How to Find Time for Your Side Projects

It’s not just about time management

Image by Burst on

Most creatives have at least one side project they’re working on — a poetry collection perhaps, a giant tapestry, or an intricate painting. Maybe a book, an ebook, or a short film. If you’re reading this, chances are you have one.

Perhaps you were so pumped about it at first. Then life got in the way. Regular overtime at work. House repairs. Taxes. Business issues. Family emergencies. Freelance projects. All kinds of interruptions and delays. And each day, once you finished all your tasks, you had no time or energy left for your beloved project.

So now your hair turns gray, and you wistfully say (in a soft shaky voice as your hand vibrates while you lift a finger to your temple), “what was that thing I started creating long ago?”

One type of project I often had trouble finding time is typeface design, because typefaces can take a really long time to complete.

A typeface can take from 7 days to 7 years to design, depending on complexity.

So how do we find the time to do things we love?

I’ve learned that there are three things crucial to completing a side project:

  1. Ability to manage your time
  2. How badly you want to complete it
  3. Ability to focus

Let’s skim through some popular time management techniques, then I’ll share what helped me get committed and focused on type design work.

Time Management Approaches

1. Decluttering

Clutter can become a hurdle if we’re not careful. They steal time and keep us from reaching our goals and completing meaningful projects.

It’s surprising how much in our lives is unnecessary. For example:

  • Social media accounts you don’t need
  • Credit cards you don’t need
  • Boxes of old stuff (mental clutter)
  • Obligatory meetings

Think of them as bags that you carry with you wherever you go. If you let go of them, you can move with more ease and freedom.

Removing unnecessary things in our lives does wonders.

2. Prioritizing

Prioritizing involves planning your calendar with a hierarchy — distinguishing clearly what’s important and what’s not. And managing the urgent tasks so they don’t take over your whole day.

You may be familiar with the Eisenhower matrix, popularized by Stephen Covey:

If you want something done, you need to assign importance to it.

But it’s often not that simple. We’re caught in a hamster wheel of the pursuit of a balanced life:

Do you ever feel like you need to choose only 3 of these?

Oftentimes it is only possible to achieve 3 of the above in a day.

Prioritizing is the key, and spreading activities across the week, not pushing yourself to do everything every day.

3. Creative Techniques

Use what you know about yourself and get creative with your self-motivational techniques.

If your energy is highest in the morning, block out out some morning time to work on your project.

Or set up all your gear or working materials the night before and put them next to your bed so once you wake up, you find yourself stimulated to get started.

Binge-watch tutorial videos related to your project.

Make it fun and set up reward systems. For example, prepare some amazing looking food that you only get to eat after you accomplish your planned project task for the day.

Time management skills alone are not enough. And it does take time, practice, and discipline to find your groove and show up consistently.

Despite how busy you get, there is always time for what you love.

Seal the deal

So here’s what you need to do to seal the deal.

1. Decide that you want it

One of our biggest stumbling blocks in getting some things done is we’re not sure we want to in the first place. Count the cost: know the time and resources you need and ask yourself if you still want to do it.

Am I really committed to finishing this short film? Is it worth my time?

Even in my busiest days as a full-time employee (when I was one), I still found time after work and on weekends to learn and practice type design and lettering, and produce self-funded print projects.

2. Decide you will stick with it in the long run

Committing to something long-term changes your whole demeanor about it. Deciding that I wanted to do type design and pursue similar projects for at least the next decade switched my mindset from scarcity of time to abundance of time.

I feel less time pressure and more confident that I will finish things.

Long-term commitment can change your perspective from “time is against me” to “time is on my side”.

3. Divide projects into phases and chunks

Planning your project tasks becomes so much easier when #1 and #2 are achieved. So once that was settled for me, I made sure I spent at least 20 minutes every day on my type projects — even just tiny tasks — to keep my momentum going.

But at least once a week, I dedicate a big chunk of time to it, to make sure I can get into deep work and get a substantial amount of work done.

One of my inspirations is Erik Marinovich, Jessica Hische’s studio partner at Title Case. He is now a full-time letterer, but before he got to do that, he had a day job unrelated to lettering. So every evening at 6PM as the work day ended, he would joyfully proclaim, “Lettering time!” and then spend the whole night doing his lettering work.

There are few things that you can dedicate time to on a daily basis. And a project or pursuit that’s important to you should be one of them.

4. Declutter constantly

Decluttering is not a one-time, spring-cleaning-only thing. Everyday I’m making decisions about what not to do; what to cut out of my schedule, to make room for the important.

Decluttering is about knowing what’s important and what is clutter. It keeps stuff from overcrowding your life or eating up brain space.

Letting go of things frees up energy and space in your life and in your mind and gives you a refreshed ability to focus.

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” — Steve Jobs

Here’s a quote I read years ago from The Rule of Four, that has always inspired me when trying to finish long projects:

So, just remember these three things:

1. Manage time well

2. Commit to it — want it baaaad

3. Focus

There you go. Now make it happen!

Writer • Communication Designer • Type Explorer |

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