With the launch of LiveShow by Just for Bands last week, the stress of getting something done and pushed for public consumption is only half done. Having actually “shipped” a working product, I understand that it is the larger (and harder) half.
LiveShow took about 2 hours a night 4-5 nights a week for an entire year to get ready. The idea was always to get a basic product that did just what was needed to accomplish the goal done and pushed out for people to use. Yes, we occasionally got burned out. Yes, some things didn’t go quite as planned. Yes, we got behind sometimes. But we met our goal and launched within a year’s timeframe. What was the secret? We didn’t stop. If we got burned out we worked on other aspects, brainstormed, and generally found busy work that needed to be done.
But the real secret comes from the time boxing. Saying to ourselves nightly “I have 2 hours, I want to have [Feature X] working by then” and then working towards that. The feature being worked on could have just been one piece of a larger feature. But time boxing allowed us to really focus on what we were working on. When you have a seriously limited amount of time, it helps decide what needs to be worked on. On several occasions I scrapped my work and started fresh the next night because something took me longer than 2 hours during the first go. Most of the time, I was doing it wrong to begin with, but I had to do it wrong to find the right way and those couple of hours that might have seemed like a waste were actual pivotal in finding a solution that worked (and in many places more elegant).
Time boxing also allowed us to maintain family and social obligations. We started this project with our own time, our own money, and had to learn a few things on the way. We didn’t quit our day jobs and we certainly couldn’t deprive our families of our time. Time boxing allowed us to maintain a normal life. Sure we worked a little more than usual after hours, but the focus that time boxing allows and the fact that we limited our time allowed us to not get carried away.
If you’re looking to do your own side project, I recommend time boxing yourself to a couple of hours a night 3-5 nights a week. This will allow you to be moving constantly towards your goal without taking over your life. It certainly worked for Erick and I when working on LiveShow, and it’s one of the tent pole points of 37Signals’ book “Getting Real”. Give it shot, you have nothing to lose.