How To “Steal” Time For Creative Side Projects…
Even If You’re Raising Kids And Working A Full-Time Job
Raising kids and obsessing over productivity often seems like contradictory endeavors. Kids are always the first priority, and they eat up much of your free time. Every so often, you get a reprieve. The past few days our kids have been with their grandparents.
What do we do with all this free time? The answer shouldn’t come as a surprise; you can accomplish a lot. You can put down a new rug in your living room, have sex, go out for dinner and be home by 8:37 PM — enough time to watch something on Netflix.
This mini-vacation will come to an end, and we’ll shuffle back to our strategies for sneaking in time to get shit done. Working on creative side projects is especially challenging when you’re raising kids and working a full-time job. An extra five or ten minutes doesn’t cut it. You need a block of uninterrupted time.
In the past twelve months, I’ve completed a 129,000-word manuscript and published over two-hundred blog posts on Medium. These are the three strategies that helped me accomplish those goals.
Routine. Routine. Routine.
I wrote Routine three times because it’s so important. Our kids wake up early, usually around 7 AM. I don’t sleep with an alarm clock, but I always awake by 6 AM. On days I don’t work from home, I work on my personal writing projects until 6:45 AM. I spend another fifteen minutes getting ready for work.
I do better quality work in the morning, so I adjust my routine to fit my strengths. I shower before bed instead of the morning before work. Gross? Maybe. But this schedule allows me to maximize my productive hours.
I always make sure I carve out at least thirty minutes for lunch. I block an hour in my calendar. Yes, there are exceptions. An executive might schedule a meeting during my scheduled lunch break, and so I have to adjust my schedule or shorten my lunch hour. I pack my small Chromebook and take it to work. I eat in a Wifi enabled area and sneak in a half hour of writing time.
From 7:30 PM — 8:00 PM, my wife reads to the kids. I use this time for editing. My creative juice is usually zapped later in the day, so I don’t create anything new. At 8:00 PM it’s my turn to sit with the kids. By 8:30 PM, they’re ready to fall asleep.
The next hour is our private time. By 9:30, we start winding down for bed. I may do some administrative stuff but nothing creative. By 10:15, I’m showered and in bed. I spend fifteen minutes journaling and maybe another ten light reading.
This routine might sound robotic. If you enjoy what you do in your free time, it’s not. And since a lack of free time is the norm, I value the little I have. A routine enables me to exploit my most productive hours. It eliminates excessive decision making. I don’t need to think about what I should do next. It’s automatic. Decision making involves evaluation. That takes up valuable time.
Eliminating, or at least reducing, the number of decisions each day allows you to focus your time and energy on more useful tasks.
I work from home twice per week. This saves me an hour and a half of commuting time two days per week. Your job might not afford you this luxury, but you should take advantage of it if you have the opportunity.
Not only do I recover three hours of commuting time each week, but I also gain an extra hour a day of time to myself. When I’m at the office, people interrupt me all day long with mindless chit-chat and other bullshit that wastes my time. At home, I finish my responsibilities by 4 PM and use the next ninety minutes to work on my personal projects.
Between the efficient use of time and recovery of commuting time, I gain an extra six hours per week of time for my creative projects.
Cut Out The Crap
You’ve heard this before. You’re probably tired of hearing it. Television. Browsing the internet. Watching the news. Arguing with pit vipers on Twitter. These activities are rarely productive. It almost never improves your life. Nor do these activities move you closer to achieving your goals — unless your goal is to win a Twitter argument.
I’m not suggesting you cut out all forms of entertainment. I watch a few hours of television each week. I spend about fifteen minutes a day on Twitter — usually when I’m on the go. I never browse the web or social media during creative time.
Do you have trouble focusing on short notice? Does it take you a long time to get in the zone? Try the app Brain.fm. I find the meditative sounds helpful. I do not receive compensation for recommending it.
With that right routine, maximizing your free time and reducing mindless screentime you can start and finish your share of creative projects, even with a full-time job and kids.