Returning to a Side Project After a Long Time

March 14, 2017

Returning to a Side Project After a Long Time

During the building out of the Fair Offer Project, there points where I ended up taking a month off from working on it. Then I had to remember what I had been working on. It made returning to a side project a bit tough. It’s part of why I wrote about getting organized in The Side Project Hustle Guide.

Projects That You Can Learn From

It was a bit hard, not only to get back in the habit of doing it but also to reload the code base in my head. So my first suggestion is NOT to do this if you possibly can. But if you’re like me, you won’t listen to advice you haven’t proven to be true.

That’s why I wrote this accidental framework for returning to a side project.

Step 1 – Just browse through the codebase and application

Go through the application and see what’s working. Taking some time to browse through the application and see the baseline functionality that was already working helped me remember what I was doing.

Next going back through the code helped me remember where I had left off.

Step 2 – Go through any notes you may have

Fortunately, because I was using Trello, I had notes to referenced blog posts and a checklist of features that needed developing.

In previous years, I had used Evernote and Google spreadsheets. But these days, Trello seems to work the best for me. I like Trello because I can use comments, a detailed description and a checklist of features.

To me, it’s the perfect feature set for personal side projects and documenting what I need so I can return to it when I need to.

Step 3 – Go through your Git log messages

So going through your Git log only works if you left yourself good and detailed commit messages. If your commit messages say things like “changed form” instead of “added a new text field to save country to database via the Ruby API”, then this step will not work for you.

You can still look at the code you committed of course. But depending on how “small” you made your commits and how well you wrote the code, this might not work out for you.

Step 4 – Set aside dedicated time and keep working until you launch the MVP

One thing I’ve found over the years is that setting aside a constant amount of time on my calendar helps keep me from going long periods without working on a side project.

I make appointments on my calendar and schedule it. This helps me say no to other last minute activities that may come up that throw me off.

Step 5 – Make detailed notes as you go along

If you haven’t been making detailed notes for your side projects, now is the time to start! In the event you aren’t able to set aside dedicated time per Step 4, it will help you return to a side project after a long while.

Step 6 – Feel free to leave detailed comments in the code

If you’re new to programming and don’t feel comfortable making detailed Git commit messages, then it’s ok to leave detailed comments in the code. Sometimes it’s easier to just leave comments in the code (even though it’s sometimes seen as a “smell” in the code).


The first thing I recommend in returning to side projects after a long time is to not do it in the first place! But if you have to, following the steps above will help make it a smoother return.