How to Choose a Side Project

I love side projects for a host of reasons. They give you autonomy, sharpen your skills, and can teach you valuable lessons about building and shipping products.

They can also be uniquely challenging. In most companies, your work is decided by someone else.

If you are stuck trying to decide on what you should be building, I have a few tips. First, don’t stress it. If you don’t have any great ideas, it’s not the end of the world. Second, find people who are passionate about their idea and contribute. Last, you don’t need to have a side project.

If you do want to build something, it’s helpful to know your end goals. Mine usually fall into one of two buckets.

Learn something new

Deliberate practice is the key to learning new skills. When I was in college I spent every day for 150 days creating a design based off a chapter in the book of Psalms. Forcing myself to create and post something every day made me a much better visual designer. Initially, it was embarrassing putting out bad work, The rate of embarrassing content decreased as I went on.

If you decide to go this route don’t be too focused on impressing others. Focus on getting your work out there with consistency.

Build something useful

Once you have the hot skills it’s time to put them to use. Side projects are great places to test business ideas.

Even if you aren’t interested in starting a business it’s an amazing experience releasing a product you had full control over. You end up sharpening your technical skills, marketing chops, product design, and documentation habits.

These types of side projects are much more interesting if they are solving a real problem. Build something you need yourself, or something you know a lot of other people need.