I’ve spent over a decade working in the nonprofit arts, beginning my career with unpaid internships and freelance teaching gigs at tiny arts nonprofits, to now working for a nationally recognized artist-services organization. What originally drew me to the nonprofit art scene was the energy and inspiration it has; an energy that comes from making art, celebrating creative culture, and fostering a do-it-yourself (DIY) community.
Over the past few years, in addition to my nonprofit work, I have been focusing on creative entrepreneurship that has its genesis in the DIY ethos. Specifically, I’ve focused on writing a book called Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job! which helps people discover and develop profitable, sustainable, and creative businesses.
I’ve just come back to New York after a two-week tour throughout the Midwest to promote Grow. One of the most common questions was how to make time for your DIY passion project when you already have a busy life. As a perpetually busy person who has many interests and passions myself, this question made me think about how to carve out time to pursue your creative vision. Here are a few tips.
Get a handle on your schedule
- Honestly assess your time. How do you spend it? Do you spend a little too much time on the Internet or watching TV? (It’s okay to unplug your brain sometimes, but not all of the time.) Or perhaps your schedule is full of obligations you no longer enjoy. Before making time for your passion project, you have get a sense of what’s already on your plate and what can go.
- Know when you work best. Are you an early bird? A night owl? I’ve found I am the most effective and focused in the early morning. I’ve trained myself to get up at 6:30 most weekdays so that I can get an hour of writing in before I go to work. How can you rearrange your schedule to enable you to dedicate your “best time” to your project?
- Set realistic goals. This could be an entry in itself, but it’s hard to feel like you are doing enough on your own project when you don’t know what you are trying to achieve. Set incremental goals that will move you towards you vision of success. It’s been a life-long goal of mine to be a published author. I had to break that huge, idealistic goal into realistic goals such as developing a book topic and proposal, writing an outline, and then writing the book chapter by chapter. Accomplishing those concrete tasks helped me assess whether I was making progress towards my ultimate goal.
- Do something small every day to develop your project. Once you have your goals, break them into bite-sized tasks. Sending an email, setting up a Facebook page, updating information on your website – all of this can be done in short, focused segments. For example, when I was gearing up to kick off a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to support my book tour I broke campaign preparation into small tasks like creating an email list, choosing my donor reward levels, and writing the project description text. Block off a little bit of time each day to work on your idea, and commit to this time.
Change your mindset
- Develop self-discipline. Choosing to focus on a creative or entrepreneurial project means setting boundaries in your life. You will need to learn to prioritize your social engagements and learn to say “no” to things that feel less important than your project. This also means committing to the time you have set aside to work on your project each day (see above). Don’t let life’s endless tasks and petty distractions encroach on the time you have set aside for yourself.
- Resist comparing yourself to others. I know this is tricky, but when you are pursuing your creative vision, that vision is yours alone and only you can be the judge of its progress. I struggle not to compare myself to other writers and entrepreneurs, so I always remind myself that part of actualizing a creative vision means charting my own path.
- Take breaks. While you do have to put in time to create a successful project, working during all your free time will more likely lead you to burn out than success. Take time to nurture yourself as well as your project. Taking a break is built into my weekly work patterns. I work long days on my writing projects and my full-time job during the week so I can take the weekends off completely to spend time with friends and enjoy life in Brooklyn. That helps me feel ready to focus come Monday morning.
Overall, I’ve found that when I take a small amount of time to concentrate on the things I’m really passionate about it brings energy, focus, and purpose to the other tasks I have to accomplish as well, whether that’s a project at my day job or cleaning the house. When you engage your passion and do what truly makes you happy and build towards something of which you feel a sense of ownership, your whole life becomes more robust.
About The Author
Eleanor C. Whitney is a writer, arts administrator and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently a Program Officer at the New York Foundation for the Arts and is the author of Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job, released in 2013 on Cantankerous Titles.