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Finding time to do your creative side projects is a struggle with your day-to-day commitments. Among other things that consume us, we prioritize and re-prioritize bills, family, health, career, etc.. When we do have extra time, we may prioritize our creative projects that enrich and fulfill us.

The image of the artist, musician, or writer with a studio and a dedicated chunk of time does not exist for us who are starting out. We may not have the optimal conditions to do our work. However, we do have moments of time in our day to reclaim for our personal work.

1. Do an audit of your typical week

Look at your schedule and understand where you are investing your time. I have made a spreadsheet to divide up the time I spend from the moment I wake up until I go to sleep. This includes the time at work, the commute, and the time at home

I know what my brain is capable for doing at specific times. This system helps me appropriately time block the right time for the appropriate activities

2. Look for lost time in your daily and weekly routine

These are the times during the regular day-to-day when no one cares where I am or what I am doing. Before 8:30 A.M.. 30 minutes before lunch. After 4:30 P.M.. If you map out productivity or perceived productivity across a day and the week, you can see that demands on your schedule fluctuates depending on the time of day and the days of the week.

Finding time for creative projects. Look for lost time in the day or week

Finding time for creative projects. Look for lost time in your day-to-day or even the week. There can be whole chunks of time where you don’t need to do anything for anyone!

3. Find time when your brain works best and embrace it

Is your brain more active in the morning? Can you concentrate more in the evening? A lot of this has to do with how well you know your schedule. This also has to do with how you have hardwired your life. If you are more creative in the mornings, then how can you carve out time in the morning to work on your projects?

I get up earlier. Currently, my wakeup time is 4:00 AM. This helps me get all of the things I need to do for myself done before most people are ready to work. After tweaking my morning routine for a few years, I have crafted a routine where I have a consistent 40 minutes to illustrate and 30 minutes to an hour to write at least four days a week.

Read more about when are you most creative?

Read more about my 30-day challenge for waking up at 4 AM.

Interested in learning about how creative and driven people start their day? Check out My Morning Routine.

Here is the framework I use to structure the first two hours of my day.

4. Look for possible obstacles in your life

Finding the ideal schedule is a great first milestone. Now, look at your calendar and find times, events, or holidays that will probably disrupt this schedule. The biggest thing on the calendar for most of us is the period between October 31 and December 31. Office parties, school plays, and family gatherings will always steal spots on your calendar. Depending on where you work, this is also the time when your company may want to cram a ton of work into truncated timeline.

This will impact your schedule, energy level, and ability to focus on your creative projects. I make sure to get the bulk of my project(s) done before this period of time. Plus, I also have exercised the right to say ’no’ to new projects during this time of the year.

Honor your needs too. The holidays for me tend to throw my priorities out of whack. It is opportunity to re-examine what activities serve me. Over the last two years as I started this blog and now have dove into this book project, I have learned to balance my social engagement during this period to sneak in creative time too.

5. Relax. This is creativity time is not productive time

You’re going to make something that isn’t perfect. It may even suck. That’s ok. This is what creativity is about. Stretching your skills. Failing and getting better.

Read more on creativity here.

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Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.