How do you manage to work on side projects and learn new stuff while working full-time?

like many office developers, i have been working remotely for 2 years (for a company, not freelance). during this time i had specific hours during working hours and after them, where i learned something new (not related to work) or worked on side projects, ~3h in total.

i've been back to office for ~3 months now, and i have fallen behind my learning schedule and side projects. basically, 8h at work + 2h on commute, usually getting back home at 8pm. so there's just around 1h of side project work or learning that i manage to do after work.

of course, i'm mostly catching up on that stuff on weekends now, but i still don't feel like i am at my full capacity this way.

how do you manage to do this? thoughts/advice?

  1. 2

    I'm in an hybrid setup (I go 1 or 2 days to office every week, not mandatory), And was having the same issue. When trying to do my side projects / learning in the evening, my Focus was not the best. I was too tired to learn. It was confusing to me, all my university study hours were at night, yet I couldn't focus nor advance in my projects.

    I made a radical change and started to wake up 3hs before I had to leave home so I could learn and work in the morning on my startup. It was too much, now I'm waking up 2hs before, and the days I stay at home, I get 3hs of focused time for myself, when I go to the office, just 2.

    Notice that to pull this out I had to make many changes on my weekly and daily routine, as to get to bed early, no doom-scrolling after 10pm, try to sleep 7+ hs EVERY DAY, weekly meal planification... etc.

    Hope this helps!

  2. 26

    It is definitely very hard to work on side projects and learn new things after working all day.

    Especially when you have a commute, family obligations, cooking dinner, cleaning your house, exercising, and the many other important things that require your energy and time every day.

    All we can do is prioritize and schedule to the best of our ability. You can't create more hours in the day, but you can shuffle stuff around.

    Maybe instead of weight training daily, you reorganize your workouts so that you only lift three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). That would give extra time on Tuesday and Thursday.

    Maybe you wake up early on Saturday and Sunday and work from six am to noon. That's 12 hours a week right there, and you still have the whole rest of the day to do fun stuff. You might have to miss out on brunch sometimes, but what is more important to you?

    Instead of cooking dinner every night, cook enough for several meals on Sunday and again on Wednesday.

    Batching helps. Time blocking helps. Grabbing some time in short bursts here and there can help. Working on your projects during your lunch break helps. Taking a day off every month to have a personal hackathon day can help. All of these tricks and many other time-saving techniques can help.

    However, the main thing that will help is to prioritize what's important to you, and then make time for that important stuff.

    1. 4

      This is some very good advice.

  3. 1

    Can you change to a remote job? Remote is much more popular recently.

  4. 12

    I am in the same boat, as you are. Only difference is I am working remotely, which gives me a few extra hours.

    Some advices/ideas:

    • get a remote job to cut off the commute
    • Use a pomodoro technique to get more focus and more rests.
    • Go to bed early, get rest, and get up early
    • Write a journal to track your progress. It helps to stay on the course to be more focused about the bog goal while working on a small tasks. Read more about bullet journal technique -> https://bulletjournal.com/
    • Try to cut all features that your early adopters do not need.
    • Work on a marketing before launch (write blog, use twitter etc..,) to create an audience.
    • Suppress the perfectionist in you. Do not wait to create a perfect product to be released.
    • When you feel overwhelmed, take a break, and get back to work with more energy.
    • Pay people to help you with work you are not good at.
    1. 1

      Very helpful advice.. can you suggest websites which helps us to get remote work

      1. 1

        Dynamite Jobs, Remote Ok, most jobs advertised here on IH, most jobs in HN “who’s hiring” threads”

      2. 1

        I was recently really happy using https://cord.co where you can start convo with PeopleOps/HR from remote startups. It currently supports only fulltime roles right now tho.

    2. 1

      This is great advice. On #3: I've found that my productivity is nearly doubled in the early morning hours as compared to at night. So if I work from 5-8am, those 3 hours of ultra-productivity are equivalent to roughly what I get done between 6pm-12.

    3. 1

      this is really helpful. actually this week i have started to go to bed early and wake up early, which allowed me to do open-air gym exercises before work, and sometimes even read a book along with breakfast. will also take your advice on working on projects, thanks a lot.

  5. 2

    I also face this issue on a daily basis. So I developed something called a "priority day plan", where my whole day is planned in a prioritized manner. So for now my priority day plan looks like this:

    9 AM - 5 PM -> Work (You can also breakdown this time frame to various other prioritized tasks)
    6 PM - 7:30 PM -> Gym
    8:30 PM - 10:30 PM -> Side projects and learning [excluding 20 minutes for dinner :)]
    11 PM - 11:30 PM -> Other learning [Learnings related to your passion or hobbies]

    I would suggest you have a prioritized day plan like this and follow it every day. It might be tough at first, but eventually, it shall become a habit :)

    1. 1

      thank you for sharing this. actually, i also have such timetable, but often i don't complete 100% of my daily side project/learning tasks because work is already tiring, and even when i complete one task at home, i need to rest which means other tasks get left behind.

  6. 5

    Have you considered looking for a new position that lets you work remotely? Chances are you'd earn more money switching companies/roles and that would free up more time. Plenty of remote work these days :)

  7. 4

    It is all about prioritise and being stick with yourself on how you spend your time. I have 2 kids, wife, full time job (Director level too), run 5k x3 a week, volunteer at a local charity (AdHoc), am working on a business idea and almost always get a full nights sleep.

    There are many things I dont do to enable this, watch TV or play video games being the biggest time sinks I observe in others.

    Mentally, these items are prioritized into streams:

    • Family
    • Work
    • Business idea
    • Running
    • Charity
    • Everything else

    I am not able to do all these things each week but make an active decision as to roughly how much time to spend on each, then I have "red lines" - I must get 7 hrs sleep, I must run at least twice a week.

    Without the prioritization and discipline I cannot achieve what I want to achieve

    1. 1

      Having the right priorities is must have. Thanks for great insight.

    2. 1

      i like the idea of "red lines", will try to apply more of that mindset, because now i stay in the office after working hours to get the remaining work done, and that eats
      more of my time..

      1. 1

        Red lines are super helpful IMO! There is flex in the other stuff as while important they only impact what you deliver, but there is no flex in the red lines - they are ultimately there for your sanity and wellbeing

  8. 3
    1. I am not sure about your life's situation but if you could commute to be close to your job , it will be great.
    2. if you are not able to commute and you could work 1h focus from monday to friday and then 8 hours each day on the weekend. it will be around 21 h a week , which is not bad . it is actually equivalent to have a part time job.
      I would say either ways will be great.
      the first option could give you more flexibility whereas the second ones could be hard but after a month , you will be able to see that you have progressed for sure
  9. 3

    I know a guy who worked for a locally-based company that delegated all his daily work to someone else, allowing him to work on his dream project.

    Some say he is a genius because he did this while working on site for 8 hours, delegating the work for about 10% of his earnings.

    He did that for four years before they caught up with him and fired him.

    Then someone reached out to him wanting to hire him and lead a team because apparently, he was so good at delegating that he could delegate anything.

    This is definitely against any guidelines, but the moral of the story is: Besides work, travel and the side project+ learning, are there things you can avoid doing and delegate them?

    Let's say you do that one hour between 8 and 9pm every day. Then you probably do some home chores/relationship thing/something else?

    I think that if you batch up 2-3-4 hours simultaneously in one day, say Monday, and push the other stuff (home chores/relationship thing/something else?) right now, to a different day, you could be more productive and learn and build faster.

    This way you allow yourself to dive deep into "deep work" and finish more than you could have finished if you do 1 hour per day.

    Just a thought.

    1. 1

      hmm, that's an interesting approach. i'll give it a thought, thanks.

  10. 2

    You have to sacrifice a lot of your 'social hours' after work to make it work. If you want to make it work, you have to work more efficient than anyone else.

    Building in public: https://www.survey101.io/

  11. 2

    I wrote an article about this last week!

    "Try to separate out your tasks so that there is a different headspace between your job and your business.

    I stayed focused in the evenings when I worked on tasks different to the type I worked on during the day. If I worked on complex geometry tasks during the day, I would design in the evening. If I was designing in the day, I’d work on logical tasks in the evenings."

    I go into more detail here: https://leroy.beehiiv.com/p/clearing-hurdles-get-things-done

    1. 2

      thank you for sharing your thoughts. i think this is the actual "secret". the first sentence. that's what i've come to realize. in fact, during wfh my mind would go on thinking about work related items after work hours. but now i just leave the job at workplace, and after that my mind is free of work tasks and i can think about my side projects/hobbies.

      1. 1

        I'm really happy to hear my writing resonated with you! You're my first stranger to comment on my writing, so you've just made my day and it's not even 10am :)

        You have a good day too!

        1. 1

          that's nice, thank you! have a good day too :)

  12. 2

    It's very hard. And you shouldn't feel guilty not having time or energy to work on side projects at nights or during week-ends.

    On my side I try to listen to my mood: sometimes I have energy after work to code my side projects, and sometimes I don't and that's the way it is.

    I noticed that it's much easier to get motivated when working with a friend: I have a side project where we're two on it, and at some period every Sunday I went to my friend and we spent the day together, coding, cooking, eating, coding (so it was a mix of "work" and more relaxing time — it was still the week-end). Those days were quit productive!

    I also noticed that exercising helps me a lot: it creates a gap between work time and me time and allows me to relax and get new energy.

    But actually, I was unhappy with the time I was able to dedicate to my projects, this is why three weeks ago I quitted my job, to go full time on my projects. Now I can fully work on them during the day, and have time to relax/do other things, without feeling guilty, during evenings or week-ends.

  13. 2

    You just have to work and work and work.

    Not more than someone else.

    But more efficiently

    Anyone can do it. Trust me!

    You just have to put your mind to it

    1. 1

      i guess so... maybe it's in fact simpler than we think...

  14. 2

    Is there anything you can do at work to help you with this? I can't imagine you're working all 8 hours during the day.

    If you can get your work done quicker, take some time to learn at the office. That way you look busy and still have time to focus on other stuff at home.

    Learn via audio during the commute or at the gym to save time.

  15. 2

    Every evening, I spent 1-hour watching courses about the topics I want to learn about. Also, I read for around 40 minutes every day. I use the bus for transportation, so this is a good time to read for me.

    I spend at least 2 hours on weekends learning and applying new things. For me, Saturday and Sunday mornings are a great time for this.

    Sunday evening, I spend 1-2 hours on my projects.

    I am married and have a full-time job. This schedule works for me very well in the long term.

    1. 1

      great! thanks for sharing about your schedule! in fact, since writing this post about 2 months ago, i have been trying to "find" more time during the day, e.g. wake up early and it really helped because, just as you fairly mentioned, i have blocked a time that i know i'm gonna spend on learning or working on a project.

  16. 2

    This is a great question.

    My strategy has been to make it fun by learning in public and sharing it.

    I recently picked up Tailwind CSS by recording my experience of learning it.

    This forces me to learn quickly and present it in a way that makes sense which helps it make sense. I like the ideology that you only really know something when you can teach it.

    Best of luck!

  17. 2

    I think there's not enough time to do everything. One should prioritize. If there's not enough time left at the end of the day, one should rest and daydream.

    But, if things are so hard and one MUST do those things, then it's a matter of time and energy management; that means: physical work when physical energy is up, intellectual work when intellectual energy is up. No multitasking. No.

    Your day should be like: personal tasks, work, rest.
    Your day shouldn't be like: work, work, work.

  18. 2

    I wont lie and say it get easier once you keep going. You just get used to managing time around it. My suggestion is to find bits around the day, carve out an extra hour at night, or maybe wake up early. Try trading-off other parts of your day to invest in yourself and learn whatever you want to

    1. 2

      thanks for the advice, actually that's what i'm trying to do now, spending the early and late hours of the day on myself. but i still can't get the hang of how to use some of day hours on me... it's just work and work, on and on. i can't even let myself open twitter during work...

      1. 1

        It does feel like that , the pressure builds up at times. On such days i suggest you do something that relaxes you and lets you blow off some steam. like reading, gym, running etc. this can be put into the schedule when you feel you need it. This way you're sane and the "work and work" seems sustainable.

  19. 2

    I can totally relate to this!

    Im in a similar situation but i still manage to stay motivated and learn at the same time. Here is how i achieved that:

    I started to look into byte-sized learnings so that I can learn in small chunks when i have some me time. The best resource i found was Instagram reels. You just gotta follow the right people. Also, don't forget to create a "second brain" and categorise in a system that works for you, so that you can always back to it.

    For my side projects, I follow GTD weekly methodology. I use Todoist combined with Google Calendar/Calendly to achieve that.

    1. 1

      interesting, what are some of such insta accounts? never came across to such info in reels... i also use gtd but now there are a lot of days where i skip the day's task and get behind the schedule so next tasks/goals also get behind, so at this point it's become a mess :(

  20. 2

    I find that it is better to work more often but shorter rather than rarely but long, also focus on one side project at a time.
    Some more lessons learned here

    1. 2

      Totally agree, consistent short 1.5 hour bursts are much more sustainable than long sprints.

  21. 2

    I just did that as a founder of 3 revenue generating startups. WEEKENDS.
    Watched Youtube videos about React/NextJS, took a small idea and decided to learn while coding. I ended up with a cool product, 150 active users, I'm about to integrate payments and sell it as a working, revenue generating SaaS. It took me 12 months, but still... 2 hours here, 3 hours there...

  22. 2

    Weekends are pretty good for this purpose if you have the energy after the work week.

    Also, as many others have said, finding a remote option really does save a lot of time.

    Alternatively, you can perhaps start listening to or reading something while commuting, but I'm not sure how much actual work you can get done during this time.

    It's difficult, no two ways about it.

    1. 1

      i tried to listen to youtube tutorials for a week or two, but that felt more like a waste of time because i couldn't fully concentrate on it, or that i can't try to write the code myself.

  23. 2

    I had the same situation five or more years before. I commuted by car and spent 2 hours to and back.

    Ultimately, I rejected my own car in favor of a taxi (which was more expensive, but I could afford it) and managed a side project from a taxi on my commute.

  24. 2

    This is not directly helpful, but during the commute try to listen to podcasts/content that can help you on your projects. For instance, if you're working on marketing at the moment, then take your commute time to listen to a marketing podcast, etc.

  25. 2

    Couple ideas that I’ve used at various stages:

    Negotiate for time on the job to learn, especially if you can tie stuff you’re learning directly to your work’s business goals.

    Use side-projects for learning. Strategically choose technologies, techniques, or domains that allow you to maximize learning while working on the project.

  26. 2

    Makes it harder being back in the office, but I've found that one way to go about it is improving the quality of time spent learning, and sacrificing the quantity. e.g. if I start a book and I don't enjoy it, I'll put it away and find/buy another one rather than force myself through a subpar learning experience.

    Wouldn't work quite as well for building side-projects, but there are usually ways you can use software to replace aspects of your dev.

    1. 1

      this is some really good advice because sometimes i read and read, then realize i didn't learned much because it wasn't a high quality content.

    1. 1

      I do agree with your point. But it's hard not to notice most of the success stories are excessive work 😅.

  27. 1

    Leave an hour earlier to beat traffic?

  28. 1

    Personally, I found it difficult to spend 8 to 10 hours coding and then want to come home and learn to code even more. Some people can do it. It's a pain for me.

    1. 2

      there's truth in that. for me, my work may not be very entertaining every day. so having time after work for learning something new or working on a project give me that boost of energy that i couldn't get from my work that day.

  29. 1

    I feel your pain! I would build my app each morning for about ~2 hours, then switch over to my paid full time job - this could only happen because of Covid.
    Now I have a new client that wants everyone to be in the office 50% of the time - which has now cut my app time in half :(
    I think if you're learning (and not coding) you could definitely still do that assuming the commute is not driving. If it's driving - you could still listen to the audio of a course...?
    It's really tough though - and I feel your pain

  30. 1

    For me, having kids absolutely wrecked my schedule. After a while though, I learned to appreciate the time I had left much more. I am now able to get more done in less time than before.
    I would say to make a little plan beforehand, when you have an hour free you can almost immediately get started with a goal in mind.

  31. 1

    It is very hard and gets overwhelming but I would recommend tracking what you actually do with all of your time. Downtime and hobbies are needed but cut out things like watching tv, social media, etc. I recently set time limits on my phone and got an extra 10 hours in just the first week.

  32. 1

    i found the easiest and most effective way for me to be by choosing who I hang out with and which whatsapp groups I'm in, to create more triggers for receiving valuable insights related to my work as a founder, when I'm socialising with people. Otherwise i'd either need to have a life outside of work or learn stuff.

    i used to learn a lot thru events and meetups too but i havent been to many post covid.

    another thing i do sometimes is to create forced offline time when i only allow myself to read a book in my reading list (i always have a backlog of things to read). being offline and away from notifications does magic

  33. 1

    For me what has worked is to pick up something with low friction, No-Code tools or alternatives that just help you build faster. Automation platforms like Zapier, Integromat, Pathfndr.io, Rytr.me, and tons of lifetime offer on appsumo has done the trick for me to launch.

  34. 1

    I learn in the process of doing my side project!

    Btw, i self publish books for my side projects and in the process of writing, I learn lotsa new stuff. So that keeps me motivated

  35. 1

    Tough question. I worked for a company for several years while developing my own side project in my free time, and I have to say while discipline and time-management helps, it is still tough, and one needs to be prepared for slow progress (especially in the beginning).

    I feel it's important to set aside some time to relax and unwind, and also to do something different (like getting away for a weekend) to keep yourself inspired and to avoid burnout. It will mean you'll have less time for your side project, but like they say, it's a marathon, not a sprint, and you'll need your energy and inspiration last longer :)

  36. 1

    I am facing an issue just like you!

    I left my home at 8 AM and then reach home at 7PM but, I am still learning with good speed and amount and here is what I do to learn!

    1. I woke up at 5.30 AM then read a book for one hour from 6 to 7.
    2. Then I do yoga and get ready for work.
    3. While I read I take highlights from books and write about them on Linkedin.
    4. On Saturday or Sunday I write a full blog post about a topic which I read.
    5. At night, after 10 PM I read about improving my skill and business.
    6. That's how I end my day.
  37. 1

    I used to use my commutes to learn.
    It was a 1.5hr train ride each way to/from work.
    Lunch time, I try to squeeze in a little bit extra while working on side project. (at the time it was using computer vision to find items on the screen)

    It depends on what you're trying to learn.
    Each craft has its own learning environments. Woodworking needs hands-on workshop time, coding just needs a laptop so you can chill in a cafe while waiting for clients.

  38. 1

    I like to force myself to use a new tool to do my job. Like to learn vim I just forced myself to use it everyday even if it meant I was less productive for a couple of weeks. Another little hack is to try doing a task twice with two different approaches. Say you have to implement a feature: First do it the way you're comfortable, then delete everything and do it again using a different set of techniques (like try using TDD, or a different IDE, or get fancier with git, etc). This can take away some of the early days of being unproductive since you aren't blocking your main work.

  39. 1

    When I was learning frontend development I was lucky enough to come across John Lindquist's lessons. That allowed me to learn super fast.

    Pedagogy is key when you are short on time.

    So I would say try as many different videos, books, Scrimba etc as you can and when something clicks, you'll know.

    For reference these are the videos I was talking about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lx7ycjC8qjE&list=PLP6DbQBkn9ymGQh2qpk9ImLHdSH5T7yw7

    Notice there is no time wasted in getting to the lesson and it is one idea, clearly demonstrated.

    1. 1

      agree, it's important to learn from a decent source, otherwise you just get lost in the sea of information. and wow, that's such an old tutorial on angular :) but thanks, the channel's newer videos look informative.

  40. 1

    Honestly, I don't know how people do it. I struggled for 5 years building my own side projects and I was only working 10-15 hours/week throughout. It still felt like a major distraction. I can't imagine doing this with full-time work. Kudos to those who make it happen. I wouldn't have enough energy.

  41. 1

    Weekends. No real simple trick to it.

    Back before I went into this stuff full time I was pretty much dedicating the entire weekend to it, at the expense of everything else.

  42. 1

    Taking care of all the responsibilities in life and also putting some hours of work into your personal development and side projects can be a real challenge.

    It is all about time management and prioritizing what is important to you. I would say, experiment with different schedules and see what works. A schedule that may work now may not work in a couple of months.

    Personally, I like to plan more short term and keep seasons and weather into account. For example, on a sunny day, I like to be outside and have a drink with some friends. I really get a sense of freedom if I leave some room in my schedule for spontaneous activities. But on the other hand, on a rainy day, I like to switch off all possible distractions and completely submerge myself in tasks.

    1. 1

      that's an interesting way to take the weather into account :) will keep it in mind.

  43. 1

    Just allocate 2 min daily to work on it no matter what happens.

  44. 1

    At my full time job, they encourage me to build side projects and to learn and grow in other direction, because they believe that it will improve and benefit to the company.

    I think its something to discuss with the managers at your full time job..
    We starting to write a blog and presenting and discussing subject in order to learn during the time at work

    1. 1

      i read they do so at google, and iirc one of google's products was created as a side project. on the other hand, the popular belief is that how could an employee work on side project while there's already a lot of work to be done at work?

      1. 1

        Well… I believe there is added value
        Of working on side projects, I can’t say about others, but I can tell from my own experience that it’s definitely helping my productivity,

        That’s true the roadmap is endless but there is a difference of task u do cause u need and the one you do cause u want

        1. 1

          agree... the main point, however, is that not all employers would agree to give you that time to work on what you want because it doesn't profit the business but only you personally.

  45. 1

    I usually try to catch up on things during weekends. And sometimes a sick leave every couple of week certainly helps.

  46. 1

    It's possible especially if you go for an online course, all you need is determination and focus. 1 hour daily after work will go a long way.

  47. 1

    Exact situation.....this will sound like a basic answer but there are two options.

    1. Wake up earlier or go to bed later
    2. Get some additional developer to help speed up dev on your SaaS

    I went with option 1

    1. 1

      trying #1 too for almost a week now, and i'm seeing small but steady results. hopefully it builds up into a habit.

    2. 1
      1. Switch jobs to something fully remote :)
  48. 1

    Hi @jasmina, I've been having the same problem as well. I was struggling on balancing my work life and side projects. This youtube short helped me, and I hope it will do the same for you. Chao


  49. 0

    Those 2 hrs in commute you could use them to write up ideas and plans. It's hard to always find the time for side projects and learn new things, but if writing on a book, or note-taking app (I use Notion) it helps you to don't forget what you want to learn and develop the idea of side projects more.

    Writing a plan before actually starting a side project is a good habit in my opinion

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