A Creative’s Guide to Balancing Work and Passion Projects

By Sam Mani

By the time we get around to these side projects, we can find ourselves completely drained or simply not in the mood.

Work-life balance has long been difficult to achieve. But what about work-work balance? Plenty of us creatives have personal projects that we’re passionate and excited about, but which ultimately take a back seat to the gigs that pay the bills.  

By the time we get around to these side projects, we can find ourselves completely drained or simply not in the mood. This is particularly true if your day job is also in a creative field, like design, illustration, production, or anything that requires a lot of artistic energy and attention. It can be heartbreaking to devote all of your energy to your job only to find yourself unable to bring that same energy to the work that you are truly passionate about.  

If you feel your personal projects are withering from neglect because you’re too busy putting your creative forces into other jobs, here are some tips to help redistribute your energy.  

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries!  

Just as with any other kind of work-life balance, juggling creative work projects with creative personal projects requires strict boundaries. Remember, this is all about protecting your time and energy. If you work a full-time job, this means being extremely conscious of not taking your work home, or even deciding to turn off email and Slack notifications after a certain hour. Obviously, this is often easier said than done. But not only will setting these boundaries make your free time truly free, but it can also help you be more productive when you are on the clock. 

If you work freelance, make a list of projects or clients you have to accomplish, and set aside strict time for each one. Get out of the habit of trying to switch back and forth between multiple projects in a single work session — try setting aside certain days of the week for certain projects. This is all about cleaning up your schedule so that you can honor the agreements you’ve made with clients. 

While you’re setting your work calendar, go ahead and schedule time for your personal creative work. No, seriously, send yourself a calendar invite, RSVP, and attend — do not let other work spill into that time. No matter what you actually do in that creative session, it’s about holding your personal work in the same esteem as you hold those other projects.  

So you’ve finally set aside the time to work on your project. But when you sit down in front of your computer, or in your studio, or in front of your instrument, nothing happens. You’re still drained of your creative energy. Now, what? There are several ways to spur some creative energy.  

Consider your space 

Do you work from home, in the same space where you eat or where you do your personal projects? Change it up. There are, of course, tiers to this. Some folks can afford renting out studio space, where they can dedicate a completely separate space from their home to work on their personal projects. For others, clearing out a room or a corner of your living space dedicated solely to your personal work is the best option. Of course, if your studio is just wherever you and your computer are, doing something as small as making a separate profile on your computer for that personal work can help separate out the labor you’re doing and put you in a different headspace.  

Take a break 

Sometimes we are so excited to get moving along on our personal projects after work that we just jump right into it. But part of protecting your time and your energy means taking a break to decompress. You don’t want to bring the work headspace into your personal work — you want to create your own headspace. Whether you take a nap, go for a walk, play with your pet, or listen to music, find a small activity that will help you ease out of your work mode and into your creative one. 

Consume and connect 

No, I don’t mean just scrolling TikTok or binging Netflix. In the same way reading makes you a better writer, checking out the work of your peers, mentors, or other folks whose work you admire (or detest!) can help you find some inspiration in content or process. And on that note, reach out to other folks in your field and pick their brain about their work. Chances are they’ll understand the stress of working a job while trying to get a passion project off the ground too.  

Be kind to yourself 

For creatives, the last year and a half has been intensely frustrating as we respond to all the trauma that has played out. While some have thrown themselves into their work, others have found themselves paralyzed, unable to do so. Maybe that fabric pattern you’re designing is taking far longer than you expected. Maybe you’ve sat down in front of a blank Google doc for a week straight. Maybe you just don’t know where to take the video game you’re working on.  

Cut yourself some slack, and maybe take time away from your personal project. Our creativity is our power, but our work isn’t our worth. Be kind to yourself, because in due time, you will figure it out and complete your project!  

About the author.
Sam Mani writes about work, creativity, wellness, and equity — when she’s not cooking, binging television, or annoying her cat