Three Month Projects

Last week concluded my first three month project—my new work routine where I work no more than three month in a row then have 1 month break. Albeit its name ‘three month project’ this project was only 6 weeks long; still, I want to assess what worked and what didn’t work. In essence this post is a review of the three month project work routine.

Three Month Projects

Practically a three month project is to work intensely on a project for at max 3 months, then have a 1 month break, and then continue with the next three month project. The idea is that you use the break to get inspiration or replenish your motivation. During this break you have no obligations to do anything, if you want to spend all the time reading fictional books, playing games, or watching series, that’s totally fine. But I usually get bored by not doing anything creative and just consuming media after some days. Then I can use the rest of the time to decide on the next project, get some ideas, try out new stuff: learn to make electronic music, learn more about psychology, parachute jump, etc… After the break I should have high energy and motivation to start the project and ideally I would just long for the break to end so I can start with the new project.

By using this approach I should be able to have time to learn new things, never get tired of my work, and most importantly (for me) I don’t get stuck on life-long projects, but actually create finished products by the end of each project—except if it’s a large project.

Finishing On Time

Before I began working on my product—in this case an app—I decided to create an awesome product, not just an OK product. I wanted to really put in the effort in making a product I was proud of. With that said I failed to actually create a finished product before the project ended. The entire goal of the three month project is to release a product by the end of it.

Close to the end I thought that I didn’t have enough time to finish the product, or rather 6 weeks were way too short for this project. But in hindsight I don’t think the length of the project really matters. Even if I’d have all 12 weeks available I think the outcome would’ve been the same; no released product, although I would’ve had more features in the product. Why do I think that? Because I tend to include too many features in my projects. At the start of this project I postponed lots of features and only planned for 67% of the available time (4 of 6 weeks). Still that wasn’t enough. Back then I couldn’t see what more could be postponed at the start of the project without breaking the product; today I can see that I could’ve postponed even more features without actually breaking the product. Sure, it wouldn’t be as good as it is now; but it would still be an awesome, polished and most importantly released product. I can always add more features later in another three month project.

In the future I should limit on planning for 50% of the time, or maybe even 40% instead of 67%. This should allow me to finish the product, including any critical tasks I find during the project. Although I should be careful and only add critical features into the projects.

Just Fun, No Stress

Even though I just said I wouldn’t finish the product by the end of the project I actually think I could’ve if I didn’t spend so much time exploring different options. But exploring different solutions was a new mindset I wanted to try for the three month project—to have the time to try out different solutions and pick the one I was most satisfied with. In hindsight that was a really good call, if I didn’t do that I would have an OK product instead of an awesome one. In addition I wouldn’t have learned so much about different topics which I can reuse for future apps; because I had the extra time I could actually code for reusability directly. I even reused some of the stuff inside this project so I have already saved some time.

Most importantly was that this was the first time I actually felt that I had the time to try different solution and I were never stressed out if it took some extra hours to find a satisfying solution. I wasn’t stressed out because I overestimated the time it would take for all features and, as mentioned, I had a 33% time buffer. Freed from the time pressure it became really fun to work as I could dig deep into a topic and test various solutions. Somehow the feeling reminds me of building lego when I was little—trying different things, going back, taking the long road and making something great. In the project I could spend an hour or two just to research different options before trying to implement them, and then I could actually discard an implementation and test something else if I wasn’t satisfied. Usually I learned something from every solution and was able to create a better custom solution from all the information I had gathered both from the different solutions but also throughout the entire project.

Because it was so fun to work I worked overtime every week, although usually just half an hour or so for the week. There was, however, one week when I was quite stressed out and wanted to find a solution quickly. It started 3 weeks before the deadline. There were quite a lot of things I wanted to fix and I felt that I didn’t have time to test new things—I just wanted to get things done quickly to finish before the deadline. This was also the first time I worked overtime because ‘I had to’. During that week I didn’t work as efficiently as usual, this was even before I began working overtime that week. At the end of that week I came to the conclusion that my efficiency was lowered because of my mindset (which increased my stress levels). I.e. it was not an effect because of boring work, lower motivation, or because I worked overtime. Although during the last days of the week my efficiency was lowered further because my motivation had dropped and I was getting tired by overwork.

This realisation that the main problem was my mindset made me focus on returning to my exploration mindset I used before. This led me to ditch the deadline in the sense that I was content with myself if I didn’t finish the product on time. But I must say that I really put in the effort to try to finish it before the deadline. The next week I worked 12 hours overtime and was never stressed out. I was, however, a bit tired at the end of the week.

This was my biggest personal discovery: How much I’m able to accomplish efficiently when I’m free to explore different solutions. Another lesser discovery was that I don’t work well under the stress of a final deadline.

Sprints

Although I don’t do well when facing deadlines I work more efficiently using sprints, which ironically are sort of like small deadlines. I’ll try to explain a simple version of sprints by using an example of creating your own dinner table. After you have identified all tasks to complete the dinner table (‘find inspiration’, ‘design table’, ‘design chair’, ‘pick material’, ‘contact business’, etc.) you put the most critical tasks in a sprint that’s 1–8 weeks long (I use 1 week sprints for my three month projects). In this example this could be ‘find inspiration’ and ‘pick material’. At the end of the sprint you check what wasn’t completed and why. Then you start the next sprint picking the most critical task again, and again, and again…

Short sprints triggers my competitive gene—I see it as a game or challenge with myself to complete all tasks in the sprint. Curiously enough this doesn’t create any stress or make we want to stress the feature to completion so I can continue on the next. It does, however, make me more efficient as I have an easier time saying ‘this is enough exploration and I’m satisfied with a solution’. I.e. I don’t continue to explore other solutions for too long.

Various Comments

This section is dedicated to stuff that actually doesn’t have anything to do with three month project, but rather the other things I decided to try in What I Want To Do For A Living, And Why.

Administrative Work

Previously I had problems with procrastinating on my administrative work. It’s not much work, but that’s the curse—”it’s not much, so I can do it later”. Finally I think I have found a good, or actually a brilliant solution: Doing all administrative work the first Monday of the month. Now I have a dedicated day for it and I always start with the administrative work instead of ending my day with it which always resulted in never starting since I didn’t finished what I was doing before. There’s never a pile of work that needs to be done anymore 😀

Getting Up Early

It’s still a challenge to get up early. My goal was to get up between 6 and 7, but I think that could actually be a bit early except when I go to the gym. But then again it’s easier to go up earlier if I’m constantly getting up early. I think I always need some ongoing project or motivation to help me getting up as it’s not enough being really motivated to work on the project. Maybe I need to switch the mindset I have when I’m in the bed on mornings. I.e. create some sort of routine or habit directly when I the alarm rings. I’ve had quite a few instances where it’s not hard at all to get up early, so it should not be impossible.

Exercising

I’ve been slacking a bit when exercising. For running it’s usually because I don’t have a clear time when I end my work. Thus I can sometimes work overtime on days I should run, then because I’m so hungry I skip directly to dinner. When I go to the gym it’s usually because I have to get up so early in the morning and when I don’t get up early I don’t want to “waste” more of my day since I don’t want to stop working so late.

Conclusion

In general I think that three month projects work really great, although I have still to test a project that’s a full 3 month long. I also need to reflect on how the break month went when it’s over.

For the next project I will be sure to remember to…

  • Allocate maximum of 50% of the time for features, preferably 40%, so that the product is completed and released before the end of the project.
  • Always try to be in a explorative mindset and don’t stress even when approaching the project deadline—I’m more efficient, it’s fun, and I save time in the long run by having the explorative mindset.
  • One week sprints work great.

In addition I want to…

  • Switch mindset so that it’s easy to get up in the morning
  • Plan exercises day and time so that I can both plan when to quit working and when I should eat.

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