The reality of the modern creative economy is that it’s harder and harder to be a ‘full-time’ creative, and to make a living exclusively from whatever happens to be your chosen craft. A perfect storm of factors (including but not limited to: an increase in the cost of living, the arrival of the Internet, and a general devaluation of creative work) means that at least initially, you’ll likely have to balance pursuing your creative passions – the work that fulfils you and feels like the reason you get out of bed in the morning – with the work that actually pays the bills.
Whilst that might seem far from ideal, having to fit your creative work around your 9 - 5 doesn’t have to be a bad thing: for starters, it’ll force you to be far more efficient than if you had the perceived holy grail of 24/7 free time to dedicate to your craft. I can tell you from experience that having to balance a side project with a 9 - 5 makes you far more ruthless with your time and quicker with your decisions, both of which are invaluable skills to cultivate. Plus, there's the advantage of being able to experiment with different creative projects and goals whilst still having the safety net of a steady paycheck to keep you afloat. Having the breathing room to test the waters without jumping headfirst into self-employment, or putting pressure on your creative work to pay the bills straight away can be invaluable for the quality of your output.
Whether your goal is finding more time for creativity around your day job just for fun, or you’re trying to pivot your career to a point where your side hustle is your day job – here’s some useful guidance on how to balance the two.
DON’T SLACK OFF
Resist the urge to put in time on your personal projects whilst you’re on someone else’s clock. If every time your boss walks past your desk, you’re on the landing page of myhotidea.com, that’s not a good look (and no matter how discreet you think you’re being, your colleagues will notice). At best, it’s unprofessional – at worst you’re leaving yourself open to disciplinary action, or worse. Remember too that most contracts (particularly within the creative industries) tend to include a clause whereby anything created on work premises, or using work resources is by law the property of your employer. Your day job is presumably the part of your working life that pays the bills, so don’t do anything to jeopardise that.
GO PART TIME
Try to find out whether there’s scope for you to scale back to a 3 or 4 day week. That extra day or two could be the boost you need to make genuine headway on your personal projects, as you’ll spend less time ‘getting into the swing of things’ and picking up on where you left off. Of course, depending on your current salary and financial situation, the pay cut involved may or may not be feasible – but if you do go down this route, make sure the arrangement is mutually beneficial. That means (gently) enforcing the boundaries of your ‘off’ days with full-time colleagues, who might take a while to get used to your new routine. You don’t want to take a pay cut only to end up doing pretty much the same amount of work, but for less pay.
FIND A BUDDY
Ask around – are any of your creative friends also working on side projects? Finding a like-minded person to bounce ideas off or go to talks with (even if you’re not working together directly) can be hugely motivating.
SET SOME TARGETS
These could be anything from landing a new freelance client to getting your personal website up and running. Having some concrete goals and deadlines to aim towards will help give you a sense of direction, and keep you on track.
Instead of returning home from a long day at the office to spend your evenings working, why not try clocking in a few hours before you go to work, whilst your brain is still fresh? Something that really worked for me in the run up to the launch of Women Who (when I also happened to be working a full-time freelance contract) was waking up early a couple of mornings a week, so I could squeeze in a few hours of work before heading to, um, work. To say that I’m not a morning person would be an understatement, so that definitely wasn’t easy at first – but realising how much I could accomplish before I’d even done my morning commute meant that the potential of those early starts quickly became pretty addictive. Plus, flipping my schedule also meant I still had my evenings free to wind down or see friends (as long as I was home by a reasonable hour), so I rarely felt as though I was sacrificing my personal life for work.
Don’t subject yourself to unnecessary pressure by setting overly ambitious goals – vowing to dedicate every single one of your evenings and weekends to your side project straight off the bat is pretty unrealistic, and commitments like that are only going to set you up for disappointment. Instead start small – aim to put in an hour or two a week, and gradually build up to a level that’s sustainable alongside all the other demands in your personal and professional life.
SCHEDULE IT IN
No matter when you decide to make extra time for your side hustle, schedule the time into your diary as you would any other meeting, and treat it with the same level of seriousness. Uphold the commitment as though it were an arrangement with a friend, or a meeting with your boss. Don’t schedule over it, don’t re-arrange it. Just do it.