Make Time for Your Passion Project
We each have a passion project—a skill we long to develop or a dream we hope to achieve. Unfortunately, few us of have the freedom to spend as much time working towards our aspiration as we would like.
But what if instead of putting your passion project on the back burner, you could find a way to incorporate it into your daily schedule?
I recently explored time management and company leadership by interviewing Codence’s CEO, Scott Love.
Scott Love enjoys tackling each client’s unique problems and developing software and business intelligence solutions. Though his work consumes most of his time, Scott has developed a few key techniques to continue working on his passion project: designing and developing video games.
From the time he was a child, Scott has been passionate about video games. His favorites were Atari classics: standing arcade games like Asteroids and Space Invaders. His dream is to build an online, multi-player game that harkens back to those classic designs while incorporating modern gaming sensibilities.
We recently sat down to discuss the time management techniques and philosophies that allow him to strike that tenuous balance between profession and passion.
Find a Time Management System that Works for You
The first step to finding more time for your passion project is to manage your time more effectively. Be it time blocking, to-do lists or productivity apps, setting a scheduling regimen that works for you is essential to making the most out of each hour in the day.
Scott recommends time blocking, a method he uses religiously. In addition to scheduling meetings and appointments, Scott uses his calendar to block out periods of time to focus on projects that might otherwise be pushed aside. “I live and breathe by my calendar,” he explains. “If it’s not on my calendar it’s not going to happen.”
He emphasizes that without blocking out time for your passion project (or just quiet moments to get work done!), you cannot expect to make progress. “If you want to run a marathon, build a game, write a book, you need discipline. Those things take time. Step one is carving out space in your schedule and making a personal commitment to your project. All of us have to set aside time to focus on those goals, otherwise it will never happen. You’ll never get there.”
Scott adds, “One of my dear friends is currently pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in fiction. I’ve seen him make time, even in short bits, for writing over the years. It’s inspiring to see it coming together for him, step by step.”
“Time blocking is one of the best ways of turning good intentions into action,” writes Paul Minors in his blog.
Giving each to-do list item its own fixed space your calendar creates a deadline. It emphasizes your commitment to spending a specific amount of time working towards your project. Perhaps most importantly, it gives you a realistic picture of how you are spending your time— and where you could steal a few hours for yourself.
Invert your List of Priorities
We all have tasks that never seem to leave our to do lists. These important but not urgent to-dos get pushed aside again and again in favor of more immediately pressing matters.
Author James Clear outlines a simple way to visualize and solve this problem using the “Eisenhower Box,”a productivity tool that maps your to-do list into four categories: urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and neither urgent nor important.
Our passion projects live in that “important but not urgent” space. As a result, we must be diligent about re-shuffling our priorities so that we are not constantly consumed by the urgent items on our to-do list. Scott describes giving these items your attention as “inverting your priorities.”
“There are times where, even if something is not urgent, it’s important to make it a priority. Sometimes you have to invert your priority list and do the things that are on the bottom of the list. It’s really about focus and choosing is most important.”
“There are two axioms I try to live by,” Scott explains. “One: if everything is important, nothing is. Two: if you are always fighting fires, you will never not be fighting fires.” He sheepishly recognizes the two ideas are at odds, but then again so are life’s complexities.
Set Boundaries with Your Day Job
Since the advent of the iPhone, it has become increasingly difficult for employees to draw the line between being on and off the clock. We spend our evenings and weekends checking e-mails, allowing ourselves smaller and smaller windows of opportunity to explore our true passions.
Scott describes his passion project as a type of boundary that he sets with his work. “There’s a time when you turn off your device and have a weekend. If you want to accomplish any personal goal — give yourself the time away from work to do so. It will no doubt feel like an imposition on your day job, but in the long term it becomes a good, healthy habit.”
Learn to unplug from your job, and practice committing specific hours for work and for personal time. Doing so will open up more time for you to pursue your interests, chase your goal or take some much-needed time to relax and rejuvenate.
Find a Supportive Community
A passion project may begin as a solitary venture, but very few successful ones stay that way. As social creatures, we crave encouragement and feedback from others. Working within a community can keep us motivated, as well as improve the quality of our work.
“I work best when I’ve got other people with whom to work,” says Scott. “If I were writing a book, I would want a coach, an editor, a writing group. Establish some modest community from which you can draw inspiration and encouragement.”
Consider joining a mastermind group or discussing your project with friends and colleagues. Their insights may set you on a clearer path towards achieving your goals.
Understand the “Why” Behind Your Passion Project
Your passion project offers you something that you can’t find elsewhere. It’s your job to recognize what that is, and to use that primary reason to motivate you to keep pushing forward. For many of us, our passion project is a creative outlet that fuels and fulfills an artistic curiosity that we cannot pursue during work hours.
Often, the sign of a true passion project is an idea you can’t seem to shake. When it comes to his video game designs, Scott describes it as an imperative.
“There’s an aspirational quality of, ‘Hey, I want to build it because I want to build it.’ It’s almost an imperative: it’s been something I’ve never been able to let go even though real life has been pressuring me for some time to let go of it. I think that’s a quality of passion projects: in a lot of ways people are just compelled to do them.”
If you’ve ever been haunted by an idea, take the time to write down why this project is so compelling. A clear “why” can carry you through discouragement and remind you why you decided to commit to this project in the first place.
The Means Justify the Means
In the end, of course we would all hope to achieve our dreams. In Scott’s case, the game has taken years and will take likely many more. Because passion projects often cannot replace our necessary day jobs (and in some cases, even if they can, perhaps they shouldn’t), they take time. Don’t get fixated on the end goal. Recognize that the reward lies in the journey.
“I used to get frustrated with my lack of progress,” Scott admits. “Then one Saturday afternoon I was in a great mood because I’d managed to get a small spaceship to fly backwards. It was fun, gave me a great sense of accomplishment, and I didn’t think about clients or kids or mortgages or anything else for hours as I tinkered with it. I realized that morning that that’s the point. It’s the doing of it that is the key.”
Passion projects can be a form of rest and a way to enrichen our lives well beyond our bank accounts. Even if you don’t manage to win the Bay to Breakers marathon, running, or even just walking, will make your life better. Learning to cook, even if all you ever manage to produce is a delicious-but-humble grilled cheese sandwich, will lend itself to a richer, fuller, more balanced life.
Passion projects ultimately aren’t about the project itself at all.
While you may never be able to spend as much time working towards your passion project as you would like, setting aside specific times to work towards your goal and protecting that commitment will allow you grow, rest, be creative, and reap rewards almost irrelevant of results.