How do I make time for personal projects?


Dear Ranjani,

I just finished my August review, and had a question that I often struggle with. How do you balance your time/effort between clients that pay vs personal projects that may or may not bring in the money (as in, has scope, but unpredictable as of now). There‘s some stuff I want to do to set up side/passive income, it keeps getting pushed to the backburner because, money, clients, urgent stuff, etc.


Dear S,

This is tricky for many of us, S. It’s easier to prioritize work that pays, because you are answerable to a client, you set deadlines and you have bills to pay. But personal projects can always feel like a dream you’ll achieve when you find time. And that time never comes.

So, when an idea for a personal project comes to me, here’s what I do:

Identify what about my personal project motivates me to want to do them in the first place.

If the project is writing a novel for instance, am I inspired enough to write it? Am I wanting to do it because it seems like what everyone else is doing, or am I inspired so much by my idea to actually move my ass for it?

Things that make me move my ass: Money, popularity, compliments (I’m not sorry that I’m a bit vain like that!)

Ask whether the “why” is motivating enough not just in the present but also in the long run.

This depends on whether your personal project is short-term or long-term. Are your reasons affecting your mindset right now (because of where you are in your life now) or will they matter to you a few months or years down the line as well? For instance, The Whole Works started off as a personal project, which I knew will produce returns only in the long-term.

Based on whether I want to do it for a short-time, like writing a book in 6 months, or be invested in the long-term, like build a successful business in 10 years, I plan how much time and energy I set aside for it.

Plan the project in a way that works for me.

If you know me, you know that I do a lot of self-work. I understand myself, I know my behaviours and patterns, and I plan my life in a manner that suit my needs and idiosyncrasies.

Let me give you a personal example.

The work that pays is the writing I do at emdash. My personal projects are the film reviews and essays I write for various publications. It’s not that publications don’t pay; it’s just that they don’t pay enough for me to make a living off it. My personal projects are done more for joy.

Now, joy doesn’t pay bills. I used to find myself procrastinating on pitching and writing film reviews, while I continued unaffected working on emdash projects. I had to find one thing that keeps me going. Wwith some therapy, I realised it was my need to keep my word.

So now, when I have a concrete idea, I send out a pitch to my editor. And commit to a date for filing it. When I know someone who respects me is expecting my article, I know I won’t procrastinate. Et voila!

Now, this might not work for you or even make you more anxious. I’m not recommending you do exactly this. I’m recommending you find what works for you. Some possibilities are:

Block away time during the week for things you need/want to do.

For example, I made Fridays my film review day — no client meetings or emdash work until the review is filed. You can make this Sunday mornings, Monday afternoons, whatever works for you. This also means that you’d have to be disciplined enough to say no to anything that comes up during that time.

Get a partner on your personal projects.

We can’t achieve everything on our own. Find someone who can collaborate with you.

Break your project in tiny tasks that build up over time.

If your project is to write a novel, say. Break it into characters, scenes, plot points etc. and write one small thing at a time. You can’t finish a novel in six months, if you don’t build it sentence by sentence everyday.

Delegate what can be delegated.

If your ‘personal project’ is an actual business you want to build, you can’t be neck-deep in your ‘paying work’. For instance, growing The Whole Works needed me to build a team at emdash. This might feel like an expense at the beginning, but it’s an investment in possibilities. Start putting aside money to hire.

Oh, and speak to a coach / mentor.

You’re not alone in this. There have been many before you who’ve successfully managed multiple projects. Ask them to coach you.

Allow me to say, S, that you’re already fantastic for having ideas in the first place. It’s people like you who change the world (in whatever small ways you do). Remember to keep your ideas alive. And always aspire to work on them. You might not be able to make time immediately, and that’s fine. Its time will come.

Let me know when you launch that project, all right?