Deciding Your Motivation for Working on Side Projects

Photo by vadim kaipov on Unsplash

Side projects can be an excellent source of creativity, inspiration, and income. At their best, they complement a professional’s lifestyle and keep them motivated. In addition, side projects provide autonomy and variety that most lack in their 9–5 work.

Side projects can also get out of hand. The commitments of these extracurricular projects can lead to decreased performance at work. I’ve seen them distract from a regular, salaried job and accelerate burnout.

Getting clear about the motivation for undertaking a side project helps to ensure each task scratches the right itch without getting out of control.

There are three common motivations for doing side projects. Of course, the motivations can overlap, but get honest about which is the most important to you. It’s different for everyone.

  • Learn. “I want to broaden my knowledge or improve my skills.”
  • Earn. “I want to make money.”
  • Give. “I want to help others or find fulfillment with my skills.”

Early in my career, side projects were a way to increase my learning. I would pursue curiosities and sharpen my skills. I accumulated thousands of additional hours over my peers by consistently investing in these projects. When my daily work changed, side projects provided consistency.

Over time, my side projects evolved into opportunities to earn extra income. My family was growing, and the extra money helped through transitional seasons. It was empowering to see how meaningful a few extra work hours per week could impact my family.

Giving your skills or services can prove satisfying for those who lack some level of fulfillment in their job. Volunteer opportunities can range from performing professional services, serving on a board, or showing up and helping out.

Whatever your motivation, it shapes the way you structure the work. Learning projects can have a ‘take it or leave it’ approach. However, paid side projects usually come with expectations, deadlines, and deliverables.

There is no right or wrong motivation for working on side projects. The only mistake is failing to decide why you are choosing the work. It will change over time, but be clear about what matters most.




CTO at Fast Company’s World Most Innovative Company (x4). Author of “Code School”, a book to help more people transition into tech.

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Morgan J. Lopes

Morgan J. Lopes

CTO at Fast Company’s World Most Innovative Company (x4). Author of “Code School”, a book to help more people transition into tech.

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