Lessons Learned, Project Management

4 Tips to staying motivated

Keeping pace with a self-driven project is hard, especially when you’re not getting paid for doing them. I always find myself coming up with new projects and starting them without ever finishing. Here are some things I’ve learned working for others (for free) and for myself over the years to help you stay motivated all the way to the end.

1. Develop a support group

Friends are great for hanging out with – why not bring them together to work on something productive? That doesn’t mean they need to be working on the same project – simply setting up a quiet time to do work in their company can really make you feel more accountable for getting things done. Obviously this only works if they have something they need to work on as well. For added effect, I like to play some ambient audio while we work (bossa nova is great, so is rainy mood).

2. Bite-sized tasks while keeping vision

Perhaps one of the best ways to feel progress is to accomplish something every time you sit down to work. When you’re working on something in your spare time that can be as short as 20 minutes of your day. If you aren’t already, use a project management service (I personally use Asana, it’s awesome and it’s free). Something as simple as a tasklist can really help in prioritizing and visualizing the road to the completion of your project. Keep your tasks reasonably small, so that you can hit a checkpoint every time you sit down. One of the feelings I dislike the most going to bed is the regret that I’ve accomplished nothing all day.

The reason that I have the ‘keeping vision’ part is so you don’t get caught up on the minute details when it doesn’t really matter yet. This includes getting feedback, some retrospection, and maybe even taking a little break from the project. Always remember the why, not just the what

3. Set deadlines

Make sure they are achievable! Many software developers under-estimate their project timeline by a factor of 2 to 3. So if you’re not hitting these goals on time early on, it’s a sign that you should re-evaluate your timeline and adjust expectations as early on as possible, especially if you are working in a team.

Deadlines also keep your requirements under check. Feature creep, the ongoing expansion or addition of new features in a product, happens all the time along with changing requirements. I would feel really lucky to go through a one-and-done type of project, but honestly that almost never happens. Be honest to yourself and keep an open mind moving forward. With any experience your peers will too.

4. Finish one thing before you start another

I am a victim of saying yes to everybody. There were times where I had to juggle 4-5 different responsibilities in my life I ended up doing none of them well. What was worse, simultaneously pushing these loads dragged it on for much longer than I would have liked. Over time, I’ve learned to say no to requests when I know I can’t do it justice – and that was perhaps the biggest blessing in disguise I can do for myself and to others.

Hope this helps. Let me know if one particular point has helped in the comments below!

Happy hustling!

Lessons Learned, Project Management

Why (and how) should I ask for feedback?

Doing a project on your own is always exciting, you’ve worked out everything in your head and all the pieces fit together nicely. You then spend the next month hard at work making strides on your project. When you finally emerge with a fully functioning product or piece of art, you come to the realization that everybody you’ve showed it to has no idea what they are looking at. One of the worst feelings in the world is creating something that nobody wants or appreciate. Getting target feedback is crucial in the success of a product. But what is the best way to integrate a feedback system into your work flow?

Here’s what I’ve learned from the last 3 years of my entrepreneurship journey:

1. Your ego is your worst enemy.

Thoughts like “It’s not ready yet” or “I don’t want to show it until it is perfect” are extremely dangerous. The more I’ve worked on different things over the years, the more I realized that no product is ever or will be perfect. Nobody likes failure, but unless you’ve achieved full mastery, chances are you are not going to hit the nail on the head the first few times. Jumping to conclusions about how something ought to be can become expensive and time-wasting. So get feedback whenever you can and don’t be afraid to be proven wrong.

The way I see it, rejections are little blessings in disguise. Put your ego aside and embrace them!

2. Integrate constant feedback into your workflow

At Wizdy, the first game (Wizdy Pets) took a team of four 2 years to complete. Our second game took a team of three 1 year to complete. Why did the first one take so long? We kept changing our game design based on the few feedback that we’ve gotten by talking to only a few doctors too late into the game. Every time we decided to change directions, it was months of work down the drain. One thing that helped immensely on the second project was integrating continuous feedback throughout the development of the project and spending a considerable amount of time in the design and prototyping phase. Even before we came up with the final design, we brought devices to kids with very similar games and observed their reactions while playing. Even during the prototyping phase, we went to play-test with kids from after-school programs at least once every two weeks. This made sure we were on the most optimal track in the general direction we had wanted to go and constantly made small design changes that have huge opportunity costs down the road.

3. Talk to strangers

I am guilty of being the problem here. If a friend came to me with a ridiculous idea for a project, chances are I am probably going to be supportive no matter how inane it may be. People tend to become much more considerate of the things they say to their friends as they age (which also makes some adult friendships tricky). The best place to get honest feedback is from people that you don’t know. This doesn’t necessarily mean to go out on the streets to flag people down, but interest group meetups are an excellent place to start. Again, I want to emphasize that if you really want a product to succeed, learn to embrace constructive criticism, even though sometimes they hurt.

Every project is different, and unfortunately there is no silver bullet to solve all problems. I hope that the points above helps to serve as a guideline on avoiding some of the pitfalls that my peers and I have wasted a lot of time trying to remedy.

With that, good luck and happy hustling!