5 Signs Your Side Project Is Going Poorly

July 25, 2022

As a follow-up to the previous post on 5 signs that your side project is thriving, this post will go over 5 signs that your side project isn’t doing so well and what steps you can take to turn things around.

1. You have few/no users after launching

If your project serves users and you have none, it could be a red flag. This normally indicates a dropoff somewhere in your user funnel, usually near the top.

This might seem like an obvious signal, but there are a surprising number of developers who fail to recognize this.

Many developers launch projects (web apps, mobile apps) expecting users to magically come knocking and sign up. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

However, not all is lost. There are many resources (books, podcasts, blogs) online that explain how to get users. A good read we recommend is Paul Graham’s Do Things that Don’t Scale essay in which he goes over how to manually reach users in an unscalable way to jumpstart your user funnel.

2. Your progress is painfully slow

Another sign that your side project might not be going smoothly is if you notice that you are making progress extremely slowly. We’re not talking about a 1 or 2-day delay for milestones, we’re talking about month-long setbacks.

It might seem obvious that you’d notice if progress is slow, but developers tend to get tunnel-visioned into specific parts of a project and sometimes they don’t take a step back to check the overall status and milestones.

The easiest way to spot slow progress is to track progress. This can be as simple as putting a start date and expected completion date for each task, and at the end of every week or month just take 15 minutes to review the tasks and see how many were completed on time.

Again, a small delay is nothing out of the ordinary, but large setbacks can be costly, eat into your morale, and even cause you to abandon your project altogether.

The best way to deal with slow progress is to address the root cause(s) and, if needed, reprioritize.

Sometimes a feature you really think is awesome is just taking too much development time, and if you consider the overall health of your side project you might realize it’s better to do other productive tasks first and come back to your awesome feature later.

3. Your don’t feel like working on your project

Most side projects start out as passion projects, so if the passion is no longer things can get problematic.

The most common scenario here is burnout. Side projects can eat up a lot of time and focus, and when combined with day jobs that many developers have and other personal obligations, things can get hectic real fast.

Some developers put their side projects on hiatus, and others may stop working on them altogether. It takes serious effort and discipline to properly balance side projects with other things happening in life, and developers who can’t manage eventually burn out.

Another common scenario developers experience is the end of the ‘project honeymoon phase’. Usually when side projects are started, developers are absolutely pumped about their ideas. They can’t wait to start designing and coding their projects to life, and they are 100% motivated.

After some time (usually a few weeks or months), however, many developers begin to see flaws in their idea. Maybe it’s a feature that doesn’t make sense, or a realization that the entire project has a fatal business flaw. They become discouraged and rapidly begin to lose interest in the project, eventually abandoning them for something else entirely.

If you are losing passion for your side project, we recommend taking a few days or a week break from thinking about it entirely, and then resuming work on it again. The key here is to find something to occupy your mind during the short break so that you can return with a fresh mindset.

4. You spend all your time fixing minor bugs

It’s easy as a developer to get tunnel-visioned into spending days and days fixing minor issues. While there is some validity in weeding out these bugs, it’s not a very good use of time.

In general, we recommend you try to focus on the important tasks for your side projects. Just like real products at real companies, side projects often require prioritization. It’s extremely easy to only do the things you want to do, but that often comes at the cost of putting off things that are important.

For example, it might feel extremely rewarding to make UI tweaks to make your web app look like it was designed by a top studio. Changing button colors, making margins align and choosing the perfect font can seem really fun, and it’s easy to spend weeks making these small changes non-stop.

But those weeks of UI changes could have been much better spent testing several different user acquisition channels. The project could have been a good-looking web app with hundreds of users instead of a slightly-better-looking web app with zero users.

With zero outside accountability, it’s hard to ditch the fun stuff for the important stuff. The only way to overcome this hurdle is with discipline. Productivity tools like todo lists and time management apps can help you build accountability into your everyday life, and we recommend you gradually build discipline through good habits.

5. You are not learning

Learning is at the core of all side projects. Even if your project achieves no users or revenue, the hands-on experience of designing and building something can be immensely valuable.

If you find yourself repeating the same tasks day in and day out, however, you should consider switching things up. Maybe some repetitive work can be automated (you’d be learning about automation), or maybe some tasks can be delegated to a partner (if you have one).

Of course, you shouldn’t need to ditch your existing tech stack for a whole new set of unfamiliar frameworks and tools for the sake of learning. All side projects will naturally include learning opportunities, so there’s no need to go backwards on existing progress just to learn something.