“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie
What can you expect when starting a web-based business on the side? This was a question I often asked myself, not having any experience to know. For the most part, I knew what the holes were in my knowledge, and I am not afraid to learn what I don’t already know.
What I didn’t have any sense of was how much overall effort would be needed. Perhaps you are considering starting a web-based business or a blog on the side. What is reasonable to accomplish?
In this post, I am directing towards people who have a full time job, may also be parents (I am), and are generally very busy. Is it possible to find the time to start a side project? Yes it is. Here comes the ‘but’…but it does take some planning and sacrifice.
Before I burst anyone’s bubble, let me talk about why you should do it. Starting a side project, such as blogging, is massively rewarding. You get to express yourself creatively, reach out to thousands of people and engage with them. You learn a lot about yourself, more than most other pursuits, because when writing, you have to look at core drives and motivations. The reward is worth it, even before making any money.
If you want this side project to be productive, you will first and foremost need time. An initial reality check is that you probably won’t be as productive as you plan to be, no matter how objective you try to be. We generally overestimate how much we can get done. Consider this encouragement. It is much healthier than being unrealistic.
I’m going to cover what you can do to find the time, as well as develop processes to help boost your productivity.
In order to have time to pursue a side project, you will need to become jealous of your time. This is critical. All of us have the same amount of time to work with. How you spend it is your choice. If you want any side project to be meaningful, you will have to devote time to it.
There are two basic elements involved. One is finding what time you do have and the second is what you do with it.
Finding the Time
This will require buy-in by your partner, spouse, significant other, or anyone who needs part of your time. Consider some of the expenditures of time that I have:
- Full time job: 9 hours, plus commute (total of 10+hours)
- Dropping off/pick up son from daycare 1\2 hour (which is an addition to my commute, so isn’t too bad).
- Getting ready in the morning and getting ready for bed, plus toddler: 1.5 hours
- Dinner: 1 hour
- Sleep: 8 hours
- Subtotal so far: 21 hours!
This leave only 3 hours in the typical workday. That is all I have for any sort of down-time, relaxation, time spent with my wife and son, personal needs, chores, appointments, shopping, taking care of the dogs etc.
There’s really no time left!
Look at your schedule. It won’t take long to see how precious time is. And limited. That 1 post per day goal just vaporized. We do have weekends, however, but those can be filled with obligations as well (family, friends, that shopping I mentioned, going to the dry cleaners, getting the car gassed up and cleaned, haircuts, whatever).
Now that you have spoken with your partner (if you have one) and looked at your schedule, there is one more step before we get into solutions. Sacrifice.
Yes, in order to pursue a side-project, you may need to eliminate other burdens on your time. Television, internet, learning to play the guitar, video games, whatever it is, you will need to decide how important it is to you, if you can eliminate it, delay it or not pursue your side project.
These are tough decisions. I tend to read less at night, go to be earlier, watch less television etc.
Now that we are clear, let’s look at what can be done. After all, plenty of people pursue their dreams on the side, and you can too. Once you start, you will have a hard time not pursuing them, and the sacrifices will become instead investments.
What do you do to maximize the time that you carve out for yourself? You want to be as maximally productive as you can. There are three interrelated concepts I want to cover: Planning, focus and having a good ‘system.’
In order to make best use of your limited time, you need to know what activities will gain you the most results. We can fool ourselves that tweeting our efforts is useful, but we need to be honest with ourselves. You have a core business, and core activities that will move it forward. We all know the 80/20 rule, where 20% of your efforts give you 80% of your results. Its probably more like 95/5.
When you have identified what is most important to do, determine when you will do it. Look at the time that you have available to set aside, and when you do sit down to work on your project, work hard. Know what you are going to do ahead of time and stay on task.
When I sit down to work, I already know what I want to do, and start right at it.
John Lee Dumas from Entrepreneur on Fire has two concepts I have taken to heart. The first is F.O.C.U.S: Follow One Course Until Success. This reminds me to do what is important and avoid the second concept, WMD’s: Weapons of Mass Distraction. Social Media, email, reading blogs, tweaking the website, whatever it may be for you, you have to set aside while you are working.
Some people recommend a timer to spend 15, 30 or 60 minutes in total concentration, producing as much as possible. I don’t tend to do this, because my work periods are naturally limited. I’ll explain my approach later.
This is really considered planning, but I break it out to highlight a nuance here. A system is an approach to your work that you can utilize repeatedly. You probably know what activities must be done to produce whatever product you have. For example, myself, I blog. I mind-map, then brainstorm, then rough outline, then put it into a framework. Its not totally rigid, but when I sit down to write, I know what’s next.
If I have a mind-map already, I’ll move on to brainstorming concepts related to it. If I have a rough outline, I’ll put it into my loose framework and note the points I want to make. This allow me to jump right into what I need to be doing without having to think about it, daydream ideas, look for inspiration or whatever. Most of those things I do throughout the day, and keep a journal of thoughts so I can get it out on paper to review later.
I can’t stress enough to try to find ways to systematize what you do so the next step is clear and you can get to work.
I am definitely NOT a morning person, but in order to do what I love, I have to be. I have decided I need to get up at least an hour or more early every day so I can work first thing. This both provides me a precise amount of time to work, which encourages productivity, as well as it gets my work done on my passion first thing.
I make my coffee, sit down and start writing. I couldn’t do this without first having a plan, and second having a system that allows me to work a solid hour undistracted.
I check my social media periodically throughout the day, and I also keep a business thought journal of ideas that come to me throughout the day. When I’m in the car, I’m listening to podcasts, and brainstorm at lunch. This allows me to get my job done, but also have ideas in the cue for when I can sit down to work.
I try to spend two evenings a week to work as well. This was negotiated with my wife, back when I liked to play games that kept me sane and were a good release. I find now that I don’t game, but am obsessed with creative ideas. I can pursue these during those times, working on ideas that are important, but aren’t necessarily core production. I may look into ways to produce infographics, research some of the folks on Facebook to see what their pains are, reading helpful blog posts or doing touch-up planning. I generally am a bit looser during these evening sessions to explore all the peripheral aspects to my project.
We also have weekends to work with. If you are single and have low overhead, you may have significant time to devote to your project. I tend to have chores to do, such as maintain the house, do yardwork, go to Costco, have family time etc. I do spend some time working on my project, but it is also important to me to engage with my loved ones and the rest of the world!
One day of the weekend is a down-day, where we don’t do a lot of work, but try to do something rewarding to us.
This ‘flow’ is my own and everyone will necessarily have a different one based on their individual situation. I include it here to illustrate how a side project is incorporated into a larger context. My ‘side project’ sounds not as important as it really is to me personally. I’m totally obsessed and find myself motivated like nothing else I’ve ever done.
And that is why I do what I do. Why I sacrifice invest my time the way I do. I am a night owl, but am driven to get up early so I actually can commit time to writing (I also am writing a book and other related media, not just blogging). It has allowed me to express myself.
When I was in my 20’s, I really wanted to write Fantasy. That dream has been parked, and it was a lot of years before I started to write again. It has been a life-transforming experience to focus on something that is a real passion.
A side project can give this to you as well. It may not be writing, and it may not make you money, but if you have any desire to follow a dream that you have put off, I encourage you to take action today. Even for very busy, middle aged, career minded parents like myself, there can be time to pursue your passion.
It’s hard to get started, but once you take action, momentum keeps you going. Having a passion, dream or drive to do something takes a life of its own when set free.
A side project that is meaningful to you can invigorate you, stimulate your mind, give you energy, improve your disposition, provide you hope and generally make you a better person. Sounds touchy-feely, but it is also true. Whether you are an artist, or you build hot-rods, those devotee’s are passionate about what they do.
Going back to the beginning of this post, what can you really expect to accomplish on your side project? Not to bait and switch you, but it all depends. I can write about 1,000 words per hour, but that is rough draft. To do a blog post, I have to start with an idea, mind-map and brainstorm it, outline and format it, write it and edit it. I may research concepts, download images and look up related quotes. I may whip one out in 3-4 hours, but those aren’t going to get published in any other publications. And that’s without doing a lot of research. I do shoot for 1,500+ words however.
So the idea I would post daily, or even 5 times a week just isn’t reasonable. I can post maybe 2 posts per week. I try to write 1 substantial post, with another that takes less effort, while still trying to keep value high.
This allows me to also spend time tweaking the website, doing social media, researching related business development actions, such as video, infographics, webinars etc. These all need to get done eventually, they just aren’t my 20% (or 5%) that pay the largest return for my time.
If you have a different sort of business, you will have to determine what is reasonable. Regardless, it is rewarding to pursue your dreams, so you need to do it! If you are starting a business on the side, the money you will eventually make will make it worth it, perhaps even become a full time gig.
This is all up to you, but you can decide how much time you can carve out, how you can maximize your efforts and be jealous of your time to be sure it gets done. The rewards will come.
- Analyze your schedule and determine how much time you can carve out for your project.
- Develop an overall plan when you will work and how.
- Determine your ‘flow’ or system so you can get the maximum work done (F.O.C.U.S.) and avoid WMD’s.
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Nothing can be achieved without action – Bold action leads to a richer life.