If you’re working remotely, chances are you love your job. More than that, chances are you’re doing the very thing you set out to do. It’s a great life, but for many of us, there was something that got set aside along the way. Often, it’s the very thing that got us into our chosen fields. It also might have been the very thing that caused us to pursue remote work....
I’m talking about the passion project, that thing you always wanted to write, or design, or build. If you’re an architect, maybe there’s a dream home you want to design. If you’re a graphic designer, maybe you want to pick up those old paint brushes from art class. Maybe you’re a developer with plans to build that game or app.
If it’s a passion project, then it probably doesn’t pay (or else it would be your day job). And there’s a reason that these passions often exist under the alias of “side projects.” It’s harder—even if you have a seemingly ideal remote schedule—to steadily chip away at that those projects.
Things get in the way. Guilt. Priorities. The things that actually pay us money. Sometimes the freedom to work on our own time ends up taking all our time. And energy.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, not only can you keep after that project, but you should.
Here’s why (and how):
1) You’re More Than One Thing (And That’s Good)
I started my career in newspapers. I liked the job. I became a news man. I liked the identity that came with it. But I also lost part of my identity. I didn’t just want to report the news, I wanted to write other, more creative things.
See, many newspaper reporters turn up their noses at creative writing. Suddenly I had an identity crisis. How could I be this thing, and yet this other thing?
As is all too common, I let only one aspect of my life define me for a long time. That was a mistake.
“It turns out that we exit the [work] persona and find our true ID in the world of play,” writes Joe Robinson, author of Don’t Miss Your Life. “Studies have shown that we are more authentic when we’re at leisure than when we’re on the job.”
It’s hard to take that “play time” sometimes, because, well, we’re not working? But by embracing the other side of ourselves (that side that doesn’t make any money) we can actually by increasing our productivity at our day job.
“(F)ew ambitious achievers understand one of the biggest secrets of productivity--the refuelling principal,” Robinson writes in another article. “It comes down to this: You get more done quicker when you step back and recharge the brain and body.”
2) If it Makes You Happy, Make the Time
We say we don’t have time. It feels true. But what stops us usually has less to do with time and more to do with priorities. Your passion should be a priority. It deserves your time—even if it’s just a little.
A friend of mine is obsessed with timers. He picks a task (work, passion project, small mental health breaks) and he sets that timer. For that amount of time, he’s locked into that one thing. It’s restricting, and also freeing.
That’s just one way. As Real Simple writer Elizabeth Fenner points out, there are all kinds of ways to carve out some time.
And if you want to feel less alone, check out some of Fenner’s readers’ time diaries. When you’ve read a few and are no longer able to convince yourself that you’re busier than everyone else, consider keeping a time diary yourself. Be honest. Then take a long, hard look at how you’re spending your time. Are there things that can be cut, or cut down? Things you could delegate? Things that could be rescheduled? Is it possible, even, after a long hard look, to actually make your work schedule less complicated and more productive...meaning there might be time for the project, too?
The answer, usually, is yes.
3) ...But Not Too Much Time
On the flipside, we sometimes have to be careful. If we’re new to remote work, we realize that with the freedom of remote work we can do whatever we want! And so we do…until we realize that’s not really true. Deadlines are still deadlines. Bills still need to be paid.
Multitasking can be tough--and potentially dangerous to your work. Especially if you’re a creative type, that passion project probably isn’t something you can just bang away at here and there throughout the day. To do it well, we usually need (or at least want) longer, focused, stretches of time.
How to find them, without letting it overshadow our work?
There are ways. Check out our post on the Pomodoro technique, for example, a method for training yourself to focus on smaller, individual tasks for set periods of time.
If that doesn’t work for you (but seriously, give it a try) there are lots of options of how to manage our time.
4) Believe Your Project Is Worthy
“But,” you might be saying, “is it really worth the effort? It’s not like the passion project has a real shot of becoming the day job.”
The good news is, many of us feel this way. Don’t believe me? Check out one of my favorite books, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, in which he talks about the enemy of all passion projects: resistance. Resistance comes in many forms—work that should be done, laundry, naps. You name it. We can find all kinds of reasons to avoid what we love or doubt ourselves.
But we shouldn’t.
Nathan Bransford, former literary agent turned author, explores this self-deprecating state of mind in “How do You Deal With the Am-I-Crazies?”:
“You could be spending your hours writing the great American novel or you could be writing something that will only be read by your critique partners. No way of knowing. That’s when you stare at the ceiling and wonder, ‘Am I crazy for spending so much time doing this?’” he writes.
You’re not crazy. It’s worth it because it’s worth it. When I point out to my writing students that some of the most famous writers have day jobs, they look dejected until I point out they shouldn’t: If the passion doesn’t make it feel worth your time, it’s unlikely that money will, either. It will be just another day job. Then I remind them of what I’ve already said here: It’s okay to be more than just one thing.
Besides, if you’re really hung up on how your passion project fits into your career…
5) It Might Just Help Your Career
There are lots of ways your passion project might fit into your career, even if it’s not obvious.
For one, when you’re passionate about something, you’re simply a more interesting person. I interview people for a living, and people are never more interesting than when they open up about the thing they love.
I write a lot about Flint, Michigan in my fiction and journalism. I brought this up once in a job interview. The job had nothing to do with journalism and nothing to do with Flint, but my potential future boss was intrigued. We talked about it, and my passion came through. It had nothing to do with the job, but it also had everything to do with the job.
You also might have colleagues—or bosses—with similar interests. I did my research before that same interview and found out he was a martial arts nut, just like me. In fact, we trained the exact same kind of martial arts. Did I bring it up in the interview? You bet. It broke the ice. We had something in common. We were talking comfortably.
Think about it. If you were an employer, and you were about to make the decision to hire someone, that means you’re not just giving a job, but that you’re inviting someone to play a role in your daily life. You want the best employee, sure, but you also want to hire someone you wouldn’t mind having around. Employers like applicants with interests and personalities.
And sometimes having specialty knowledge can help you. My passion for martial arts has led to two of my biggest articles I’ve ever published. My passion for writing fiction has also allowed me to write instructional articles about (you guessed it) writing, and led to a teaching job as well. I don’t get paid much (or sometimes at all) for the creative writing I put out there, but doing it led to more connections, more expertise, and more work.
Oh, and that interview? I got the job.