When people start a creative project, the major thing they struggle with isn’t a lack of inspiration or a shortage of ideas. No, the biggest excuse people make when it comes to pursuing their passion is they don’t have enough time.
I get it; time is limited. We all get 24 hours in a day, and a lot of those hours are spent at the office, with family, on schoolwork or by doing any of 100 other totally valid things. That’s just how life is.
But rather than find ways to work around these given constraints, people either give up before they ever start, or they try to juggle everything at once. Then, they burn out in the process.
We’ve all read the stories of the entrepreneurs who wake up at 5 am to build their business. They come home from their day jobs, only to spend the next four hours working on their side projects. Those guys work really hard.
But as much as I admire their work ethic, I don’t envy them. My guess is, you don’t either. Hearing those stories is probably keeping you from trying something you love. After all, most of us need some time to just chill out.
If your goal is to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, I can’t help you. You probably need to wake up at 5 am and stay up until 1 am in order to work on your business. But if your goals are more humble — perhaps you dream of writing a novel, taking up photography or playing in a local band — I’m here to tell you from experience that you don’t have to fill every free hour with work.
You don’t have to chain yourself to your desk to cultivate a side project. You can do it while keeping up a decent work-life balance and maintaining your sanity. Here are four ways how:
1. Stop waiting for inspiration.
— W. Somerset Maugham
Too many wannabe artists sit around, waiting for inspiration to strike. When it doesn’t, they call it quits for the day.
But, inspiration isn’t a property of the divine. It’s something you create for yourself. If you want to go dinner with a friend, you make concrete plans. You don’t say, “Let’s just meet when we feel inspired.”
If you actually want something to happen, you schedule it. Your creative projects are no different. Put non-negotiable time on your calendar every week for creative work, and then stick to it. I bet you’ll start finding inspiration, rather than waiting for it to find you.
2. Create separate time and space.
There is a time and place for work, and there's a time and place for creative projects. In the words of The Offspring, “You gotta keep 'em separated.”
When your calendar says “creative time,” don’t check work email or make a quick phone call. If you have an idea for a story at work, write it down in your notebook and come back to it during your creative time. When you try to mix the two, you’ll start feeling overwhelmed. That’s how you burn out.
3. Tackle one project at a time.
I’m interested in writing, reading, design, web development, playing games and so much more. But, I can’t do all of those things at once or develop all of those different skills at once. No one can.
Write down all the things you’d love to learn, and circle the top one. Forget about the others for now.
Start a project that will keep you accountable to your single goal, and that will force you to keep practicing. After six months, decide whether or not to keep pursuing that goal. Then, you can choose a new one from your list.
4. Don’t put pressure on the work.
If you’re not looking to be the next Zuckerberg, what does it help to stress out about your creative work? Your passion projects are supposed to be fun. They're an escape from everyday life, where you can learn about something you love and try out new things.
When you start worrying about whether it’s a million-dollar idea or how many likes you’re getting, your creative outlet turns into stressful work, the exact thing you were trying to avoid in the first place.
Too many people talk themselves out of creative projects before they even begin. They worry they won’t have enough time. They’re already busy, and they don’t want to wake up at 5 am.
I don’t blame them. Life’s hard enough.
A side project shouldn’t cost you your sanity. Instead, start figuring out where you can make easy sacrifices (a third hour of Netflix, sleeping until noon on Saturday), and put structure around that time. The simple structure I’ve outlined here is more than enough.
Each little bit adds up. Before you know it, you’ll have created something amazing.