What's Your Criteria?

I often hear from readers who have a list of side project ideas a mile long but struggle when it comes time to pick one. It’s easy for some — they just pick one and get on with it. But others, faced with seemingly endless choices, freeze up and start to procrastinate.

Previously, I’ve written about why it’s important for you to have a North Star; something to remind you why you started working on side projects in the first place. But, when it comes to deciding which project idea to work on, it’s equally important to know what your criteria are for a worthwhile, valuable side project. If you don’t know — on a personal level — what constitutes a good project, you’ll waste time jumping from one project to the next hoping to find something that sticks.

I work on side projects to keep my skills sharp, share knowledge with other people, and build an audience for my writing. I keep an extensive list of project ideas in Evernote. When I evaluate which project to take on next, I consider each idea on my list and ask three questions:

  1. Would this idea involve skills I want to maintain or improve? Lately, this means new projects have to involve a fair bit of writing.
  2. Is this idea something other people would find valuable or interesting? It’s fine to scratch your own itch, but I find it far more satisfying to provide value to someone else.
  3. Assuming it’s successful, is this idea something I can iterate on and improve? I love to update, reuse, and build on work I’ve done in the past. I repurposed old articles for my email course, for example.

Before I even begin to consider working on something new, it has to meet at least two of my criteria. Preferably all three — the more, the merrier.

Have you considered what your criteria for good side projects might be? If you often find yourself struggling to decide what to work on next, take some time today and figure it out. There’s a good chance you’ve thought about them before, if only subconsciously. Write them down and keep them handy.

Next time you’re staring at your list of project ideas, frozen, pull out your side project criteria. Use them to test the viability of each and every concept, cutting bad ideas as you go. If nothing else, you’ll reduce the cognitive load of making your decision.