How I Find Time for Creative Work While Working a Full Time Job
During the day, I work as a Product Manager for a construction technology startup. On nights and weekends, I write and I organize a writing community. My full-time job can be demanding but I’ll always find time for my creative work.
It’s common for creative people to feel they lack time and energy for their work after a day job. Many creatives in the past have proven it’s possible to still pursue their art while having a job - Einstein worked on the theory of relativity while employed as a patent clerk, Dana Gioia worked as the VP of Marketing for a large food manufacturing company while being a nationally recognized poet, and Ted Chiang wrote Story of Your Life which became adapted into the movie Arrival while working as a technical writer at Microsoft. There are many more examples of prominent creatives working on their craft with a full-time job, it almost seems like it’s more of the norm rather than the exception.
For myself, my job and my creative life are complementary. My job provides stability and finances while my writing offers a creative outlet and meaning. If my life was just my job, it would be dull and unfulfilling. On the other hand, if I only made art, I would be financially insecure and may need to compromise my creative integrity in order to monetize my work. I view my work as a patron to my creative life, and I can use the money provided by my job to take more risks with my art and save up for when I want to take the leap or invest in my craft.
Making time to pursue creative work is a matter of prioritizing it. If a friend claims they don’t have time, that indicates to me that it’s not important enough for them. No one says they don’t have time to eat dinner; if something is a priority, we make time for it. Balancing the two means making sacrifices and having self-control. You’ll need strong time management skills to stop addictions like doomscrolling on social media or watching Netflix. It means you’ll also need to be selective when you go out instead of saying yes to everything.
Setting Boundaries with Work
During my work hours from 9-6, I’m completely focused on my job. Fortunately, my team is mostly on the West Coast, so I have my mornings free from 9-12. I use this time to accomplish most of my work and condense meetings into the afternoon. Working after hours is a last resort since it takes away from my creative work.
Knowing my priorities and saying no when I have too much work are important for making sure I don’t exceed my boundaries. During my weekly 1:1s with my manager, I’ll discuss how a new task fits into my priorities and whether it’s okay to remove something from the bottom of the list. When I receive an invitation to a meeting that I do not have much to contribute to, I ask the host about the purpose, the agenda, and whether I’m actually necessary or not.
After 6 pm, I’m done with work. I don’t think about it anymore and I won’t respond to Slack messages or Emails until the next day.
Deep Rest and Deep Play
During the day, I’ll focus on my job and immediately afterward I’ll take time to rest. Resting is just as important as working, but it should be a restorative and regenerative type of rest. Scrolling on Instagram or watching YouTube videos does not provide this kind of rest for me, but going for a walk, to the gym, or reading does.
Working on a creative project should energize you and bring a sense of purpose. Don’t start a project because you think it’s what you want to do; make sure it truly inspires you. Otherwise, you’ll only exhaust yourself.
Making Time on Nights and Weekends
Monday to Friday after 7:30 pm is my creative time. Even if I’m tired from work, I find that I’m able to get into a productive “flow” shortly after starting. It’s like running; it can take a few minutes to reach that “runner’s high” but there’s always more energy to be tapped.
On the weekends, I dedicate my mornings to my creative projects. I head to my favorite coffee shop and write from 9 to 12. Maybe even spending more time that day depending on the project.