Making Time in a Chaotic World

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As an entrepreneur, you’re brimming with ideas, but who has the time to act on them? Being unable to find the time to work on what you want to work on is a common problem. So how do we make room in our lives for this stuff? Designer extraordinaire and guest writer Arley McBlain serves up some suggestions.

Personal projects aren’t for everyone, but most of us have a passion for something. You can give it an unflattering small name like “hobby,” or something grandiose like “the reason I was put on earth,” but some of us have an insatiable drive to work on that one thing in our mythical free time.

Say What?

None of this ‘personal project’ stuff ringing a bell so far? If you don’t have the bizarre urge to work outside of work, that may be a good thing! To me, this ‘work’ (in quotations since play would be a more accurate label) is better equated to experimentation and a fun creative outlet. For others, creating a personal project might be the launch pad to one day starting a new career or business. For others, the word project might be too strong; perhaps there is a craft or skill-set they want to devote time to develop.

Whether you’re writing blog posts, learning to play guitar, or building a cabinet, I have found this to be a common truth: we are all ‘too busy’. There is never enough time in the day to do all we would like to do.

My Story

Two years ago, I found myself in this exact predicament: an ever growing To Do list, with zero time to put toward it. My passion is in making websites. Yes, I do this for a living, but there is a vast difference between the work clients want, and the types of “sandbox” projects I want to experiment with. These kinds of personal projects are hugely important for professional development, creating new techniques, and flexing some creative muscle on components that are too far from convention for clients.

The introduction of a child in my family has been incredible, one of the best things to happen to me — and no small investment of time. More than just a few wish list projects got moved to the back burner. On rare occasions plans would change, some responsibility would be lifted from my shoulders and a wonderful (albeit small) quantity of time would land on my lap. More often than not, I would fail to capitalize on these, and be left feeling guilty about it. Ridiculous.

I needed to make a plan, so I did. It’s not easy, and it’s not always pretty, but it works. I have since tackled my personal site redesign (the most daunting item on my to do list), and completed a few other rewarding items on my now shrinking lists. I did all of this by making just a few simple changes in my life.

1. Entertainment Time

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We all need downtime, and I don’t want to minimize the importance of ‘turning off’. That said, I think in our culture there’s plenty of wiggle room in our entertainment routines to do something a little more productive. Statistics suggest most North Americans are spending nearly 30 hours per week watching television alone. When I consider that this is an extra day every week that I could make something with, I get pretty pumped! If you can completely cut out a major chunk of TV, gaming or fruitless web-surfing time, you’re well on your way to making up some valuable project time.

I’m not saying you should completely replace all downtime with personal projects, but rearranging your relaxation habits should be your first change toward making time for something rewarding. That show you love watching isn’t going anywhere (and even if it does, you can catch up later).

Being too hardcore here will only lead to burnout. I like to keep at least one day of the week for completely guilt-free relaxation. The other six days I make sure that I’ve earned that.

2. Sleep Time

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If you live a long and healthy life, right up to an average lifespan you will have spent 25 years asleep! Think about that. YEARS. Are you sleeping 8 hours a night? If you are, do you need to? Right after college I was fortunate enough to have a social life that let me test how much sleep I need! I need more than four, but can get by on six hours, as long as it’s not for more than a week without one good catch-up night. How about you? If you can trim the fat on your pillow, you might find yourself with a really good slice of time to pursue your projects.

The two most obvious ways to tackle this are staying up later, or getting up earlier than you otherwise would. I’ve tried both and find the quality of work and my motivation are most fired up first thing — no, before the first thing in the morning. I can still get my minimum needed sleep and get up at 5 a.m. Just an extra hour per day has made a big difference in what I can accomplish in a week.

I have found one major catch in waking up early: it requires planning ahead, and knowing what you’ll be doing in the morning. If there isn’t something specifically planned for 5:30 a.m., I am going to lose a battle with my will. Set your alarm, and set some very specific goals for this time you’re setting aside.

3. Family Time

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When you’re rearranging your life to reach a goal it might be tempting to cut into personal time with the people closest to you. Don’t! Family comes first. Always, and no matter what. If people and relationships in your life are getting attention before your projects, that’s a very good thing. Keep it that way. At the end of your life, the people you love and care about will be way more important than any project or other part of your life. Keep this perspective in mind.

4. Exercise Time

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This is a bit counter intuitive, and is something I trip up on often. In order to make time for your project you’re going to want to devote some time to a couple of unrelated, but valuable tasks: reading and working out.

I find making time for reading just before bed or first thing in the morning helps to sharpen my mind — even when it’s completely unrelated to what I am working on. Research suggests that the act of reading a book puts our minds into a different mode; a sort of mental discipline that helps us better focus on all other areas of our life.

Similarly, working out has been shown to help with energy and focus. “Fitness” was billionaire Richard Branson’s answer to how he is consistently such a productive person. More than a few exciting ideas I’ve had have come to me while jogging. Even with my success with this, it’s the hardest thing on this list for me.

5. Today’s Time

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You don’t need to radically turn your life upside down to get the ball rolling. You can make one tiny change today to start making progress on your goal.

Sometimes we can over complicate things and create obstacles by placing too much importance on the end result. If you can only spend five minutes on this doing some tiny administrative task, it might be the most worthwhile time you spend all day. Jot down your ideas, start a list, and make a plan.

Nothing worthwhile will be done in a day, so enjoy the journey and these first tiny steps toward your monumental goal.

Here’s to You!

Hopefully some small sacrifices to how you’re currently spending your time will start to add up into some meaningful personal growth and project progress. The results and gains you will experience by making this time for yourself may quickly start being their own reward, and act as a self-fuelling motivation for you. Lists, coffee and a love of organization will become faithful friends, and you’ll quickly begin to build a legacy to look back on.

Whatever the cause, need, or desire, you’re going to need a plan to make the time. It’s not always easy, but the challenge makes it all the more rewarding.

Also, this post was written while you were asleep.


Arley McBlain is an Ontario-based web designer who works at Thrillworks. Follow him on Twitter @ArleyM.

One response to “Making Time in a Chaotic World”

  1. Les Reynolds says:

    Great article. I’ve been bemoaning the lack of time I have for personal projects, and this is a great combination of tips and encouragement to make time. Thanks!

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