The Side Project Canvas — a tool to help you kick off something new


Side projects are not mere play things, I think they’re portents for how the future of work will look. That future is one where creative professionals independently pursue their interests motivated primarily by enjoyment rather than money.

The problem is that like anything else, it can be really hard to get started on a side project.

The Business Model Canvas (or hybrid Lean Canvas) is the most helpful planning tool I use in the early days of planning a new initiative. But I’ve found it doesn’t really work so well for less, well… commercial ventures.

The more I thought about my experience of starting side projects, the more I realised that they contain unique and inherent characteristics that need to be handled in their own way.

Which is how I came to draft a hybrid Side Project Canvas below. It works just like the original canvas — basically a one-page template to provoke thought and encourage simple articulation of a few key elements.

Side Project Canvas (early draft)

Short instructions for using the canvas. Download the blank version.

Here is a link to a blank worksheet for you to use and fill in.

So try it out, see how you go, adapt it, tear it up, and feel free to send your feedback in the comments and perhaps collectively we can create a simple tool that help more people pursue things they love.


The Components of the Side Project Canvas

  1. Light The Fuse

Rough Idea — Lots of side project aspirants seem to know the general idea of the area they want to pursue, so this is a good place to start.

2. Explore The Energy

Fun — People’s desire for side projects often stems from some type of frustration in their existing work. Side projects are fuelled entirely from passion, so it’s important you identify (and remember) what type of fun or joy they provide.

Happiness — Side projects can also be hard to measure when they’re so personal. So articulating where the happiness inherent within the projects is important. Think of these as your critical success metrics — remember, simply doing the project might be enough regardless of outcome!

3. Narrow The Focus

Description(s) — Here’s your chance to write out a few possible versions of a project. It’s important to keep them simple, specific and actionable. Focus on actual activity or output as opposed to generalisation or planning.

4. Embrace The Obstacles

Challenges — Imagined fears, challenges and obstacles are the silent killer of side projects. The best thing to do is to embrace them, welcome them into the conversation, and then at least come up with something to counter them.

Armoury — If you don’t have much time to work on something, acknowledge that and think about how you’ll carve out the necessary time. Or think about the person who can help provide motivation. The idea is to equip yourself with some tactics in advance to counter the problem of side projects just petering out.

5. Build The Momentum

Constraint — I think the secret ingredient to side projects is a great self-imposed constraint. You need to create a discipline for side projects, some type of structure that can guide you even when you’re not inspired. A great example is the Dear Data project which includes accountability with another person and a clear weekly rhythm.

Now — Finally, it can be tempting to think through your side project and create beautiful, polished, world-acclaimed castles in your mind. That doesn’t help. You can think big, but you really want to act small. Whatever small action you can take, do that. It might be as simple as talking to a friend over coffee about it. Or doing some research. Or sketching out the concept on your lung break. Act small. And repeat.


I look forward to your feedback and input. If you need a small dose of inspiration of side projects and talks and great articles, check out this quick Tumblr I threw together. Here’s a great article about side projects. And if you want even more, hear fromTina Roth Eisenberg, the queen of side projects, talk about their power.


Justin McMurray is the co-founder of Early Days, a digital venture studio in Sydney expressly designed to nurture side project pursuits. Subscribe to this Medium publication for more.

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