Working Solo: How To Stay Focused and Motivated

This post is for anyone working on a side project, or passion project, and ends up feeling lost or stuck — ultimately resulting in an abandoned project, or shifting the attention to something else.

TLDR: I’ve created a Trello Board Template which I’m using for every single project I’m participating, even if only I’m gonna see it. Check it out here!

The best thing that I’ve started doing a few months from now is having a Trello board for each and every single project I work on. Even if it’s a 2-week project. It helps me to have realistic expectations for myself.

I personally tend to underestimate a lot of small tasks and have the feeling I can do a lot of stuff at the same time. When in reality, my attention span is very limited, and there’s a limit on the number of context switches and things I can do.

It’s frustrating!

  • It is frustrating when you haven’t done what you think you could or should in one day or a week.
  • It is frustrating when you’re looking for your next task and can’t decide between way too many options.
  • It is frustrating not knowing how long a task will take.
  • It is frustrating not having a plan.

All of these frustrations are symptoms of poor planning. I’ve become a Trello freak because of them, and probably many more.

Your Trello board must have an objective. The objective will be different for each project. For brawlball.io the objective is simple: to release a playable version!

Planning: My Kanban Template

My Trello board for the development of brawlball.io

I recommend using a clean (that won’t distract you) and inspiring image for your background. It gives you some feelings. I can’t explain, It’s good. Lol.

Here’s a brief summary of what you should place on each column of the template. It is basically a classic Kanban board, though.

Backlog — Things you need to do in the future. Only actionable stuff. If it’s not 100% relevant to your objective, don’t even list it. Tasks that depend on other tasks should be kept on the backlog.

Todo — List of things you are already capable of starting working, free of dependencies. When your Doing column is free, just pick the next one you feel fits best from the list and move to Doing.

Doing — List of things you’re currently working on. Keep this list very short. Ideally just one card. Three at maximum. If you have more than this, make sure to move them either back to Todo, or to Review.

Review — List of things you’ve finished doing, but are not 100% certain it’s really finished. You may move things from Doing to Review just to be able to pick up a new item from Todo and start Doing immediately, but don’t want to bother on reviewing yet. You may review a bunch of things altogether in the other day. What is important is that you keep your mind in peace here.

Done — All things that passed your Review process. Congratulations! You have another item on this list to be proud of!

Make sure to only work on tasks listed in cards. New cards can be included at any point during the execution of the project. What is important is that you have a clear picture of everything involved in order to reach your objective.

This way you’re being true to yourself. If the project is delaying — at least you have a big list of items you can look back and can be proud of the progress so far.

Be kind to yourself. You don’t need to get 200% done in one day. Be slow and steady. Plan things properly, and don’t over-plan it — cards can be a single sentence, without a full description. Only create cards for really actionable stuff your project absolutely needs.

Software Engineer & Indie Game Developer

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