Finding time to work on side projects or businesses as a parent

Written on September 16, 2017

I’m a husband, a dad of two, I work 9 to 5 and I have time to work on side projects and businesses.

This year — 2017, I’ve built a todo application called TinyWins, a tech job board called Triangle Tech Jobs, a Twitter bot called @year_left, a command line tool that turns TOML files to PDF invoices and some other things as well.

I often hear parents claim that they don’t have time to work on side projects or businesses. I thought I’d take some time to share how I find time to carve out of the day to work on side projects and businesses.

First, for me working on projects is a part of what keeps me going. I enjoy the learning process of discovering solutions to problems. Often times they might be problems that I have for myself. Sometimes they are solutions to problems that others have. Because solving problems and making things is a part of what keeps me ticking it is a priority of mine.

Like doing good work is a priority for my career and spending quality time with family is a priority as a family man, working on things for myself is a priority of mine. By making it a priority, I know to make time for it everyday.

Embrace constraints

I’ve learned to embrace constraints. Being a family man, there are constraints to when you have free time. For this reason I try to maximize any downtime. For example my kids are still at a stage in their lives where they need naps, during this time I usually have about an hour or hour in a half to work on projects uninterrupted. Over the course of seven days and you’ve got roughly 7 to 10.5 hours in a week. That’s roughly an entire work day.

Find the trade offs

Throughout your day, there is always a trade off of your time. Find those trade offs and trade in what is required of your time to work on your projects or business. For example, I’m an avid user of Twitter, but it’s come to a point where the use of Twitter is a bit toxic in my mind. So I’ve deleted Twitter from my phone and have intentionally set a couple of times a day where I can use Twitter.

I rarely watch TV so this isn’t really an issue of my time. When I do watch TV it’s a time I spend with my wife. If TV is a time sucker, next time you pick up the remote to turn on the tube, decide to limit how much to watch instead of binging on all your shows.

This might be a little TMI (too much information), but next time you’re on the porcelain throne, instead of checking social media or playing a game spend that time to read a book that would help you with your project, write a blog post or do a mind mapping exercise to plan on the next steps of your project.

Adjust your sleeping schedule

There was a time when I had experienced really bad jet lag after a vacation in Germany. I would fall asleep around 10PM and wake up around 4 or 5. Instead of trying to correct it, I actually tried to stick with it for as long as possible. This was nice since, I’d have a couple of hours to myself to work on a project with no interruptions. An added benefit for already being up before the rest of my family, I’m already alert and not groggy at all, so I can enjoy hanging out with the kids first thing in the morning when they are up.

To really make the early morning adjustment work is to plan ahead the night before or at the beginning of the week, so you can wake up and get straight to picking up where you left off.

If mornings aren’t for you then, add the extra time on the tail end of the day and sleep a little later. While I don’t have this issue, I know some folks do. By working at night, your mind might become very excited from working on problems at hand. This could lead to a hard time falling asleep immediately after you stop working. I don’t have this issue, as I can usually lay down and go to bed immediately.

For this reason, I usually work on projects in the evening for a couple of hours.

While adjusting your sleep schedule is something you could do, please, please do take care of yourself too. Don’t deprive yourself of sleep, cause all that will do is take away your attention from spending time with your loved ones or from your day work. Make sure to make up for those missed hours to take care of yourself. Either on the weekends or taking short naps.

Speak to your spouse about time to work

Depending on the size of the project and when I decide to finish them up, I’ll talk with my wife and work out a time where she’ll let me focus on working on a project. Some times working in the early mornings or the late evenings just isn’t productive cause my mental energy is zapped. It’s for this reason I speak with my wife and try to figure out a time where I can spend a few hours during the weekend to work on a project.

It’s important to me that my wife and family are happy and that I spend quality time with them. So on days where I’ll have a few hours to work on projects, I’ll make sure to spend uninterrupted time with them first.

Define a deadline

With all the projects that I work on, I make sure to define a hard stop, deadline. It depends on the size of the project, but usually I’ll give myself two weeks to evaluate a project. What this allows me to do is remove all the fluff and focus on the core idea around a project.

It is easy to focus on the nitty gritty details and go on many tangents when working on projects, so by defining a hard stop deadline, you’re forced to focus. Everyday within the defined time to work on the project, you should be assessing what is needed and what isn’t.

Plan ahead

Since all my projects are with code, it is easy for me to jump into to building it. Recently I’ve discovered that prior to working on a new project it actually helps to sit down completely away from a computer and plan out what I’m building with paper and pen.

I’m able to kind of think through some of the problems I’ll run into and figure out how the data should be structured and rough UX interactions. I’ve found that by doing this, I’m able to be more productive a lot quicker when I finally do sit down to work on the project in code.

Work on it everyday

One of the important things about working on a project as a parent and I think for just about anyone is to finish your project. Not only should you define a deadline, but you should do your best to finish it. The feeling of finishing really is important to building momentum to working on other projects.

In order to finish, I found that working on the project everyday is the best way for me to keep up with the momentum. Obviously life comes at you from all directions when you’re a parent, but carving out even just 10 minutes from your day to work on the project will help you keep a project moving forward and from ultimately dying.

Figure out what works for you

These are some of the things that I’ve done to carve out time from my day as a parent to move the ball on my projects. Ultimately it’s about finding what best works for you and your family. The point isn’t to neglect your family time to work on projects, but it’s about shaving and trading off things that could be better spent working on projects that is important to you.

As a parent if you’ve got some time hack that you use that’s different from mine, please share them with me on Twitter @michaelsoolee, I’d love to know how you make time for your projects.

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