There’s a common expectation that you should give time and attention to everything else but yourself. That you are a better person through self sacrifice. God, community, family—all of these things should come before yourself (or, in this case, your projects).
I say: not so fast.
Time is a commodity we all trade in, giving it away for various reasons. Some of these reasons are quite valid—most of us need to work to live, we have families that are important to us, or we engage in social or community activities for the betterment of the world around us. But we need to take care when getting involved with outside projects (commitments, activities, etc.)—will they become significant time sinks?
You don’t get this time back. What you use is gone. It is the most valuable currency you hold, and you have no option but to spend it—it can’t be saved.
Of course you can time manage—in a way it’s a form of savings, but it would be hypocritical of me to talk in depth about this subject. Time management is not really my forte. In reality I’m a time thief—I steal my time from other activities (as I write this my lunch is getting cold). Rarely do I watch TV without my laptop or iPad out (do you really need your full attention to watch The Voice? It’s not as if I’m watching So You Think You Can Dance). This practice can be productive even if inefficient.
However, your real gains will come from self discipline and self respect.
Self discipline comes in the form of knowing your priorities and sticking to them. Avoid activities that do not achieve your goals—browsing Facebook, playing World of Warcraft—when you have more important tasks at hand. This is doubly important when you are trying to work on a personal project—blow off your employer’s time if you must, but not your own. Find the best times to do the things you want to do and make sure you don’t do anything else during that time. If this is writing (or other repetitive tasks), do this regularly. Make it a habit. And make sure this time is priority time for you—schedule other activities around this. If you often have conflicts, find a different time slot. It takes discipline to make this work.
It also takes self respect. Certainly you need to respect yourself and your time, believing in your abilities enough to make these kinds of priorities. But respect also comes into play when deciding which outside projects to take on. How do you value your time? Will this other project benefit you—financially, experience-wise, exposure-wise—more so than your own work? Are you sacrificing time from your own creative efforts by taking on something else?
To me, this last one is the biggest consideration.
I do take on outside projects—when they are something I believe in. My involvement here at BookLife Now is essentially an outside project, or at least not within my primary creative efforts. Same goes for a Kickstarter project I’m involved with (I volunteered my professional skills). There’s little to no financial gains here. And the exposure gains are minimal (don’t buy into doing work for exposure—your best exposure will come from working on your own projects, and building your own brand). I do these things because I believe in them, I feel I have something to bring to the table, and I appreciate the sense of accomplishment they give when they succeed. But I try my best to ensure that what I take on doesn’t eat too much of my own time. Giving up TV? Fine. Giving up gaming? Sure. Giving up writing time? Not if I can help it.
Be smart, be selective, respect your own creative efforts and time—and maybe even try out that time management thing. But remember that your time is your own—spend it wisely. You can’t save it up, but maybe you can steal a bit from yourself.