“I’ve decided to take it a bit easy this year too, and relax more and focus on personal growth rather than career.”
This is from an email I received this morning in response to my newsletter, where I mentioned that I wanted to slow down and focus on a few core aspects of my life, such as my health, my business, and my skills.
Yesterday, I had drinks with a group of indie makers, and another one said: “I struggle to find the right balance between growing through my side projects versus focusing on my professional career. It’s tiring.”
Last week, a friend told me they were going to “take a back seat” at work so they could focus on some of their personal projects.
Many makers find it hard to balance creative side projects with their “day job” (note that day job doesn’t not necessarily mean being employed—running your own company or freelancing can also be full-time jobs).
It seems like they need to make a constant choice between their professional and personal endeavours, and that the energy they dedicate to one goes missing in the other.
The finite amount of energy view
According to this view, our brain is like a battery with a finite amount of mental energy per day.
The more energy you dedicate to your job, whether as an employee or a founder—let’s say to finish a presentation, launch a new feature, get a promotion, close an important client—the less energy you have to work on your side projects once you get home.
It’s almost as if there was an inverted correlation between the amount of energy you can dedicate to your day job versus your side projects.
Most articles about this topic give a list of tips so you can dedicate a certain amount of energy to your day job, and make sure to have some left for your side projects. Turn off your email, create a to-do list, etc.
The main problem with this view is that there is no such thing as a finite amount of mental energy.
“New research proposes another explanation for why we run out of steam. In a study conducted by the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dweck concluded that signs of ego depletion were observed only in test subjects who believed willpower was a limited resource. Those participants who did not see willpower as finite did not show signs of ego depletion.”Nir Eyal, Behavioural Design Expert, Author of Hooked (source)
What if instead, we could create a virtuous circle where our day jobs and side projects help us fuel our productivity and creativity in all areas of our lives?
The “nurturable” view of mental energy
We could learn something at work that we re-use in a side project. We could read an article while researching a new feature for our side project which will spark an idea for an issue we’ve been stuck with at work. We could meet a customer for our side business and realise they would benefit from a tool we provide at our day job.
Ultimately, it’s the process of building, learning, and making connections that makes us more creative and more productive.
Some entrepreneurs, such as Josh Pigford, are known for their incredibly long list of side projects. In addition to running his company, Josh creates handmade planters and coasters, laser engraves tweets into wood, manages a podcast, is building a music discovery app, a game, and more.
How does he find the energy?
He shared some interesting insights when we chatted on the Maker Mag podcast to discuss his side projects. Turns out, having fun is key to maintaining your energy levels.
“If my motivation is purely financial, I will lose interest pretty quickly. I choose to work on things that I have an actual interest in, and then the side benefit of being able to make some money with it is the cherry on top. (…) I’ll choose to shut something down if I’m not having fun anymore.”Josh Pigford, founder, Baremetrics.
Maybe that’s what balance is all about. Finding joy in everything you work on, so you can find the fuel to grow in multiple areas of your life.
Anne-Laure Le Cunff
I’m an ex-Googler, entrepreneur, and part-time neuroscience student at King’s College. If you found this article useful, subscribe to my weekly newsletter about productivity, creativity, learning, and designing engaging products.