5 Strategies for Pursuing Your Passion Project

by | Business, Creativity

Working on artwork for Inkline Ridge while I hang with two of my kids!

I started Inkline Ridge (Drawn to Sketching at the time) when I was working full time and spending an additional 15–20 hours commuting every week. I would get home in time for dinner, followed by a short time to play with my kids before putting them to bed. Then I would have a bit of time to spend with my wife — or tending to things around the house — before going to bed. I’d be up by 5 the next morning to catch the bus into the city. I spent nearly five years in that routine.

Commuting was hard for me. I felt uneasy sitting in place for so long and “wasting time”. Some people find peace during those opportunities to turn their brain off and relax for a bit, but that’s never been me.
Between daydreaming of creative pursuits, adventures in the mountains, and needing to keep my hands busy, I resolved to sketch landscapes during my dark and bumpy ride between home and work.
This little opportunity wasn’t ideal, but it was an opportunity nonetheless. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this small effort was the start of my passion project and side business. But how the hell do you make time to grow and sustain a passion project when the rest of life is holding your time hostage? 

A wise man once said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that shit.”

24 hours isn’t as long as it used to be

On more than one occasion, I’ve heard or read (probably in an uninspirational post on Facebook) that we all have the same 24 hours to work with each day. Okay, we all indeed abide by the conventions of time (Unless someone knows something I don’t), but that doesn’t mean we all have the same freedom with how we utilize that time. I understand the sentiment, but I find it unhelpful and overly simplified. My 24 hours felt a lot longer before I had three kids. And my 24 hours feels a bit longer again after ditching my commute. It’s all relative to what we know and what we’ve been through.

Regardless of our perception of time and how busy we find ourselves, some of us feel the itch to pursue passion projects amidst the chaos of life. This is easier said than done, but easier done when you follow strategies that increase your chances of real commitment.

There’s plenty of great advice out there, but the following five strategies have had the most impact on my success with Inkline Ridge. I’ll naturally use art as an example throughout, but these strategies are not specific to art.

5 strategies for pursuing your passion project

  1. Define your project
  2. Set measurable goals
  3. Adapt your routine
  4. Rearrange your time
  5. Manage your project

1. Define your project

It can be hard to accomplish something when you don’t know what that something is. I know, common sense — but it’s a real problem. We chase after things on a whim without having a clear understanding of what we want to accomplish and who it is that we’re accomplishing it for. Defining your project helps you create tangible goals and makes the project feel more real along the way. Defining your project will serve as the foundation for everything else.

  • Here are some examples of questions to ask yourself:
  • What does the end of the project look like, and what will you do with it?
  • Is the project for an audience other than yourself? Who are they?
  • What value will you be bringing to them? And/or to yourself?
  • How will you gauge success when the project is complete?
  • Will it ever really be complete, or will it evolve?
  • What will keep you moving even when the initial excitement simmers?

Once you understand what your project is and why you’re doing it, decide if it’s worth all of the time and effort required to be successful. Then you can start creating goals to encourage and monitor your progress.

2. Set measurable goals

This has been repeated in books and blogs about 14.5 billion times (give or take a billion), but it’s too important to leave out. After defining your project, it’s crucial to establish small, measurable goals to serve as the roadmap for your project.

I’ve had several friends tell me they’d like to draw more. They say it for years, but they never really get around to it. I was also guilty of this for years. One of the problems is that we tend to set such broad goals that it’s hard to measure and easy to put off until tomorrow.

“Tomorrow: A magical place where 99% of all human productivity, motivation, and achievement is stored!”
-Unknown source

Even “draw every day” isn’t specific enough for me, because it feels aimless. Here are some examples of goals for drawing that are more measurable and easier to track — either you’ll earn a satisfying check in the box or a hard-to-ignore fail:

  • Produce one drawing for every 4 hours spent working
  • Draw for 10 minutes each day for one week, then 15 minutes every day for two weeks after that
  • Complete a 30-day sketch challenge (Full transparency, I just failed this one). This is a “draw every day” challenge, but with specific criteria for each day.
  • If you take notes for school or work, do one small sketch representing the content of each page

If you’re interested in a great app for setting goals and establishing — or breaking — habits, check out Streaks.

Now how do you fit these goals into your busy schedule? You can start by adapting your current routine, even if that routine already feels packed.

3. Adapt your routine

This is a major key to “making time” for your project. I place that in quotations because it’s not about making time; it’s about adapting and rearranging your time. Incorporating your project into your current routine is all about adaptation.

Is there a part of your current routine that lends itself to chipping away at your project? Do you binge-watch shows, or watch an episode before bed every night? Can you achieve your goals during that time, without giving up the show? Do you have opportunities to multitask at work? Do you drive to work when you can be taking public transportation? Extra time on a train or bus might be as helpful for you as it was for me.

While I initially adapted my routine by sketching during my commute, Inkline Ridge became bigger than scribbles on bus rides. One of the other things I did to adapt my routine was to initiate more drawing time with my kids. This has been fun for all of us, while I was able to invest more time in my passion project.

As your project may be one that your kids can’t — or don’t want to — actively participate in, then take them to a coffee shop with you. Buy them a treat and set them up with what they enjoy doing (coloring, playing Legos, or whatever else). Do your thing and take occasional breaks to engage with them. This will feel like a special outing to them and will allow you to commit time to your project without neglecting your kids.

I’m currently working on this article at 6 am while my wife drives us all to Oregon. I’ll take over when she’s tired of driving, but for now, I’m dedicating time to my project.

If you can’t be actively working on your project for a few days, be thinking about it while doing other things and always have a notebook or sketchbook at the ready.

Does your current routine not allow you to make use of it this way? Then you may need to rearrange your time to make your project possible.

4. Rearrange your time

The other way to “make time” for your project is to rearrange your time. This is a step further than adapting your routine, and will likely become necessary when prioritizing your passion project.

One way to do this is by chipping away at your project before you do anything else. Start your morning with it, even if it’s just 15 minutes. Will that 15 minutes prevent you from completing what you need to for the day? Then wake up 15 minutes earlier. We can always think of a more necessary thing to do first, which is why so many things that are important to us get put off until later, even when we aren’t typically procrastinators.

The most significant way in which many of us can free up time is reducing — or eliminating — our commute. You can trade that commute time for your project. This is much easier said than done, especially depending on your trade, but have you ever made your case for it? More and more businesses are realizing the benefits of their employees working from home, even if it’s just for just a day or two each week.

Another thing you can do is tack the time onto the end of your workday. Commit yourself to not ending your workday until you spend 30 minutes on your project. If it’s possible, do it before you drive home, or stop at a coffee shop along the way. It will prevent you from plopping down on the couch when you get home. Too many days, I left work full of energy and ready to rock only to arrive at home feeling mentally and physically drained.

Whatever you do to “make time” for your passion project, you need to manage that time and have a clear outline for what you intend to accomplish by when.

5. Manage your project

Managing your passion project is one of the most important things you can do to treat your project with the respect it deserves. This means being your own project manager to hold yourself accountable for every step of the way.

There are many helpful tools out there, but I use Asana for project management. Asana is free and helps me stay organized and on track. It’s fantastic for managing tasks and workflows, either as a team or if you’re a lone wolf like me.

You can schedule your tasks and sub-tasks as needed and always have an all-up view or more detailed views of current and next steps, with due dates and reminders to keep you on track.

Warning: Do not get trapped in this stage, or you’ll suffer from analysis paralysis. Thinking too much about what you’re doing prevents you from just doing. Planning is not the same as producing.

Moving forward

Through all of this, remember to take yourself seriously. It might be common sense that giving your project importance will lead to higher commitment and better results. However, your passion project will usually be the easiest thing to ignore. Nobody is depending on you to finish it, and you’ll be the only one holding you accountable. But you owe it to yourself to know if there’s a future for your passion project, rather than wishing for years you’d have given it a shot.

After five years of commuting to the small agency I worked for as a senior designer, I left to pursue my own calling. Between graphic design, web design, and illustration, I’m in a position where I need to constantly assess and adjust where I focus my time and energy, especially when I’m not committed to billable work for my clients.

I’ll always have gratitude for all that I have and all that I’m capable of, but I’ll never give in to complacency. I’ll always seek to improve my personal and professional life, and always chase what’s next. If you feel the same way, I hope this article is a helpful reminder that your passion project is important and possible — even if you work full-time, have kids at home, and have a long commute in-between.

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