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Work, Life And Side Projects To Work On

There is no doubt about it, I am a hypocrite. Fortunately nobody has noticed… until now. Here’s the thing. On one hand I talk about the importance of having a good work/life balance, and yet on the other I prefer to hire people who do personal projects in their spare time. [Links checked February/20/2017]

Do you see the problem with this scenario? How can one person possibly juggle work, life and the odd side project? It would appear there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Being the arrogant and stubborn individual I am, when this hypocrisy was pointed out to me, my immediate reaction was to endeavour to justify my position. A less opinionated individual would probably have selected one or the other, but I propose these two supposedly contradictory viewpoints can sit harmoniously together.

Work, Life And Side Projects To Work On
Can you have your cake and eat it, by working on side projects, holding down a job and still having a life beyond your computer? Image by GuySie1.

To understand how this is possible we must first establish why a work/life balance is important and what role side projects play. Let’s begin by asking ourselves why it is important to have a life beyond our computers, even when we love what we do.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

Why We Should Have A Life Beyond The Web Link

Generally speaking Web designers love their job. In many cases our job is also our hobby. We love nothing more than experimenting with new technology and techniques. When we aren’t working on websites we are tinkering with gadgets and spending a much higher than average time online. Although in our job this single-mindedness is useful, it is ultimately damaging both for our personal wellbeing and career.

In the early days of my career, when I was young, I used to happily work long hours and regularly pull all-nighters. It was fun and I enjoyed my job. However, this set a habit in my working life that continued far longer than was healthy. Eventually I became stressed and fell ill. In the end things became so bad that I was completely unproductive.

This high-intensity working also sets a baseline for the whole industry, where it becomes the norm to work at this accelerated speed. No longer are we working long hours because we want to, but rather because there is an expectation we should. This kind of work/life balance can only end one way, in burnout. This damages us personally, our clients and the industry as a whole. It is in our own interest and those of our clients to look after our health.

This means we cannot spend our lives sitting in front of a screen. It simply isn’t healthy. Instead we need to participate in activities beyond our desks. Preferably activities that involve at least some exercise. A healthy diet wouldn’t hurt either. Getting away from the Web (and Web community) offers other benefits too. It is an opportunity for us to interact with non Web people. Whether you are helping a charity or joining a rock climbing club, the people you meet will provide a much more realistic view of how ‘normal’ people lead their lives.

This will inform our work. I often think that, as Web designers, we live in a bubble in which everybody is on twitter all day, and understands that typing a URL into Google isn’t the best way to reach a website. Not that this is all we will learn from others. We can also learn from other people’s jobs. For example, there is a lot we can learn from architects, psychologists, marketeers and countless other professions. We can learn from their processes, techniques, expertise and outlook. All of this can be applied to our own role.

As somebody who attends a church (with a reasonable cross section of people) and used to run a youth group, I can testify that mixing with non Web people will transform your view of what we do. Furthermore, the activities you undertake will shape how you do work. Reading a non-Web book, visiting an art gallery, or even taking a walk in the countryside, can all inform and inspire your Web work. There is no doubt, that stepping away from the computer at the end of a working day will benefit you personally and professionally. Does this therefore mean you should shelve your side projects? Not at all, these are just as important.

Why We Should All Have Side Projects Link

I love to hire people who have side projects. Take for example Rob Borley who works at Headscape6. He runs a takeaway ordering site, has his own mobile app business7 and has just launched an iPad app8. These projects have been hugely beneficial to Headscape. Rob has become our mobile expert, has a good handle on what it takes to launch a successful Web app and puts his entrepreneurial enthusiasm into everything he does for us.

Robs side projects such as iTakeout has broadened his experience and made him an indispensable employee.
Rob’s side projects such as iTakeout has broadened his experience and made him an indispensable employee.

But side projects don’t just benefit your employer, they benefit your personal career. They provide you with a chance to experiment and learn new techniques that your day job may not allow. They also provide you with the opportunity to widen your skills into new areas and roles. Maybe in your day job you are a designer, but your side project might provide the perfect opportunity to learn some PHP. Finally, side projects allow you to work without constraints. This is something many of us crave and being able to set our own agenda is freeing. However, it is also a challenge. We have to learn how to deliver when there is nobody sitting over our shoulder pushing us to launch.

All of this knowledge from personal projects has a transformative effect that will change your career. It will increase your chance of getting a job and show your employer how valuable you are. It may also convince your employer to create a job that better utilises your skills, as we did for Rob. Rob used to be a project manager, but when we saw his passion and knowledge for mobile we created a new role focusing on that. Of course, this leads us to the obvious question: how can we have time away from the computer if we should also be working on side projects?

Is Hustling The Answer? Link

If you listen to Gary Vaynerchuk9 or read Jason Calacanis10, you maybe forgiven for thinking the answer is to ‘hustle’; to work harder. They proclaim we should cut out TV, dump the xbox and focus single-mindedly on achieving our goals. There is certainly a grain of truth in this. We often fritter away huge amounts of time, largely unaware of where it is going. We need to be much more conscious about how we are spending our time and ensure we are making a choice about where it goes.

I don’t think working harder is the long term solution, however. We can work hard for short periods of time, but as we have already established this can’t continue indefinitely. We need downtime. We need time lounging in front of the TV or mindlessly shooting our friends in Halo. If we don’t have that we never allow our brain the chance to recuperate and we end up undermining our efficiency. I don’t believe the answer is “work hard, play hard”. I believe the answer is “work smarter”.

We Can Do Everything If We Work Smarter Link

Working smarter is about three things:

  • Combining interests,
  • Creating structure,
  • Knowing yourself.

Let’s look at each in turn.

Combine Interests Link

A good starting point when it comes to working smarter is to look for commonality between the three aspects of your life (work, life and side projects). You can often achieve a lot by coming up with things that have a positive impact in each of those areas. Take for example the choice of your personal project. If you look at most personal projects out there, they are aimed at a technical audience. We are encouraged to “build for people like us” which has led to an endless plethora of HTML frameworks and WordPress plugins.

Maybe if we got out more there would be a wider range of personal projects and fewer of near identical jQuery plugins!11
Maybe if we got out more there would be a wider range of personal projects and fewer of near identical jQuery plugins12!

If however we have built up interests outside of the Web, suddenly it opens up a new world of possibilities for side projects.

I wanted to get to know more people at my church. There are so many I have never spoken to. I also wanted to keep my hand in with code (as I don’t get to code a lot anymore), so I decided to build a new church website in my spare time. This involved talking to lots of people from the church, and also gave me the chance to experiment with new ways of coding. What is more, some of the things I learned have been valuable at work too.

Look for ways of combining personal projects with outside activities. Alternatively, identify side projects that could make your working life easier. This kind of crossover lets you get more done. However, by itself that is not enough. We need some structure too.

Create Structure Link

If we want to get the balance right between personal projects, work and life we need some structure to work in.

For a start take control of your working hours. I know this isn’t easy if you have a slave driver of a boss, but most of us have at least some control over how long we work. You will be surprised, limiting your hours won’t damage your productivity as much as you think. You will probably get as much done in less time. Work tends to expand to take as much time as you are willing to give it. Next, stop fluttering from one thing to another. When you are “having a life” don’t check work email or answer calls. There is a growing expectation we should be available 24/7. Resist it.

One method to keep you focused is the Pomodoro technique1513. This simple approach breaks your day into a series of 30 minute chunks. You work for 25 minutes on a single task free from interruption and then have a 5 minute break. Similar tasks are grouped together so that you spend 25 minutes answering email rather than allowing email to interupt other blocks of work.

The Pomodoro technique is a simple way of staying focus on the task in hand14
The Pomodoro technique1513 is a simple way of staying focus on the task in hand.

Set specific time for working on personal projects and stick to them. Don’t allow that time to expand into your free time. Equally don’t allow work to distract you from your side project. Set boundaries. If you need to, set an alarm for each activity. Nothing will focus your mind on a personal project like having only 30 minutes until your alarm goes off. You will inevitably try and squeeze just one more thing in. These artificial deadlines can be very motivating.

Finally, make sure work, personal projects and recreation all have equal priority in your mind. One way to do this is to use a task manager like Omnifocus16, Things17 or Wunderlist18 to keep all your tasks in one place. Often we have a task list for our work but not for other aspects of our life. This means that work is always prioritised over other activities. It is just as important to have a task to “finish that book” you are reading as “debug IE7”. Providing structure won’t just help with your side projects. It will also help with your sanity.

Know Yourself Link

Remember, the goal here is to have fun on side projects, broaden your horizon with outside activities and recharge with downtime. You therefore must be vigilant in keeping the balance and ensure that all these competing priorities don’t drain you.

Part of the problem is that we spend too much time on activities that we are just not suited to. Its important to recognize your weaknesses and avoid them. If you don’t, you waste time doing things you hate and doing them badly. For example, I just am no good at DIY. I used to waste hours trying to put up shelves and fix plumbing. Because I was trying to do something I was weak at, it would take forever and leave me too tired to do other things.

My solution to this problem was to delegate. I employed people to do my DIY. People that could do it much quicker and to a higher quality than me. How did I pay for this? I did what I was good at, building websites. I would work on the odd freelance site, which I could turn around quickly and enjoy doing. This applies to the side projects we take on too. Learning new skills is one thing, but if it stops being fun because you are just not suited to it, move on. Working on stuff you are not suited to will just leave you demoralized and tired.

Talking of being tired, I would recommend not working on personal projects immediately after getting home from work. Give yourself time to unwind and allow your brain to recover. Equally don’t work on side projects right up until you go to bed. This will play havoc with your sleep patterns and undermine your productivity.

Finally, remember that side projects are meant to be fun. Don’t undertake anything too large because not seeing regular results will undermine your enthusiasm. If you want to work on something large, I suggest working with others. There is certainly no shortage of opportunities19. Alternatively try breaking up the project into smaller sub-projects each with a functioning deliverable.

Am I Asking For The Impossible? Link

So there you have it. My attempt to have my cake and eat it. I believe you can have side projects, a life beyond computers and get the day job done. It’s not always easy and if I had to pick I would choose having a life over side projects. However, I believe that personal projects can be fun, good for our careers and also facilitate a life beyond the Web.

So do you agree? Am I being unrealistic? What challenges do you find in striking the balance or what advice do you have for others? These are just my thoughts and I am sure you can add a lot to the discussion in the comments.


Footnotes Link

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Paul Boag is the author of The User Experience Revolution and a leader in digital strategy with over 20 years experience. Through consultancy, speaking, writing, training and mentoring he passionately promotes digital best practice.

  1. 1

    Nils Fearons

    June 19, 2012 3:04 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I am a full time Web Designer and a Father of two so having a life beyond web is so important to me, however I still manage to find rthe time for side projects. Side projects ae so important me as they fuel my day job with new ideas and inspiration as the side projects are often very different from what I work on in my day job often they push me to the limit but once complete its another string to my bow!

    • 2

      I think having family makes a big difference to your perspective on this stuff. Family forces a balance in your life that is often not previously there. At least it wasn’t for me.

      • 3

        Kenneth Brøgger-Luplau

        July 3, 2012 11:45 am

        I think having a family, for me, meant that I now focus more on finishing side projects, because the time I’ve spent on side projects, are vaulable time I could have spend with my family. Being single, some of my ideas died because I had so many ideas, and when a new exiting idea came up, I trashed the old one and started on the new. Family life made me focus — I did not expect that… :-)

  2. 4

    I really enjoyed this Paul and no, I don’t think you’re being unrealistic. I agree that it’s important to find a balance between ‘burning the midnight oil every night on a personal project’ and just ‘watching 5 hours of TV everyday after work’. I guess that’s always been the trick, not an easy one to solve.

    Interesting idea about getting out more and making personal projects that solve problems way outside of the webdev community. I’m going to add that to my task manager!

  3. 5

    Excellent article. I currently face a situation wherein my work/life balance is not. I’m quickly becoming the person I used to always mock in the “how do you get to that point” sort of way, the one who can’t relax when he’s not working, who talks about work all the time, even when at the beach. I’ve decided to get an expensive hobby. My theory is that, if I can get myself into a state where the sunk cost fallacy kicks in and I feel guilty for not using expensive toy Y, I’ll be able to excuse myself from work much more often. But, my side-project and work do indeed rule my life, at least for now.

    • 6

      lol… I can see your logic but I am not convinced I would go that way.

      Its difficult when you love what you do. You just have to find something you love more!

      Its also a matter of mental wellbeing and health. We all know we should eat well and do exercise but few of us take our mental health as seriously. If you want to use guilt to motivate you into action, use that rather than expensive toys :)

  4. 7

    Very good article! I identify with you on every level, including side projects at church. I head up our Technology Ministry at my church, which provides a great outlet to interact with non-web people.

    One thing I would like to add is what a life coach, Dr. Johnny Parker, once told me: “It’s not about work/life balance, but work/life alignment”. His point is that it should not necessarily be a 50/50 proposition.

    • 8

      Absolutely agree. Its about finding a balance that works for you. The problem is I think we often deceive ourselves about what we think works. We convince ourselves that we enjoy working long hours. We may but its not healthy or good for us.

  5. 9

    I work crazy hours – on weekdays. The way I balance myself is that on the weekends I don’t touch a computer. By the time Monday rolls around I can’t wait to get back to work!

  6. 10

    Agreed and enjoyed reading. Unfortunately some of the careful planning and techniques here act as if your time is solely your own to plan as you will. Structured plans become much harder when you have important people in your life, each with their own agendas.

    • 11

      I know exactly what you mean. I felt the same. Everybody had their own agenda for my time. My wife, employees, co-founders, child, friends, church, peers in the web community, the list went on. However, ultimately you have to take control of your own time. If you do not people will allow you to burn out without realising it. You need to set boundaries for them as much as you. You are no use to anybody if you burn out.

  7. 12

    Ricardo Machado

    June 19, 2012 4:58 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Great article. I clearly identify myself in your article. I’m a PHP Web-Developer, working in a fulltime job at a Software House – as a daily job – and at night I work as freelancer (the so called side project(s)).
    I’m also a father of a beautiful boy and, the moments that I have to spend with my family, I get to appreciate them every tiny bit.

    However I feel that my daily job does not allow me to evolve as a Web-Developer, since the amount of new projects are short and rare. I normally do support to already developed products, either by bug fixing or develop new features on them.

    That’s the main reason why I do side projects. I love to research, do innovative projects and such attitude can’t/shouldn’t be restricted by a daily job.

    To finish, I’m currently working my way to be an enterpreneur and start my own company/startup. It’s a new challenge and opportunity to do things the right way.

    Hugs and congratulations once more for this fine article!

    • 13

      I don’t know how old your boy is but you might want to try a side project that includes him. I helped my son create a site where he could post screenshots from the games he plays and he has even got into audio and video editing now. I get to try out a few cool things and he gets to spend some quality time with his dad. Win, win.

      • 14

        I love this idea! I think my 9-year-old son has technology in his DNA, so I’ve shown him a little HTML/CSS, downloaded Alice for him to tinker with, let him play with my copy of Photoshop and a tablet and earlier this week showed him the MIT App Inventor. I figure it’ll ignite his interest in my field and it keeps him from being bored…

  8. 15

    Katrina Costedio

    June 19, 2012 5:24 pm

    This article was exactly what I needed today. I am sick and burnt out! I keep falling into that ‘must-work-all-the-time’ trap. It is good to know that I’m not the only one who suffers from this. I believe that balance is possible, but it is so hard. Thanks for the vote of confidence and the inspiration. Keep Calm and Hack on!

    • 16

      If you are feeling burnt out then do the bare minimum for work, stop all your side projects, stop trying to keep up and just chill for a while. Get out there and enjoy life. We have been conditioned to think that if we stop the web will leave us behind. However, things don’t move as fast as we think. Seriously, you could go 6 months without reading a blog, following twitter or (dare I say) looking at Smashing Magazine and you would easily pick up where you left off.

      Seriously, give up as much as you can. When you come back you will be on fire.

      • 17

        This is great advice. I’m burnt out too, and feel guilty if I don’t keep up with everything on the web, I’m going to lose out! 6 months is about the time I need so this doesn’t make me feel so bad!

  9. 18

    Nice to read something a bit more philosophical! From a personal perspective: I feel I am at my most creative and confident when I have done something outside of my day to day work. There is a fine line between comfort and complacency and it is often misread with regard to work I think.

  10. 19

    Amazing read. I can relate to just about everything you pointed out, and agree with utilizing freelance to nurture outside of the box thinking and approach. My daily duties as a front-end developer can be very repetitive, and mixing it up with different tasks is key to staying fresh from 9-5 Mon-Fri.

    I take two hours from 5:30 – 7:30 immediately after work to continue any personal projects or freelance work I do.

    Then its dinner and relaxing until bed, far away from my computer (Unless I’m playing Battlefield or WoW). Weekends are a mix of outdoor activities and building/maintaining friendships and relationships.

    Although I am only 8 months into being a full-time employed developer rather than just freelance, I have found this schedule to be a very balanced and rewarding approach to staying happily productive as well as nurture those connections with people who wonder where the ‘Any’ key is.

  11. 21

    Great article, and it’s amazing that well are all doing the same thing. I have a day job as a Creative Director, but I constantly am doing freelance projects. The type of things I am exposed to at work and on freelance projects are night and day. I feel like with every year of experience I have had the last 3-4 years is really double that, because of all the stuff I have been exposed to and have worked on. Plus the extra money for side projects is hard to say no to.

    Getting up at 4am seems crazy to most people, but to me that is when I get the side work done. That way at night after work, I can spend time with my family. It is always exciting to solve the current challenge at hand. I love showing my 2 kids my work, as they are both pretty creative. They always provide great feedback.

    The web and the technology that drives it is moving so fast, keeping up is a fun challenge, and balancing a day job and some fun freelance work is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse. Just remember to get some fresh air and exercise every day!

  12. 22

    I couldn’t agree more and have recently launched two side projects. The first is for people “like us” and allows web designers to build stores faster and easier (it’s at The second one is a mobile app I’ve created for the sake of playing around with Titanium and to let people inform their parents or friends about their well-being when something bad happens like an earthquake or a heavy storm. for whoever is interested, it’s free for the iPhone.

  13. 23

    Very informative.
    Been reworking my schedule recently and have had luck finding more time.

  14. 24

    I totally agree with the idea of having side projects and having time to do other things in your life. I love the web a lot, and it’s worth even more to me that it stays that way. Especially because I’ve experienced it becoming a drag as a result of working too many hours. So I needed to work less hours, but that’s pretty hard when you like doing something so much!

    The way I’ve dealt with it when I was employed at an agency, was working 4 days a week instead of 5. Luckily, in Holland this is pretty common, so I got away with it. Working as a freelancer now, I limit my hours to 30 a week. In the end I’m more motivated while I’m actually working and I reckon I actually get more done in 4 days than I used to in 5. If I would get a new job again, this will be a big priority too.

    On the fifth day, I work on side projects which keeps my nights and the entire weekend open to do other stuff. And let’s be honest: we’re in a pretty profitable field of work, we can easily live of 4 days instead of 5, if we want to. I might make a little less money right now, but I think this will come back to me in staying productive, enthused and happy with my job. Who would want to hire someone who just seems to be grinding away? Wouldn’t you give that awesome new opportunity to someone who actually looks like he/she wants it? At what I’m making is still more than enough to live a nice lifestyle!

    • 25

      That is so inspiring. I wish I could do the same… well actually I guess I could if I motivated myself to make it happen. Thanks for sharing this!

  15. 26

    Arnold Rubi

    June 20, 2012 1:58 am

    Great article Paul. I shared it with my colleagues today. You are right, we have one life to live. It’s sad that a lot of people in our industry fail to balance their lives.

  16. 27

    All good advice…
    I have so many ideas for personal side projects but tragically fail to reach even the beggining stage with most of them and that is mainly because I do freelance work outside my job. I work a fulltime job which thankfully has sensible hours ( always finish by 5:30 ) and live only 10 minutes cycle away from work. I still find however that once I have gone home, chatted to my girlfriend, had dinner and relaxed for half an hour it is 9pm. That leaves me 1.5 hours max to do some freelance work and then no time to really chill and watch a show or read a book if I am to go to bed at a sensible time.

    I used to work until midnight but it is just totally unhealthy. So I’m not sure what the answer is. I just feel frustrated by how many things I am not getting doing. Ideas floating around, shouting at me for not acting on them. I just cannot help but place greater priority on quality time with my girlfriend and friends than on sitting in front of a PC, even if that is to make a revolutionary web site that could change my life forever.

  17. 28

    Anna Brozyna

    June 20, 2012 12:34 pm

    Great article.

    I am working on a side project that coresponds with my hobby for a few years now. It’s getting bigger, I get many ideas how to use it outside this hobby. It started to eat my free time, and sometimes became a problem. Because it is connected to my hobby I forgot to say STOP in one moment.

    Now I am aware that this project has to be only a part of my life (nevermind that it connects all the parts of my life in one place). The project now evolves slower but the balance is there.

    • 29

      That is one of the big problem with side projects. They often get too big and out of control. Keep it simple, release early.

  18. 30

    I need the side projects to keep me sane. As much as I love me some property and casualty insurance sales, I need some outlets beyond discussing general liability insurance.

  19. 31

    Honestly, yes, in my opinion you’re expecting too much of people.

    A typical day job in the web will eat up 40+ hours of your week. In only hiring people who are willing to do that plus have several successful side projects you’re sending out the message that it’s not ok to have a work/life balance and that in order to be employed you need to dedicate a disproportional amount of your time to the web.

    And that’s a position that will also effectively discriminate against older workers who may have families and other commitments, and who also may have done the work-all-hours-and-burn-out thing in the past and decided their lives are worth more than that. Younger folks who are less world-wise may be sucked into the idea. And they’ll do a great job for you till they burn out, at which point they shuffle off and be replaced by the next generation of naiive young things. This is not exactly a responsible, sustainable way for a business to conduct itself.

    And… I hate to say it, but if you insist on only hiring people who spend loads of time on web projects outside of their job, do you think you’re perhaps not going to be getting the most well-rounded individuals? In having a life outside of work and engaging in other interests and social pursuits you’re developing yourself as a human being, something I believe this industry needs more of.

    Ok, so to be fair to you personally, I doubt you’re as bad an employer as the horrible picture I paint above (I think you’re probably a lot more responsible and reasonable than that), but there are definitely high tech firms out there that do regard their staff in this way and it’s appalling.

    • 32

      You make a lot of very good points but I think you are maybe exaggerating a bit.

      For a start I don’t care if the projects are ‘successful’ or not. They can be a disaster, all I care is that people are playing and experimenting.

      Second, I don’t insist (and would not encourage others to either) that people spend a lot of time. I am quite happy for them to just have a few little things they have played with.

      I do however whole heartedly accept your comments about older people. That is absolutely true and it is important to take that into account.

      As always these things are never black and white. A careful balance has to be struck and I agree a lot of companies do completely fail to do that expecting unreasonable amounts from potential employees.

  20. 33

    Excellent post. In the my work life, I am working as a Software Engineer developing applications based in JavaEE and uch frameworks like Apache Wicket
    That is why my side projects include less of my daily work: I work as a freelancing sound designer whenever family life can afford to let me go. This includes beeing on the road with bands, programming digital audio mixers, handling anolog ones, do some consulting or maybe producing and recording records with semi professional bands…
    …and of course give some advise to them on website design and -frameworks…

    Although I must say on all my interviews for jobs I have gotten the feeling that this was seen not really seen positive by my interviewers.

  21. 34

    If employers expect side projects, they should also be willing to give employees time to work on their side projects during their work hours, just like Google does.

  22. 35

    I guess I am pretty ‘lucky’ that I have a 1.5 hour train commute each way to work. I used to hate this and think it a waste of time!

    Now I have 3 hours a day that is used for working on side projects or experimental things I am thinking about trying at work. When I get to work in the morning, I focus on those tasks, and when I get home in the evening my time is dedicated to my family.

    • 36

      I should do that during my one-hour drive to work, even though I find it a bit hard to be on my laptop while I drive, but where there is a will, there is a way.

  23. 37

    Aaron Speropoulos

    June 20, 2012 5:38 pm

    Hey Paul!

    Great read and I really appreciate your willingness to share from personal experiences.

    Quick question: At what point do you see something as a weakness and decide to delegate instead of pressing forward to add to your skillset (e.g. a strong designer wanting to also become a solid front-end developer – it seems like everyone wants a master of both these days.). Typically, when you’re doing something like this amidst everything else going on in life professionally and personally, there comes a time when the excitement wears off and you enter an extended period of frustration as you try to get beyond that learning curve. Do you focus on becoming a stronger designer with limited development skills or do you keep working, hoping you pick it up sooner than later?

    (Obviously , there’s no “right” or “wrong” answer because everyone’s different. I’m just curious and thought I’d get some more insight from you.)

  24. 38

    it seems you’re confusing work-related side-projects with work-life balance. i think it’s important to do non-work-related side-projects, so in this anything that comes close to programming or webdesigning should be banned. So tell Rob to stop building websites in his home time, and join a ballet group or read about fruit fly genetics, but no programming should even be close in sight. the great benefit of doing non-work related activities is that you start to see and draw associations, parallels and differences with your regular mindset, and this will increase your potential to solve problems in your work. if life outside of work just means you should work on other projects so you learn more programming to apply at work, you’re just asking your workers to keep working at home, to seek more experience for the same price. that’s just besides the point of a work-life balance which is supposed to break you out of any habits.

  25. 39

    Chathura Asanga Kulasinghe

    June 21, 2012 6:35 am

    Oh Paul,
    — I have been a given up person(towards my personal life) for a long time, until I found my girl friend. I exactly went through everything you have mentioned and I became unproductive, since I spent much time on doing my job; rather than having a balanced life beyond the screen. I just recovered from that illness and am shaking the stress off. Even if I still am a key technical person where I work, I never thought of any kind of a side project or enjoying kind of a personal life — but now I feel a lot responsible than those days and just started to take side projects on behalf of the future. I was truly looking for an inspiration and a success story to get confirmed whether what I do is right or wrong. I don’t know what made you thinking of writing such a worthy article, exactly in the same period of time, that I am looking for something like that (not just something like that—but also exactly what I was looking for).

    Your this worthy article is and definitely will be so much important to me, and I would like to thank you for that!!! Please do write more and more articles like this one! Because… we do everything to enjoy our lives in a way that we wish; and without that, the life becomes nothing. For technical people like us, this article (with your genuine words of experience) definitely is a medic from the divines!!!

    If you are willing to write the next Smashing book on “How to Manage and enjoy personal life, while doing the job and taking side projects”… I am here to be the first one to place the pre-order on my copy!!!

    Thanks a lot!!!

  26. 40

    I agree with the idea of side projects, but with what I disagree is that they have to be web projects. I am a web designer and at the beginning of my career I used to work full time plus side projects. At some point, I was burned out, I used to miss family trips, meeting with friends, enjoying life out there just to be in front of a computer, working for a client. It became annoying and I have avoided it recently. I do have side projects, but totally different from my work, I am learning new languages, cooking, photography, even planning camping trips. As I get older I realised you just cant spend your life sitting in front of a machine, it isolates you, you need to have contact with other people, with a whole world out there. So next time you hire a prospective employee, don’t discriminate them because they don’t have side web projects. You can also have side projects that involve activities that many of us enjoy and find gratifying, and also make us smarter (just in different contexts)

  27. 41

    Awesome write up Paul. Loved it, especially the end part.

    It’s been just 2 months since I started working on my side-project. My work hours are 9-5. Travel takes an hour. And I start to work on my side-project from 7-12 with 30 minutes for dinner. This has been my schedule for pretty much every day. Even on weekends :(

    Will have to really start planning my time. Thanks for the tips :)

  28. 42

    Damn that was a great post :) -> I am always walking around in those kind of thought, I work as a developer och digital media. But I like doing side projects but only if I belive in them and think they are fun. And mostly importantly is that I learn something when doing them. But also to get a balance, spend time with girlfirend, shoot some friends at some game etc… :)

    Nice to read that I am not alone, reflecting over these kind of things :)

  29. 43

    Great article Paul, you published this right when I’ve needed to hear it. I have a 40-hour job which I love doing dev work for a pretty great company. After having an awful time with a few freelance clients last year, I promised my wife I’d only do four freelance jobs a year.

    But… I couldn’t help it when I saw how awful my church’s website, so I had to get them a new one. And then someone from church started a business and wants to trade services. And then someone one else has a business, and wants to trade services.

    Because I work from home, I initially found it easy to work for my friends before my job – but that wasn’t right or fair to the company I work for or their clients, who were paying a lot more than my freelancers. So I pushed freelancing to the weekends, where I lost good time with my wife.

    Sometimes I think the most important things are learning to say “no” or admitting to your clients you’ve taken on too much. My wife is also a project manager, so I sometimes find that just asking her to help me manage my time improves our relationship and my delivery time for clients, too.

  30. 44

    Andres Alfonso

    June 21, 2012 4:17 pm

    What a great article, and amazing comments that follow.
    I personally try to balance things out the best way possible, I have various interests and always try to make them intertwine. I like to skateboard, so I designed and developed a skateblog. I like to paint, so I designed and developed an online art repository and go sell art on the streets once or twice a week. I like to illustrate, so I designed and developed a site with free wallpapers. The most important thing about side projects is how much they feed into my creativity. I don’t really keep a schedule for all of my interests, I just know when I haven’t done something in a while is time to pick it up. It also helps to have someone (my wife) remind you when to relax and take it easy.

  31. 45

    It’s great to see people from other side of the world thinking the same way that I do, I’ve been a software developer for 6-7years, volunteer at an animal shelter for 2-3years every weekend, develop by myself android apps, just for fun, and still have time for family and friends(usually that evolves too much drinking lol) keep it up :)

  32. 46

    Jack Scotty

    June 21, 2012 6:05 pm

    I enjoyed your article Paul! As soon as I read the title I thought, “that is exactly my problem right now”. However, I am 23 years old and have just graduated from Illinois State University this past December. I can imagine my perspective is a bit different from your original, intended audience. The real issue is that I’m still convinced my lack of down time is necessary to get to where I want to be.

    I cannot pull myself away from the computer screen. I have been working on my personal website on the side every chance I get outside of work. I want nothing more than to produce at the highest rate possible. I keep putting off the launch of my site because there are more and more “extra” features and special effects I want to add. I just want it to be perfect. I feel like every hour spent doing nothing is another hour I’ve been set back. Another hour wasted.

    In other words, at my age (and experience) there doesn’t need to be any down time, in my opinion. I can’t help but think about the great expectations I have in advancing my career and the mass of knowledge I need to intake in order to get to the top of that mountain.

  33. 47

    Nice post Paul, I develope web app with Drupal and I tried to work in personal Projects for long time but I couldn’t ever succeed, maybe because I did not set my extra-work time in the right way. I’ll try to follow your good Idea, thx!!

  34. 48

    Good read!

  35. 49

    Do you think your approach would change if you were trying to build your own company (slowly) from your side projects?

    • 50

      Alex, I am facing the same challenge. I have a full-time job, 4 children between 6 and 13, and a recently-started company of our own that we are trying to build (and eventually transition to from the “job”)!! There simply aren’t enough hours in the day – and definitely not enough money to delegate. Not sure what the answer is yet, beyond working smarter rather than harder. LOL

      I think some of the ideas here are very good ones – such as incorporating your hobbies and social life into your work, if only for networking purposes. There comes a point at which we spend all our time, working and otherwise, essentially “selling” ourselves and our business, no? That gets a little old (and disheartening), but really, how else can it be done? Definitely got my brain spinning today… :)

  36. 51


    Its really true. But some time it is really very hard to implement all this thing to enjoy the life, work and side projects.

  37. 52

    This is the second article I have come across this week about this subject and how much time a person devotes to their career as opposed to elsewhere. Good reading.

  38. 53

    Good inspirational post with good steps to follow. I’ll definitely try it out and see if it works!

  39. 54

    Paul, I couldn’t agree more. I’m not designing for the web, but I can’t remember when I’ve last drawn a visual by hand, so after my 40h-week I go home and try to leave the laptop in the drawer.

    Instead, I’ve taken up sports and become much more sociable, which lead to new contacts, new ideas and new opportunities, with the added benefit that in order to attend a session I’ve had to be much more strict about my working hours.

    Beside the odd favour for my friends, my creative side projects are now mostly in the sewing and dressmaking area, which not only provides me with unique clothes and accessories, but also keeps me away from the screen for a day or two.

    Essentially, once I put my mind to it, re-structuring my work/life balance wasn’t so hard, and my productivity and enthusiasm for the job have certainly gotten a boost out of it, so really: everybody wins!

  40. 55

    Gr8 Article Paul. Very true said :-)

  41. 56

    Hi Paul,

    Thank you for your article! Encapsulates my thinking at the moment, which is I feel I’m beginning to master time management. My day job as a Front-end Developer is intense, but satisfying. I have two side-projects, one involving a major website redevelopment for a friend’s business (involving all the web-stack), the other a simple “contact-us” style website for another friend as part of their uni course which I had to design! I also know when to step away from the computer, and relax with my family and friends or with a good book.

    I also believe that balancing one’s passions with work and social lives also involves managing expectations: the expectations of those around you and your own expectations. Finish the HTML templates and go off to do the washing up: that’s domestic balance.



  42. 57

    Lewis Keogh

    July 4, 2012 11:44 am

    Great timing on this. I’ve recently hit the wall. Taking on too much and my productivity has suffered, not to mention my personal life and side projects. I’ve saturated myself with work, mainly through fear of going freelance and worrying whether I’ll have work next month. I’m just over a year into self employment and I’m only just beginning to realise the importance of stepping back. It’s difficult when you are reliant on yourself, but important to learn to say ‘no’ sometimes.

    I have a few projects coming to an end and am mentally preparing myself to address the balance. I’m looking forward to this next step in my career, but also feel that pushing my self to the limit was a necessary part of the process.

  43. 58

    You may wish to consider getting up earlier and doing a few hours on the side projects before heading into the full time job. It’s worked for me in crunch times, but I’m looking to do it on a more long term basis. After the full time job, I’m usually too tired to do any more work.

  44. 59

    That is exciting stuff, indeed! Hooray for permaculture and community building!! :)


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