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 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 complicated time management philosophy. There are a few things that I’m doing right now that have been helpful for me. If you’re like me (a parent or someone who has a full-time job) they might be useful for you too:

1. Where are you going?

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

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

Your first step is to define what you want to achieve. I like three-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.

The energy you get from inspiration 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. I write most of my blog post drafts 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 constructive. 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 I’ve completed it.

Kanban board

Bonus: You can use Trello for this.

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

I mentioned setting goals, using inspiration, and Kanban first because setting a good foundation is essential. I’ve found having this foundation is more helpful than the actual logistics (which 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

When I had a full-time job, I got most of my work done in the evenings, right after my kids go to bed, or early in the morning. On weekends, I’d get up early so I could work for 2-3 hours before anyone woke up.

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

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

Critiques from Hacker News

This article got quite a bit of attention on Hacker News. Here are some of the comments and questions I got there, and my responses.

I don’t know if I buy it completely. When you have a full-time job and four kids you don’t play video games, watch TV, etc… you just continuously do things. Either his kids are older, or he has someone else doing most of the parent work.

You’re right. With a large family, you’re always running around. When I wrote this, my kids were between the ages of 4-11. So we were out of the “diapers and potty training” stage, which helped a lot.

I would keep finding spaces of time where I could create: early mornings, late at night, or during my lunch hour.

Every weekday between 5:30pm-8:30pm is family time (dinner, chores, bedtime routine). After that, I would try to do some work if I had energy. On weekends, I’d wake up early and work on projects in the morning. The rest of the day is family activities.

I should mention that I get a lot of work done in “fits of inspiration.” If I can’t sleep, and it’s 1am I’ll work until 4am. (Spoiler: I’ve always struggled with insomnia).

None of this is perfect. I don’t have a perfect routine, and I definitely have that “hard life stuff” too.

I did not see you mention wife and kids activities anywhere in the article. Does your wife work? Who takes kids to their activities? How much family time do you spend per day? How does your typical day and weekend look like?

When I wrote this, my spouse was a full-time caregiver for our kids. However, we both split driving for kids and their activities.

When I was working full-time, my day looked like this: work from 9am – 5pm. Then, from 5:30pm – 8:30pm I was in dad-mode. I’d help make dinner, do chores, play with the kids, read them a story, and then put them to bed. On weekends, I would wake up early and work on personal projects. The rest of Saturdays is hanging out with family. Every Sunday we try to go skiing as a family.

Cheers,
Justin Jackson
@mijustin

Notes from Justin Jackson

Startup stories, lessons, and tips.
Sent on Saturday mornings.
(Read it while you drink your coffee)

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Published on January 17, 2014