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Working Better: How to Take On a Passion Project When You Have a Job

The key to finally doing the thing you always said you wanted to do is committing to it (and committing to yourself) in very practical ways.

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Yeah, it would be awesome if you could quit your job and dedicate yourself full time to that online museum you’ve been talking about for years, but realistically, you tell yourself, you need a steady paycheck. True, but that’s not a good reason not to do something you absolutely love and believe in. Whether it’s writing a book, starting a web site, building a shed, or growing that herb garden, you take on a passion project because you want to, for your own enjoyment—and that’s why it’s the first thing to go when time feels tight. We’re wired to train our gaze on our obligations to others. The key to finally doing the thing you always said you wanted to do is committing to it (and committing to yourself) in very practical ways. Here’s how.

For starters, reset your clock. The internal one, we mean. To get more done in the day, you need to make better use of your time, and should start with your sleeping. Try getting up earlier; It takes about a week to feel normal on a new schedule. Use those quiet hours before work to pour yourself into that thing you love.

Be good at your job. If you take on a side project and start sucking at your job, then you’ll feel bad and stop working on your project or, worse, get fired. Don’t let this happen. The art here is juggling and fulfilling your obligation to your employer and to yourself. Treat both equally.

Remember that your side project isn’t a hobby. So when you’re working, work. Avoid checking email, IMing, Facebooking, and so forth during your carved-out work time. It will allow you to get more done in a short period of time, without distraction. (Same goes with your job-job, of course.)

Don’t expect to get paid. People moonlight for all kinds of reasons, but taking on your passion project with the expectation of making money in the short term could easily derail your progress when the checks don’t come. If you do it and the money comes later, you win—but don’t let that be your incentive.

Talk up your project. Chances are good that what you’re working on will be more interesting to your friends than whatever happened at the office on Tuesday. So tell them. Traditional benchmarks—money, success, approval—often don’t apply to personal projects, so the interest and encouragement of your nearest and dearest can help you stay on track.

Have at least a one-day weekend. Evenings and weekends, those sacred off hours, are goners when you take on a passion project. But if you don’t have time to refuel, you’ll burn out. Pick one day and three nights a week for some uninterrupted relaxation or fun.

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