Side projects are all the rage these days. With a side project, you can build a full-time business that can help you replace your day job. And if you look at the data, there are plenty of people who’d love to replace their jobs. According to a Gallup Survey,60% of people aren’t satisfied with their work.
There are tons of benefits to having a side project. It can help you add extra income to create more financial flexibility. You’ll have an added sense of purpose and meaning when you’re working on something you enjoy. You also get to make an impact on other people with whatever you create.
But the process isn’t easy.
Most people start their side projects with a bunch of optimism and motivation, only to find themselves sputtering out and ultimately giving up on their dream. Why? Taking on an additional project while continuing your daily schedule requires extra effort.
You likely already have a job, school, family and friends, errands to run, and a life to live. How are you going to find the time and have the energy to work on your project?
The short answer—you just have to find a way. Accomplishing any dream requires a level of seriousness most people never reach. That being said, there are strategies and insights that can make the process go a bit more smoothly.
Let’s take a look at how you can balance both your side project and your day-to-day life.
Use this technique for productivity and momentum on your project
When you’re working on a side project, you only have a limited amount of time to work on it. It’s called a side project because you already have a 9 to 5 job. That job can account for anywhere from 8-10 hours per day depending on your commute and the time it takes to get ready. You’re now left with 16 hours or so.
You have to sleep every day, which leaves you with about 8 hours. Subtract another couple of hours for spending time with family and friends, eating, and self-care practices like exercise, and you usually have a few hours, or maybe minutes, per day you can dedicate to working on your project.
If you’re not careful, you can let these hours slip by, ending up with days where you feel like you have no time to work on your project (even though you do).
You’d be surprised how much you can get done if you focus on making progress in seemingly small periods. This is where time-blocking comes in. You might know the concept of time blocking, but until you fully embrace it and make it a part of your life, you’ll continue to let time slip through your fingers, procrastinate, and move further away from making your side project successful.
It’s simple. Choose a dedicated block of time you’re going to work on your side project.
This block should have the following qualities:
Choose a time window where you have the energy to be productive. When I had a 9 to 5 job and a side project to work on, I chose to wake up early in the morning because I didn’t have much energy left after work.
Choose a length of time that pushes you to your edge a bit, but doesn’t overwhelm you. It’s better to have 5 consecutive days working for 30-60 minutes than to have one day where you try to commit to three hours of work but then burn out the rest of the week. Above all else, you want to create momentum.
Consider your environment as well. Ideally, you want to work in the same place at the same time, e.g., the office at your home or your favorite local coffee shop.
Now you have the dedicated time block that will help you be more productive and consistent, but what do you actually work on? The next section will show you how to decide.
Follow this rule while you work
Time management is a bit of a misnomer. You can’t manage time. Time moves whether or not you’d like it to move and there’s nothing you can do to change the nature of time itself. Instead, learn to manage your priorities.
It’s more important to choose the right actions instead of worrying about how much time you spend on each action. If you get the major tasks and decisions right, everything tends to fall into place long-term.
This is where the “one thing” rule comes in. In the book, The One Thing, by Gary Keller, there’s one sentence that provides the entire strategy you need to successfully manage your priorities:
What’s the ONE thing you can do that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?
When you’re working on your side project, you can use this rule to guide the tasks you do each day, week, month, and even years into the future.
You have a side project that you probably want to turn into a full-time business. Start with the end goal in mind and work backward to figure out what you need to do today to reach that long-term goal.
Maybe the one thing you need to do (far out into the future) is launch your product. Maybe this month you need to focus on creating your launch plan. This week, you might focus on a specific part of that launch plan like market research. Today, you can focus on one of the tasks needed to complete the market research, like reading reviews of products in your space.
It’s not a perfect science. Getting into the habit of prioritizing your tasks will help you make smarter decisions over time.
Change your relationship with “balance”
Speaking of priorities, you’re never going to be successful with a side project if you don’t make it a major priority in your life. For a time, to get the long-term results you want, you’re going to have to live an unbalanced life.
This goes against the idea of “work-life balance,” where you’re told it’s important to have perfect harmony between your work life and your personal life. You’ll have to sacrifice this perfect equilibrium if you hope to turn your side project into a full-time business.
And this will require giving up (at least temporarily) some of the things you enjoy, even some of the things you’ve attached your identity to over the years:
Dial back the fun
If you live for the weekends every single week, you’ll be living for the weekend your entire life. In the short term, saying yes to every leisure activity will give you a break from the work grind, but long term you’ll lower your odds of turning that side project dream into a reality. Does this mean you can have zero fun ever? No, but it does mean that you’ll have to cut back for a while to spend extra time on your project.
Replace entertainment and mindless distractions
The average American watchesfour hours of TV per day. That’s 1,460 hours per year. Over the average span of a 40-year working life, that’s 58,000 hours or nearly 7 years. Think you could build a successful project with 7 years of effort? Exactly. When you’re looking to level up in life, you have to switch certain distractions for productive activities. Time spent doing things like watching TV could be used for learning more about your industry, reading books, watching educational videos, listening to helpful podcasts, etc.
Other things are important, but they need to take a backseat
You always have important parts of your life that compete for your time—hobbies, organizations you belong to, and commitments to people who are important to you. Some of these obligations might feel like they’re a part of who you are. You don’t have to let them go permanently. None of these tips are about making yourself miserable just to succeed with a side project. Just remember the importance of priorities. Give up some of your short-term obligations for long-term success.
In short, your main source of income will be the number one priority. Your side project will be the second. Maintaining time with friends and family is important and you should do that, too. But aside from these three aspects of your life, everything else has to fall by the wayside for a while if you want to pull this off.
Use the right time horizon
So, what do I mean by “everything else has to fall by the wayside for a while”?
Well, if you want to turn your side project into a full-time business it’s going to take time. How much time? It depends on the project you choose and how well you execute, but expect to spend a few years of your life working on this project until it becomes a full-time reality.
Manysmartpeople say it takes roughly five years to accomplish a major goal, turn a side project into a full-time business, and completely transform your life. It took me roughly four and a half years to make a full-time living writing.
I’m 31 years old. I “sacrificed” a few years in my 20s and I now have the rest of my life to do something I love. Seems like a worthwhile trade, doesn’t it? Read the bookThe Millionaire Fastlane by M.J. Demarco. It gives a bunch of pragmatic advice for making your first million in business.
The length of the fastlane? Five to 10 years.
Compare a few years of putting your head down to build not only a business but wealth that can carry you through life, versus multiple decades of working at a job that isn’t your true dream. In the grand scheme of things, a few years isn’t all that much time. Also, understand that your skills and knowledge of your field will grow exponentially over time.
Think of your life likean investment that earns compound interest. At first, the gains are small. But in the long run, you earn much more for the same level of effort. In my first few years of writing, I didn’t have many fans. Now? I have millions of readers each year, even though I don’t spend that much more time on my writing than I did years back.
Remember, the beginning is the most difficult part. It’s not always going to be this hard. Most people give up on their projects almost immediately because they don’t want to go through the period where their ‘investment’ isn’t earning that much. If they understood how this compounding process worked, they’d see things through.
You have to see things through. Think of the time you’ve spent up until now. You went through decades in the school system. Did it help you reach your goals? If not, why wouldn’t you be willing to spend a few years on something that has the potential to change your entire life?
Time puts luck on your side. Time helps you stand out over your competition, most of whom will end up quitting. Once you add the element of time, pretty much anything is possible.
The attitude you need to make it to the finish line
I recommend two books for anyone who has dreams of becoming a full-time creative or business owner—The War of Art and Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield.
The ethos of both books is simple: you have to treat your projects just as seriously as your real work to be successful. You can’t look at your side project as ‘just a hobby.’ You can’t treat it like a hobby. When you treat it like a hobby, you give yourself room to create excuses and avoid doing the work.
Think about your day job. Do you have to decide whether or not you’re going to work every day? Nope, you show up because you have to. There’s no choice involved. Until your project becomes something you must do instead of something you kind of want to do, you’ll never be successful.
Instead of being an amateur, you have to turn pro.
The sign of the amateur is overglorification of and preoccupation with the mystery. The professional shuts up. She doesn’t talk about it. She does her work.
Most aspiring creatives or business owners have this esoteric and fluffy idea of what success looks like. They like to dream more than they like to work. When you work on your side project, you don’t have a hobby on top of your job. You have two jobs. Rather, you have a job and a calling—a calling you have to work on like a mad man or woman to get the work done.
Remember, you already have the energy and strength required:
We’re all pros already. 1) We show up every day 2) We show up no matter what 3) We stay on the job all day 4) We are committed over the long haul 5) The stakes for us are high and real 6) We accept remuneration for our labor 7) We do not overidentify with our jobs 8 ) We master the technique of our jobs 9) We have a sense of humor about our jobs 10) We receive praise or blame in the real world
Reading articles about becoming a full-time creative or entrepreneur won’t make you become either one. Only the work will. I’ve been in that place before. Thinking, dreaming, researching. My life didn’t change and my dreams didn’t come to fruition until I started doing.
There’s no substitute for the work. Do it. There’s no magical way of thinking that will reduce your self-doubts and quell your anxieties. Only the work can do that. So, create your time blocks, make your priorities, live an unbalanced life for a while. Do the work and one day you’ll look up to see your little side project turn into a real empire.