I entered 2020 burnt out after spending three years building Synotate. That project was a worthwhile experience that I do not regret, but after I ended it, I lost my motivation, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. I was in a rut and while I valued the time that was given back to me by not working on the project, I can’t sit still and enjoy leisure activities like binge watching TV. Unfortunately for me, the pandemic hit and all of a sudden I had more free time than I could handle. With this time, I decided to spend it trying to figure out my passions that I wanted to pursue and the pain points in my life that I wanted to solve. This reflection led to picking myself back up and starting a new project with the promise of it being something I was passionate about and with a strict scope of work. The project I ended up building was understandyoursleep.com, a free Fitbit storytelling tool that turns your sleep patterns into a story that you can understand. It was my most rewarding project experience and has shaped my perspective on approaching side projects.
Wellness has always been a passion of mine. I grew up being very active and for the past decade I have been trying to find balance in my life through yoga, meditation and experimenting with my fitness and diet. In my continual pursuit to improve my wellness, I started focusing on monitoring my sleep patterns. I first started monitoring my sleep with a Garmin wearable, but was unsatisfied with how the data was visualized and hated that they didn’t have a public API that I could use to extract and visualize my data. This led me to buy a Fitbit, which had similar data visualizations issues as Garmin, but their public API allowed me to analyze and visualize my data in any manner that I liked. While satisfied with the change I made, I noticed overlap in the poorly designed sleep visualizations between the two products. I felt like other users might share the same opinion and believed that I might be able to provide a better alternative which turned into Understand Your Sleep.
Change in Attitude
With the gears turning for the first time since experiencing burn out at the start of the year, I set out to complete this project in a fraction of the time I spent on Synotate. The way I kept true to that goal was by keeping to a strict project scope. I started with a simple idea and any ideas that came to mind during the development were pushed to the side to prevent me from being distracted and bloating the scope. This new attitude proved to be vital to finishing the project in the matter of a few weekends while not overthinking design and functionality. As a result, I was able to learn and implement three new technologies (D3.js, Gatsby, AWS Lambda (Python) I had not used in the past and delivered a product that displayed sleep data in a useful and storytelling manner.
During the process of learning and implementing new technologies I noticed enthusiasm that didn’t exist in the late stages of the work I did on Synotate. The reason I had a different sentiment towards the work this time around was that I had a lot of passion for the topic and I knew that it could have the potential to provide some good in a person's life. I may never know whether the last part will ever be true, but at the end of the day I realized that I had previously overlooked my purpose for starting side projects. My only evaluation criteria for starting a project was if it solved a problem. I never considered if I had passion for the idea or if it could provide a positive impact on society. Without the latter two characteristics, I discovered that I would never find fulfillment in the work when the honeymoon period of a project ended.
This eureka moment may sound like common sense, but in reality I think it is harder to internalize and interpret. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new idea and jump directly into building without evaluating if it aligns with your interests. Without finding that passion in your work, you will most likely run into resentment once you discover it is harder to build than you had expected. My discovery of this when comparing both projects made me understand that I will never pursue an idea unless it fits my interest or is something that I can see myself doing for the next five or ten years of my life. This passion is what gets you over those stressful humps and will guide you to success.
Satisfaction & Future Approach
Burnout is never a fun feeling and I believe it takes a while to pinpoint what led to that burnout to avoid it in the future. I felt like I was done working on side projects before the pandemic gave me more time than what I knew what to do with. With that time I took a step back and did an evaluation of what went wrong when working on Synotate. This evaluation led me to a few realizations that helped me avoid repeating previous mistakes and enjoy the time I spent on Understanding Your Sleep. If there is anything I would take away from these two projects for future work, it is that it must be passion driven in addition to solving a problem in my life.