Building Things and Raising Children
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One question I get, probably more than any other, is how do I do stuff? At first, I thought this question was a bit silly. I mean, I do it the same way anyone else does. Just in my “free time”, or something like that.
It wasn’t until I took a step back and evaluated my output against the circumstances of my life that I began to understand why I’m often asked this. Here’s what I mean. Currently, I am:
- A Dad with three children ages 8, 5 and 3.
- And have a full time job.
Amidst that, these are the extracurricular things I’ve been a part of:
- I’ve made and sold an app.
- I write a blog (probably obvious) that I sell sponsorships for.
- I’ve done online courses for Pluralsight.
- I’ve done guest posts for other websites.
- I write a book series.
- I’m currently developing a new app for indies and soloprenuers.
- I (in the before times, anyways) would speak at meet—ups, conferences, podcasts, etc.
- And probably some other tidbits which escape me now.
let concatenatedThoughts = """
To be clear, I don't want to brag at all, quite the opposite. This is just a "Here's what I've done, and here's how I've done it" kind of thing. In fact, I'm more proud of what I've not done (i.e. spend time with family over doing more stuff) even more so than what I have done.
When I look at that, it may seem I’m either a time—managing savant, crazy or neglect my family altogether. When in reality, none of those things are true.
So, here’s how I do what I do.
The Main Things Are The Main Things
The most important thing, above all else, is to set your priorities. Mine, obviously, are my children and wife. So, the number one takeaway you should have is this:
Keep the main things in your life, the main things.
And, as long as you do that, you’ll figure out the rest. Figure out what those things are, and make sure that when it comes to your time, they always win. It seems obvious, but only because it’s incredibly easy to conceptualize what that means, but it’s often difficult to live that way.
And, figuring out how to live that way is probably the most important thing you can do as a parent who also enjoys their career or side projects. For a long time, I felt guilty that I enjoyed those things. But as I’ve grown as a parent, I’ve realized that’s a silly line of reasoning. If anything, parents absolutely should have hobbies outside of their children, in my opinion, but the secret is all about the way you think about those.
To wit, it’s simple:
(kids || spouse) > hobbies
That’s it. Everyone has their own advice on parenting, and all of it varies. That used to annoy me a bit, “Why does this person think they know how I should raise my children?”, I’d wonder while reading all of the mountains of parenting advice that’s out there. The reality is I have no idea how best to raise your kids, but I can tell you a bit about how I think about it as someone who’s grappled with the immense juxtaposition that is inherent to building things and raising them.
So it is, I’ve come to see that there are “golden hours” in life, and you must protect them at all costs. For parents, that’s probably the 6—9 p.m. chunk of the day. They are out of school, you are off work and you’re together. This is where parenting happens, so I make sure development on my next thing doesn’t.
But, true to the title, none of this means that you shouldn’t work on side projects or that they aren’t important. Quite the contrary, working on some app, blog post or book is a part of my D.N.A. — I adore doing all of those things. So now that we’ve established that those can’t come before my family, the obvious thing to ask is “When do they happen?”
The Nitty Gritty
Stop me if you’ve done this before. You’re driving down the road, taking a walk or showering. You’ve got time with your thoughts. And the thoughts? Maybe, if you’re like me, they go something like this:
“I can’t wait to make this, I know this app would do great!”
“If only I could get this website redesign done, I would write more!”
“I just need to brush off that SaaS project, I think that would be a money maker!”
And on and on.
It’s very easy to stay in the mindset of what your projects could be, or become, instead of actually shipping them and facing the music. Hope always springs eternal when your app or thing hasn’t launched yet, because you get to hang on to the potential that it might possibly have. In the end, though, thinking about apps doesn’t launch them.
The thing that sucks about loving side projects is that the only way to make them happen is to spend quite a lot of time developing them 😅. Finding that time, though, isn’t as hard as you might think. It boils down to a few principles, for me at least.
I’ve written about this before, but it’s crucial. If you form some habits that you’ll work on something when you’ve got some time, you will likely hardwire yourself to eventually default to it. That’s either a really bad thing or great thing, depending on how you think about side projects when weighed against your other interests. For me, though, this has been a secret weapon to getting things going.
My habits are cheesy, and likely are far from a one-size-fits-all solution. But they do work. It’s small stuff, too:
I have a Siri Automation that opens a journal in Day One to start my day. In it, there’s a bit that says the motivation behind what I’m working on. The “why”, if you will. Why do you work on what you work on? Why do you want to work on something that you haven’t started? If you keep your motivational reasoning front and center behind your side projects, you feel the urge to do them.
Have a strategy to handle interruptions gracefully. This one is key, you’ve simply got to master it. Here’s what I mean: You’re super focused prototyping something or tackling a bug early in the morning. Nobody is awake, it’s going great! And then BAM! Your daughter woke up somehow and wants chocolate milk. They are now the priority, and your thing is not. So, figure out how to quickly leave a note or some sort of TODO: to give yourself context to pick things back up later. For me, I use Notes since it’s lightweight and syncs everywhere. When this happen to me, I just pop open my note I use for this stuff and leave something like “You’re trying to fix a bug likely caused by X. I was looking at file Y. I think Z will fix it.”
I set aside a certain times to do things. For example, my Monday morning. I always try to write then. I get up early and use about an hour to write something. It’s timeboxed, so I don’t over exert myself. Plus, it forces me to chunk up posts if they run long. As long as I get somewhere, though, I feel accomplished.
You’re likely to have to become, or already be, an early riser or night owl to some degree. Not to the extreme, as some might suggest. But a little. Those are the only two times I’ve been realistically able to work on things in earnest. There’s just too much to do during the day from family, child activities, house chores, etc. But, when everyone is sleeping at night or haven’t woken up yet, I can dig in. This is where I do 90% of my side projects.
Find wiggle room. Along with the above, I find time I know I’ll have throughout the week. My secret sauce is I simply “stack” my workday at the start and end of it. My office hours are 8—4, and I use that. I get to the office early, usually around 6 but before 7, and (with my wife being okay with it) I sometimes stay an hour later too. So, I get to work around 6 and leave typically around 5. That gives me a couple of hours to work on stuff each work day.
Create a deadline. This sounds like it would suck, but honestly, it helps you along. For my book series, if I hadn’t promised updates every two weeks, then people wouldn’t be getting updates every two weeks. Simple as that, really.
There are 24 hours in a day, and we always love to say that’s not enough. I don’t agree, I think that’s plenty. But, you’ve got to find where your pockets of time are. And, if there aren’t any, well — that’s honestly okay too. I’ve been there.
But I will say, you probably have more opportunities than you think.
As a parent, it’s easy to conflate having only a little time with having no time. You can do a lot with a little time, over time. So look for those small pockets, whether they are 30 minutes, once a week or even once a month. And have some habits in place to take advantage of them.
Keeping a Strong Mental Game
Taking care of yourself couldn’t be more important when you build and raise children. That’s why I started this post how I did, because if you know you’re putting your family at the forefront you can sleep at night. I can only build stuff knowing that. A clean conscious needs no mercy, so when you take care of yourself and family first you open up yourself to feeling no guilt about spending time making stuff when the opportunity presents itself.
There is some nuance I’ve learned over the years as it pertains to your mental game. However, for me, the most paramount among them is this:
You can’t possibly keep up with people who don’t have kids. Straight up.
Say it again!
Because if you’re building things, you’re all but guaranteed to see a thousand other people building a thousand other things a thousand times faster than you. Make peace with it! They aren’t you, and you aren’t them. Give yourself some grace. In fact, I’d posit that it’s amazing that you even have the dedication and passion to want to build something at all if you’re a parent, because parenting is exhausting.
So, listen to yourself. You’ve got to feel burnout before it hits. You’ve got to make sure you don’t get caught up in an industry that wasn’t really built for parents (though I am very thankful this seems to be improving). You’ve got to realize that your life is different, and your time is spoken for by and large.
That’s really okay. Just think of it this way, we’re building in reverse. If we’re still feeling that side project itch, I like to think we’ll have time to do it. Just later on in life though. I’m fine with that.
This last thought may seem terribly obvious, but one of the largest drivers of me doing any of this is…..simply because I want to be doing it. When you finally get those gaps of free time, you have a choice. In my case, I could either watch a Netflix show, finally get back into Horizon: Forbidden West or I could…make stuff.
And, most of the time, I make stuff. And that’s only because I just love making stuff.
You’ve got to give something to get something. Even now, as I write this, my kids have a friend over and they are all busy playing together downstairs. My wife is out with our daughter and her friend for ice cream. Even better, housework is all caught up. So, with that, I’ve got some time and I could spend it about 1,000 different ways — but I’m choosing to write this.
And so it is, I hear people so often say “Ah I would do that but I want to do this instead”, almost as if it’s a sign of defeat. They carry on like the fact that they enjoy doing something other than working on a side project as a pejorative nature of their work ethic.
That’s not the right way to think about things.
Instead, I say, play your video games, binge Netflix, do all of it! That’s a wonderful way to spend time. But you’ve got to realize, apps don’t ship themselves. And it’s also why, among my other priorities in life, I take so long to ship things. I love doing a lot of things besides making stuff.
But the thing is, I’m completely okay with that. I have the rest of my life to make apps. I don’t have the rest of my life to raise my kids, and since that is the majority of my life —— the fact that I choose to fill the other bits with video games or Netflix every now and then is a perfect balance that makes me feel happy and not overworked.
Again, I kinda think that the internet and the addictive nature of “Someone is always shipping on Twitter” has made us all just a little bit anxiety ridden. We feel bad for not doing things, and we feel as if we’ve always got to be doing something or we’re left behind. We’re probably all too hard on ourselves, even if we don’t elect to ascribe to the “hustle porn” lifestyle that we already know isn’t realistic.
On the other hand, if you find yourself working no matter what, please check yourself. I’ve been guilty of this myself. On vacations, I used to bring my laptop — eager to bust away on a new project. I love working on this stuff, as such, I believed that, because I was on vacation and should be doing the things I want to do, that it was perfectly valid. I’ve since 180’d there, and I enjoy time off in a brand new dimension.
What I’m getting at is you can’t slay the demons you enjoy playing with. If you want to do some mental gymnastics to convince yourself that it’s fine to work all the time, then you’ll end up working on things all the time. Try to put things down. It’s so, so true that you’ll be even more excited to get back to them once they’ve been put away for a bit.
Size Up Your Progress
Finally, let’s be honest with ourselves — statistically speaking, our side projects or indie development endeavors might not be a financial success or give us runaway fame in our respective industry. Conversely, our family and children are beautiful guarantees gifted to us in this life, and pouring our time and attention to them will always be a win.
If your kids or significant other relate your side project or indie life as one that produces a lack of attention, overworking yourself and burnout — you’re losing both battles. Your side project is hurting you, and you are hurting those closest to you. It’s a fine a balance to walk, and you won’t always do it correctly. But, you need to be trying to always be doing it correctly.
To gauge how you’re doing here; imagine yourself in this scenario I found myself in last year. It was a Saturday afternoon, and my wife and the kids went out into our backyard to play in our pool. For my wife’s part, she was happy to take them outside and let me have a moment to myself.
Here is where the fork in the road comes. My personal rules for weekend side project development are that either I’m up earlier or up later than everyone else in my house. But, in this case I decided to squeeze in some work. My wife okay’d it, my kids were busy — I had the time.
But then a humbling realization hit me — if my side project didn’t exist, what would I be doing right now? I’d likely be outside playing with them. So, that was a clear indicator to put things down and go spend more time with my family.
In a world where there are far too many absent parents, let’s endeavor to be different. Let’s show our children that there is tremendous value in hard work and chasing your passions. But, it pales in comparison to the time we get to spend with them. This may seem like I’m being a little dramatic or particularly critical — but when we’ve got kids looking up to us each day, can we really afford not to be?
- Make sure you have your life priorities straight.
- Make some small habits to help yourself work on stuff.
- Don’t compare your output against other people who likely have more time than you.
- Consider if you really want to take on a side project, or you just like the idea of having a side project.
- Find small parts of your day or routine where you’d have time to make some progress.
- Be okay with everything taking a long time.
If you’re a parent, realize this: We’ve got a lot of time to build products. We don’t have a lot of time to raise children. And as long as you always keep that thought near and dear to your heart, and as long as you win that battle 99% of the time —— then you’re probably doing it right.
It doesn’t mean you don’t build stuff. It doesn’t mean you can’t speak at that conference. Or write that book. Etc etc.
It just means you’ve got something else to do before all of those things, and it’s way more important. So build stuff and raise you’re kids, just make sure you don’t do it in that order 😉.
Until next time ✌️