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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

6 Ways to Take on a Side Project That Doesn't Take Over Your Life

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Starting a new side project always seems like a good idea. So you buy the materials, or you register the domain name, or you tell your friends and family that you’re booked every Sunday from now until eternity for practice sessions. And then, just a few weeks in, you start to resent the project you were once so passionate about. It’s taking up your time and it’s taking up your money, and you dismiss it as a stupid idea.

But, that’s where you’re wrong. Taking on a new project can—and should—be a productive and rewarding experience—if you do it right. Yes, your days are packed, your to-do list is full, and you might not think that you can accomplish another project without sacrificing what matters to you. And yet, successful people do it every day.

As Albert Einstein once said, “the only source of knowledge is experience.” If you’re toying with the idea of starting a new project (again), get a head start, skip the learning curve, and consider this advice from those who’ve already done it successfully.

1. Decide What You Want to Get Out of the Project

As an event planner and interior designer, Jonathan Fong has a schedule that’s full enough, without adding his book deals and frequent home decor crafts to the line-up. Every time he decides to take on a new side project, he starts with a simple question: What will I get out of this? Your motivators can be anything, from a helpful step toward your dream job to a feeling of self-accomplishment. As long as you have an achievable goal in mind before you begin, you’re going to wind up feeling successful.

2. Make a Thorough Plan and Timeline Before Getting Started

When Susan Purdy decided to take a month off from her full-time job of parenting and lifestyle blogging to completely makeover her outdoor space, she knew it would be a challenge. What she discovered was that success in a side project depends on how well you plan. “I knew I had several items that I needed to spray paint for this project, so I set aside time to complete all the spray painting tasks at once,” she explains.

Coming up with a concrete plan before you begin to develop your project will keep you from wasting time, and it will ensure that things like personal breaks, family time, and even work hours don’t accidently get gobbled up.

3. Don’t Rush Your Success

Starting a project can be a slow process, as Brooke Riley quickly discovered when she decided to remodel her living room in between parenting and working full-time as a rural electric cooperative. “So many people see a big project and are overwhelmed by the magnitude that they hurry to get it done,” she says, adding that they often sacrifice the quality as a result. If you’re taking on a new project, be generous with the time you give yourself to complete it or get it off the ground. Rushing success is a sure way to eat up personal time, so keep a foot lightly touching the brakes, to slow yourself down without stopping completely.

4. Prioritize Your Time

“A really important part of taking on something big is knowing that it will have to take the place of something else in your life,” says Kristi Mercer, a mother and teacher who, together with her husband, finds extra hours to spend improving their charming fixer-upper. Because a new project will have to fit in somewhere, the key is figuring out which activities are less important and can be allotted less time in your schedule. By prioritizing your daily activities, you can split up your hours so that you don’t have to let anything go completely.

5. Commit to Just One Side Project at a Time

“Before you take on something new,” says Serena Appiah, who balances a full-time home style blog with her program manager position, “make sure that you’ve given up all other side projects.” Instead of letting the stress of other unfinished projects bring you down and delay your progress, focus on the activity at hand. It’s the list of side projects, as opposed to just the one, that will slowly chip away at your personal time.

6. Include Family and Friends in Your Process

If you’re a social animal, involving others in your project will keep it from feeling like an additional strain on your personal time. In addition, it will give you a partner to share the experience. For Josh and Cindy Ring, two contractors who are raising a family of three while building a business, spending time with family is a daily requisite. Instead of dividing their time, they include their children in their home improvement side projects, so that “any project can be made into a family activity.”

Taking on a new project successfully can change the way you live your life, but that doesn’t mean it has to ruin your daily flow. By keeping these helpful tips in mind, you can experience the pleasure of adding an exciting twist to your routine, without sacrificing all of your personal time. If you do it right, this project should prove to be even more refreshing and invigorating than your personal time is now.