Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Want to Pick Up a Side Project? 5 Steps to Getting Started

When it comes to ambitions, you have plenty: You're always talking about that book club you’re going to start or that coding class you’re going to take. From painting to cooking lessons, from volunteer work to language school—you’ve considered it all.

Yes, you definitely have ideas. But while you’re itching to do more with your free time, you haven’t quite been able to get past the “talk” phase to make it to the critical “do” part of the puzzle.

So, how to you turn one of your ideas into a committed, sustainable side project? If you’re serious about investing your time in an interest or hobby, the trick is to choose one project, create a plan, and then dive in. If you’re ready to take the plunge, follow these five steps to turn your ideas into action.

1. Pick One Project

Side projects can come in all shapes and sizes and serve a variety of purposes. So before you get started, ask yourself why you’re interested in taking on a side project in the first place. Are you looking for a creative outlet from your predictable 9-to-5? Hoping to learn a new skill? Eager to give back to the community?

Once you pin down the driving force behind your side project, brainstorm a few potential ventures that could help you reach that objective. For example, if your goal is to explore your creative side, your options might include taking a Photoshop class, practicing photography, or learning about art history. The possibilities are endless, but try to narrow it down to one project at time—ideally, the one that genuinely excites you the most. By honing in on one endeavor, you’ll be able to dedicate the time and effort necessary to make your project truly successful.


2. Set a Reachable Goal

A side project can be hard to start when the ultimate goal seems unattainable. For example, starting a blog may sound easy enough in the beginning, but growing beyond a stock template, a rambling introductory post, and one lone follower (i.e., your mom) and eventually creating an awesome online hub? That’s another story.

Combat that feeling by setting an attainable goal that you can reach in a short 2-3 month span. Using the blog example, you could set a goal of writing 10 blog posts over the first two months. Just like a project for work or school, you’ll be much more likely to be successful if you set a realistic goal and specify a clear timeframe for reaching it.

3. Set Aside Time  

When your schedule gets busy, it’s all too easy to let your side project suffer first—or abandon it completely. So before you dive in, ask yourself how much time you can realistically set aside for a new project. Be wary of over-committing your time—your side project should be a light and enjoyable commitment that your schedule can accommodate while still allowing time for your other priorities.

That said, if you’re serious about meeting your original objective, you should treat your side project as an important undertaking and schedule set times to work on it throughout the week. If something comes up, move the time you allotted for your side project to another day—just like you’d reschedule an appointment or meeting.

4. Enlist Friends  

Side projects are generally more fun when they’re shared with others. So, if you’re enrolling in a class or taking on a volunteer project, ask your friends if they’re interested in getting involved, too. Or, if they can’t commit 100%, see how you can enlist their help as contributors, editors, or an audience for your project.

For example, if you’re exploring photography, ask friends to be subjects for your next photo shoot, or invite them over for a mini-exhibition of your work. Taking cooking classes? Invite everyone over for a feast to show them what you’re learning. Sharing your side project with others provides encouragement and accountability, not to mention offers a fun new way to spend time with your friends.

5. Just Do It!

Above all, just do it! While planning and scheduling your project is important (especially if you’re serious about excelling in your area of choice), don’t spend too much time mapping out the logistics. Decide what you want to do, and get to it. Diving right in will help you decide if you truly enjoy your side project enough to build it into your regular, long-term routine.

Picking up a side project is a great way to try new things, learn new skills, and make the most out of your free time. And beyond that, starting and sticking with something you love will give you a sense of accomplishment outside of what you get at your job or school. With no one grading or reviewing you, you can focus on achieving things on your own terms. So, don’t hesitate—pick a project and run with it!

Photo of woman painting courtesy of Shutterstock.