Where do you find the time for side projects?

Ever since I published the revenue numbers for my side-projects, I’ve been getting this question a lot:

“YOU HAVE 4 KIDS AND A FULL-TIME JOB?! Where do you find the time for side-projects?”

When I answer, I’m tempted to make up something that sounds really impressive:

“Well, I stay up every night and hustle until my eyes bleed.”

But I don’t do that. I also don’t currently use a really complicated time management philosophy. There’s a few things that I’m doing right now that have been helpful for me. If you’re like me (a parent and/or someone who has a full-time job) they might be helpful for you too:

1. Where are you going?

One of the best things I did this past year was making a decision to launch my book “by the end of the summer”.

Setting a goal is so helpful; once you have a destination it really clarifies how you should be spending your time.

Your first step is to define what you want to achieve. I personally like 3 month projects – they’re smaller in scope, and easier to get going.

2. Jump aboard the inspiration train

If I get inspired, I try to start working on that idea right away. If I wait longer than a day, I lose the momentum.

This is especially helpful for cranking out an initial draft of your project. When you’re inspired, you have a lot of energy, you’re mentally alert, and you’re motivated. The first draft of many of my blog posts are written in fits of inspiration. I’ll blurt it all out as fast I can. Then, I’ll try to sit on it overnight, and come back and tweak it the next day.

“Inspiration is like fresh fruit or milk: It has an expiration date. If you want to do something, you’ve got to do it now. You can’t put it on a shelf and wait two months to get around to it. You can’t just say you’ll do it later. Later, you won’t be pumped up about it anymore.”
– Jason Fried and David Heinemeier-Hansson, Rework

3. What do I want to accomplish this week?

I don’t always keep this habit, but when I do, it’s really helpful. I use a Kanban board to write out a list of achievable tasks for the week. I put all those items in the “Backlog” column. Then, each day I pull up the list, choose one task (by moving it to the “Current” column), and work on it until it’s done.

Kanban board

Bonus: I’ve also found it helpful to have a shared Kanban board with other side-hustlers and JFDIers. I do this in Sprint.ly, but you can use Trello this way as well.

4. Ok, but where do you actually find the time?

I mentioned setting goals, using inspiration, and Kanban first because setting a good foundation is important. I’ve found having this foundation is more helpful than the actual logistics (which actually aren’t that exciting).

The short answer is: I work on side-projects whenever I have a spare moment. I sacrifice other things (watching TV, reading the newspaper, playing video games) so that I can do creative work.

“It takes sacrifice to make something great. In order to shift your mindset and experiment with ideas, you have to choose a new path. You have to change your paradigm from consumption to creation. ”
– Paul Jarvis, Everything I Know

I get most of my work done in the evenings, right after my kids go to bed, or early in the morning. My regular routine is to wake up early on Saturday and Sunday, and get 2-3 hours of work done before anyone wakes up.

I’ve also found it helpful to take my lunch hour (during the work week), head to a cafe and give myself 50 minutes to just write.

During these times, I eliminate distractions (Twitter, open tabs, notifications) and I focus on achieving just one thing.

Justin Jackson

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Published on January 17, 2014