I'm glad it was useful! I use a single post-it (the standard square ones) and write a single task on it. When I finish it, a new one.

        1. 2

          Beautiful! The simplest solutions work the best! Thanks!

    2. 1

      This is similar to my approach. It works.

  9. 1

    I struggle with the same, but it's probably safe to say that we all do.

    One thing I found that works for me:

    • When feeling motivated: write down your goals, milestones and then create a todo-list.
    • When feeling lazy/distracted/unmotivated: read the todo-list and go execute.

    Discipline beats motivation.

  10. 1

    I had the same problem, time just went by without me knowing. I was setting goals for myself in the past 6 weeks and I documented the result here, I think you'd find it helpful. Key is make plans so you do your "mind" a big favor not having to fight everyday.

  11. 1

    From my personal experience.
    I was in the same situation as you - distracted all the time, wasted my time for email, social networks, forums...
    ... I created goals and even was able to achieve them but still wasting a lot of time... nothing helped...

    until one day I decided to stop it. And I did. What I did:

    1. Closed all the tabs in the browser not connected with my work and projects
    2. Set up a special time (lunch time) when I allowed myself to check emails, social networks.
    3. The second time was at the end of the day.
    4. Watched and reported every thought and desire to open social networks and check emails - as soon when I started noticing it it was much easier to prevent it.

    I use the system around 1 year, it helped a lot.

  12. 1

    I’ll give myself a list of achievable goals. It doesn’t have to be huge, it could be things like 1) read one article, 2) clean three newsletters, 3) update one small features

    I’m in the position of running a side project that highly relevant to my full time job. I use my side project to increase my motivation in the early morning. So that I’ve more energy to generate new ideas and more progress.

    I don’t have a strong systematic strategy but I’ll block my time, have a clear daily checklist and recurrent goals.

  13. 1

    I give myself a budget of a half-day a week. It takes time to get in the zone, and get out of the zone, so a good three-hour block is what I need.

    But having a day job wouldn't make this possible. Except maybe Saturday morning.

    Good luck!

  14. 1

    It may be an honest indicator of how excited or interested you are in the project. Doing the same thing every day naturally becomes boring. I'd suggest a change of scenery. Switching to your laptop and sitting outside, or taking a drive with your laptop. It's so easy to fall into the same routine. All the best.

  15. 1

    1 - Clear goals for the day
    2 - DND all the time

  16. 1

    I think the key is to divide the tasks into objectives so complete and simple that it is not difficult to meet them. From programming a part of a function to creating 3 links a day or things like that and repeating them methodically every day. It is the power of compound interest, the days that you are more motivated you will do more and the days that you are not, you put a minimum, that helps to create routine and to be constant.

  17. 1

    All good, 5 visits. Ahaha so true!
    Whole article about me

    1. 1

      Haha! Glad you spotted that!

      It's funny because is real.


      I'm not crying.

  18. 1

    I'm like a locomotive sometimes. It's hard to get started, but when I do, I'm unstoppable. The problem, of course, is getting started.

    What I highly recommend is to look at your list of tasks and pick something small. If you don't have something small, be sure to break up your tasks into smaller bite-sized pieces. Then, do that one small thing. Once you're done, grab another small thing, and on and on.

    Once you get the feel of productivity with a few small things, you'll be more motivated to keep going as you feel the momentum.

  19. 1

    If you're happy with your job (enough to give 100%), great. Maybe you don't need to work on a sideproject?

    Or else, I heard those put-your-money-for-your-own-commitment service works pretty well. You will lose money if you don't follow your goal. Here's one:

    1. 2

      I only want to do my side things. That's the problem!

  20. 1

    For me, knowing what I want to do beforehand helps, having weekly reviews/retrospectives, and knowing exactly WHY you want to do something.

    Writing down your values is really important, that will drive everything else (goals, small goals, and tasks). Reviewing your values and long-term goals is critical.

    I have a calendar alarm at 6pm every day and I take 15min to review my day and set a goal for the next day.

    Early the next morning, I only work on that goal before checking anything else (email, twitter, indie hackers).

    Every sunday, I review my week and set the goals for next week. This is kind of a mini-retrospective for my life, I really recommend doing it.

    Other things that help me: journaling, meditation, and having a very old cellphone that doesn't run any new or cool app. :)

    Hope that helps!

  21. 1

    Creating a micro to-do list every evening for the next morning helps. Then, every morning, you just open the list and start working on it. It's like a game, when you cross things off the to-do list, it will give you some excitement that you have accomplished one thing and will motivate you to start working on the next thing to cross off.

    1. 1

      Is that what you do? Tell me about your process!

      1. 1

        Just divide big tasks in small pieces and add them on to-do list every evening. It's much easier to start and finish smaller tasks in my opinion.

  22. 1

    How many actually follow through with starting and tracking daily goals. For the life of me - that is not something I'm real good at. Seems like an added step to actually getting sh!t done.

    1. 1

      And are you getting things done or not?

  23. 1

    Maybe the environment you are in does not allow you to focus properly? For example, I can't work from home. So I always try to find places for just work. Office, cafes(when they were open), libraries and etc.

    1. 1

      Yes, that's not helping. I live in a tiny place, and there is not much space.

      Cafes closed, coworking closed... I am looking forward to the Coffee Shops to open and go there a couple of hours a day.

  24. 1
    1. Accept that its okay to get distracted. Don't fight it too much. It's natural.
    2. Breakdown the tasks into smaller pieces. Each one should not take more than 15 min of your attention. Go slow but at a steady pace.
    3. Putting on my headphone and listening to music has helped me be more focused.
      Try if that helps. There are tonne of free ones too on Youtube.
    4. Reward yourself after you complete a task.
    1. 1

      Interesting website!

      How often do you follow these steps? is it a regular thing for you?

      1. 1

        Almost every day. was suggested by some other indie hacker recently so new with that.

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