Have you ever wanted to get an idea up and running but always seem to put it off? Finding the time, motivation and confidence to kick-start a project or to keep up the momentum can often feel like an uphill battle.
As we begin to emerge from the lonely days of COVID-19 isolation, a collaborative working space with like-minded people has never looked so good. Melbourne local Madeleine Dore, a freelance writer, interviewer and serial side-project starter, knows first-hand the pressures and challenges that can force side projects to the bottom of the to-do list. It’s why she started the regular event series Side Project Sessions in 2018, held across Australia as well as various cities in the United States.
Designed to help other people make space for their own creative work, the three-hour work session allows you to tick away at your side project surrounded by other creative, like-minded people.
Whether it is building a website, writing a novel, creating an illustration or chipping away at an endless to-do list, the concentrated pockets of time and “peer-pressured productivity” help keep your side project on track.
“I’ve found it’s easier to get in the zone when we are given parameters,” says Madeleine. “You don’t have time to become indecisive or procrastinate or be distracted.”
Working independently in a collaborative space can be a positive way to hold yourself accountable and focus on your creative work, she adds. “Peer-pressured productivity helps us get out of our own way by being part of the momentum around us,” Madeleine shares. “Something magical happens when you’re in a room surrounded by other people doing what they enjoy or have been putting off. In this way, it almost takes the pressure off.”
The co-working shift
Co-working is thought to have been popularised in 2005 when programmer Brad Neuberg and a small group of friends left behind the traditional office space to work alongside one another in an open, shared environment called Spiral Muse in San Francisco.
The move challenged traditional workplaces and set in motion a culture shift for how and where people work. The phenomenon is not new, but the number of co-working spaces worldwide continues to grow.
With millennials projected to make up the largest percentage of the global workforce by 2025, an increasing number of companies is offering more flexible working arrangements and other office features to appeal to the demand.
Nirrimi Firebrace, a photographer, writer and founder of co-working space Common Good Studio in Fremantle, Western Australia, finds working alongside others keeps her motivated when it comes to her side projects.
“Before I had the studio, I worked from home and found it almost impossible to stick to a routine or maintain a social life. I’m easily distracted and home was full of distraction,” Nirrimi says. “Having a dedicated space and people who know what you’re working on helps enormously. It can mean the difference between finishing a project or not and getting to that finish line alone can be mighty hard.”
Some people find co-working spaces noisy or distracting, but what it does have going for it is the strong sense of community. “The sense of community is always spoken about. We’re all a big, supportive family,” Nirrimi says. “I’ve had writers, painters, photographers, a filmmaker and a crochet artist all work from the studio. For some, it is a full-time gig, for others a dream side hustle.”
Escaping office politics
Shared working environments can be an escape from the chaos of office politics or desk jackers. Shared work environments can also offer a fresh perspective and greater choices for women.
The frustrations of working out of cafes, around naptime or after a workout at the gym are what prompted trio Dee Behan, Emma Startup and Oonagh Geoghegan to launch a fundraising quest to create co-working space, Frankly Co, with women in mind.
“We questioned why it didn’t already exist,” co-founder Dee Behan says. “Frankly Co is about giving people the support to work remotely and feel good at the same time.”
While the trio initially set out to create a series of physical spaces, COVID-19 brought those plans to a temporary halt. Instead, Frankly Co is now bringing people together through virtual coworking — an online space where a group of people work together in sprints and are encouraged to focus on one task at a time. With structured breaks for regular check-ins, it’s space for productivity, accountability and somewhere to make new connections.
“The future is still uncertain, but one positive that has come out of this pandemic is the cultural shift of how we work,” Dee says. “What we will always need is a sense of belonging, support and community. So that’s what we’re focused on — blending productivity and connection together.”
Tips for starting your own side project
Self-doubt and perfectionism can be some of the biggest hurdles in starting or sustaining a project. It doesn’t have to be a giant leap into the unknown. Starting small will help you manage expectations and keep side projects achievable.
Surround yourself with like-minded creatives
Accountability is everything. Having a dedicated space and surrounding yourself with people who are also motivated to get work done can make a drastic difference to your productivity.
Don’t underestimate the power of a plan
Plan or map out your creative goals and what it might take to reach them. Figure out how much time (realistically) you can dedicate each week. Ask yourself, is this project worth it? Why? Your “why” is very important as it will keep moving forward.
When you start to feel distracted or overwhelmed by your to-do list, listen to your mind and body and take a break. It’s important to pause, rest and step away. Don’t burn out; this is a slow game!
Believe in yourself
Not everything will work out perfectly. Know that with enough belief, hard work and bravery it will pay off.
Simone Ziaziaris is a Sydney-based journalist who writes about culture, human rights, sustainability and everyday yarns. She loves meeting new, creative people through her work and finds joy in listening and learning from those she crosses paths with. Find her at @simoneziaziaris on Instagram.