Mark Thomas Miller

Five tips for better personal projects

I wrote this post as a reminder to my future self. I discovered a flow state when I was building Void, my minimal text editor for WordPress. During its creation, I experienced previously unseen amounts of productivity, happiness, and focus. I think these are the reasons why.

1. Pick something you have a blast doing

I legitimately loved creating Void. I couldn’t pull myself away from it. I accidentally skipped dinners, I abandoned my morning routine, I thought about it while driving, I thought about it while I was getting showered. I drank a second cup of coffee in the afternoon so I could stay more alert while I was working. I stayed up two and a half hours later than usual every night just to make it feel right to use. Enjoyment is fleeting; it doesn’t last forever, but it can be a powerful way to have an enormous productivity boost when you’re first starting out.

2. Pick something you’ll use

This sounds selfish, but I built Void just for me. I’m extremely picky with the software I use, and I want all of my interfaces to have an ample amount of whitespace and no real distractions. This provided me with an ideal concept of how Void should function, and it kept me excited for its completion.

3. Make decisions now, then use iterative reflection

Every time I’d come to a decision point, I’d leverage my ideal concept of what Void should be like to make a decision as fast as possible. I would then reflect on the validity of my decisions every few hours, referencing them against their results. In English, I made decisions as quickly as possible so I could keep moving forward.

4. “Move fast and break things” – Facebook

As soon as you make a decision, act on it. Don’t keep a list of the things you have to do – do them to keep them off the list. Since you’ve picked something that you can (1) enjoy building, and (2) use when it’s finished, you’ll probably look forward to having a project that’s actually done. If I made a decision that I needed to do a really tedious thing, I would do it immediately.

5. Visualize the future

When things got frustrating, as they always do, I visualized how wonderful Void was going to be when it was finished. That kept me going.

If you’re interested, you can try Void here.