Sign in Sign up
making time for side projects Polywork

How to make time for your side projects

When you’re attempting to balance multiple work and life obligations all at once, finding the time to sit down and work on your side projects can feel impossible. Yet, creative projects are important — in fact, having a creative outlet outside your 9–5 has been shown to improve your performance at work and your mental health.

These efforts shouldn’t take a backseat to everyday life. Therefore, we’ve assembled six practical tips for carving out time in your busy schedule to make sure your side project receives the attention it deserves.

6 ways to carve out side project time

1. Put your side project on the schedule

Creative projects are meant to be fun, so they shouldn’t be treated like a full-time job. You’re not necessarily doing it for the money (although you eventually could). You don’t always have to meet a deadline. Most of the time, others will not be let down if you don’t complete a task. But in order to get the most out of a project, you do need to be intentional about the time you give it. The I’ll-get-to-it-if-I-can mentality will most often lead to it getting pushed to tomorrow’s to-do list in perpetuity.

Put your side project work on your calendar, and don’t schedule anything else during that time. Maybe that means waking up an hour earlier and getting a start on it before your 9–5 begins, working on a Saturday morning, or hacking away on it during a lunch break. When you make it a pre-scheduled part of your day, the work will feel as important as all the other tasks you have on the docket.

2. Allocating just a little time to your project can make a big difference

You don’t have to earmark hours at a time for your side project. Working in short spurts can actually be just as productive—if not more so. Short-burst productivity is the idea that workers accomplish more when they work uninterrupted for a relatively short, predetermined amount of time and then take a break, as opposed to attempting long stretches on end.

Source: Todoist

The Pomodoro Technique, developed in the 1980s, recommends working in 25-minute bursts. Other studies suggest closer to an hour. Find a time span that works for your energy and your schedule. Even if you only do one or two of these bursts at a time, you’ve made uninterrupted, thoughtful progress on your project.

3. Minimize distractions

Speaking of interruptions: While phones can be a helpful tool for some tasks, studies have shown that digital workers are distracted by a notification of some sort roughly every six minutes, and a 2020 survey found that employees can spend around two and a half hours total on their phone during the average work day. That’s one thing when you’re working a 40 hour-plus work week, but another beast entirely if you’re subtracting that from the precious time set aside for your passion project.

How do you break the cycle? Try putting your phone in another room (you need to charge it anyway, right?). Set a timer on your computer and allow yourself to check your messages only every now and again. Giving yourself short phone breaks—while not letting every ding, ring, and notification draw you away from the task at hand—can actually increase your productivity.

4. Understand that something will have to go

Since time is a limited resource, concessions have to be made when adding side project work to your schedule. The good news: you get to choose what you drop.

Pick something that isn’t serving you. Maybe it’s that hour of unproductive social media scrolling. Maybe it’s one of your nightly television blocks. Maybe it’s having the podcast you listen to on the train every morning in the background instead of the foreground while you get a few more minutes of work in.

The benefits are wide-ranging as well: being creative with your downtime can not only help you make more time for your side project, but can also alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

5. Keep tabs on your bandwidth

Along with time, your energy, enthusiasm, and interests are also limited. Look at your schedule and your workload realistically, and decide which projects you have time to start—and know which projects you should abandon. Spending time on something you’re not fully committed to will drain your battery and leave you less productive and less motivated to tackle the things you really care about.

6. Don’t forget to rest

Spending more time on a project does not always mean being more productive. In fact, studies have shown that often, the opposite is true: when a worker is fatigued, they are more likely to spend more time on a task than when they’re well-rested, and gain less from the experience in the process.

Rest is important, so be sure to schedule some into your day—even if it means spending less time working on your side project. The only pressure in a creative endeavor is the pressure you put on yourself. If you’ve had a long day or are just not feeling up for it, pushing yourself to work is only going to make things worse. Watch a movie. Go for a walk. Get in bed early. You can’t be productive all the time—and that’s okay!

Ready to start? Don’t forget to be your own (lenient) boss

When working on your side projects, you make the calls. Decide what energy and time you want to give to each task, and then give it. Treat yourself like your own employee: set the standards high, but go easy on yourself. Most creative projects don’t need a deadline. You can institute a soft timeline with tentative goals and objectives to help you stay motivated, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet them. It’s all about getting the most out of the time you have.