Tips to Find Balance Between Personal and Paid Work Before Life Rips You Apart


I am sure all of us have a lot of work to do during our freelance workday or even during the full-time agency job. But I am also sure that most of us have side projects as well. While some can be beneficial for your pocket and experience, sometimes you just want to develop your own tool, write a blog post or design something for friends or do some pro bono work. After eight hours of work, it is highly unlikely that you want to continue doing the same thing at home, so the question is how to manage doing both while still remaining motivated and focused on the goals. Moreover, if talking about what catches our attention all the time – money – personal projects are not usually the ones that put cash in our pockets.

If we look at the issue from the other perspective, it’s easy to spot designers or developers who only focus on client work and forget side projects entirely – even if they would actually like to create something on their own. While working more and more for money, the time for side projects is less and whereas this helps us grow in the business and drives our career forward, it doesn’t allow us to experiment with our ideas and achieve success on our own. And let’s face it, it doesn’t make us excited and motivated either.

Image by onetwo.

Finding a balance between personal and paid work is a crucial skill designers and developers need nowadays, therefore in this article we will cover some tips on the issue and, hopefully, by the end of it you will know which way to take from now on.

The importance

We covered why both concepts are important for us, but let’s explore the topics a bit more.

Working full time is not only important for paying the bills (although this might be the real reason behind it), but also for our careers. Having a lot of experience in the industry can only be an asset and will drive you forward whenever you need – it will now and then even land you that dream job if you are good enough.

But the downside of it is that you don’t really create anything for yourself. Everything you work on goes to a client who uses it and besides being able to show it off as your work, you will never get close to that project again. Doing work for others is not always going to make you enthusiastic and will in most cases only be work for money. The lack of real enthusiasm will kill your motivation at some point in time and we all know this is not beneficial.

Your client work may suffer because you don’t dedicate time to personal projects. Now I am not saying this is the case all the time, but the thought behind it might be:

Why work on each pixel to be perfect when the client will not notice anyway, and I will not be able to use the work afterwards?

There are lots of debates about this on the web and I will not take part in them; the only thing that I can assure you of is that working for yourself will always end up with better results.

People who are dedicated to a cause or a project often deliver work at a better quality. Money is not always the most important factor. I know lots of designers who would give up their non-exciting jobs for being able to work on something they like for the minimum amount of money they need. And I know some of you think the same.

On the other side, spending way too much time working on personal projects or pro bono work is highly unlikely to bring you the money you need to survive, much less tuck some away for new gear. It will keep you in better spirits, but on the other hand money is important too.

Image by atconc.

The bottom line is that while we need clients to pay for our work and keep us financially happy, we also need side projects which keep us enthusiastic and excited. This is the balance all of us need to reach.

Finding the balance

If you are a freelancer, there will be times when there is no time for side projects at all. We are all aware of them. And it is totally understandable! I do not think doing both every day is the solution. Paid work has to be prioritized and finished first. If you aren’t ahead of schedule, don’t think of side projects.  This is my rule, I don’t start personal projects if the work I should have done is not finished. Case closed!

There is no problem in putting paid projects back in the queue, if the deadline is not approaching fast, so you can work on something personal. But doing too much of this can get you behind schedule and this creates problems, as work projects need priority in most cases.

There is, however, time for side projects whenever you are ahead of schedule. If there are no deadlines you have to meet in the near future, you should have enough spare time. Some tips to find the right balance could be the following:

Check the finances

Client projects are the ones bringing you the big bucks. They pay the rent, the bills, the holidays and the taxes. They have to be your main focus, I can’t stress enough about how important this is. If you know that by the end of the month you need a specific amount of money, work for it. That is your goal for the month.

Working on your personal projects can also be considered kind of a vacation from the client work. You may even find yourself feeling relaxed while working on something you enjoy. If you think it relaxes you, do it in the afternoon – use an hour or a specific amount of time before going to sleep. This way you have something to look forward to every morning. I have a better suggestion though…

The 1/7 rule

There are seven days a week, five working days. Using one of them for personal projects is something I personally enjoy doing. This will help you focus on your client work and make you look forward to the specific day when you take on your side projects. Working on them will be like a holiday for you – as they will allow you to relax.

Image by Elphie17.

This method might be better than the first one because you will make a clear differentiation between personal and paid work. Monday – Thursday only paid work and Friday side projects, for example. This means four days when you work entirely on your paid projects, then one for the rest. I think it sounds quite fair.

Instant inspiration

Sometimes you might get hit by instant inspiration, which doesn’t happen too often. If the deadlines for the client projects aren’t looming over you, then move on to your side projects and work there. Afterwards, use the allotted time for side projects to get back on track with the paid work. This way you ensure that you deliver quality projects both for your clients and for whoever it is you are working for when working on extra projects.

We talked a lot about side projects. When talking about doing something you enjoy this doesn’t necessarily mean designing. You can maybe blog, take pictures, learn to cook or something else. Working on side projects doesn’t mean doing the same type of work as you do between 9 and 5, but doing something that relaxes you and keeps you motivated and focused. The bottom line is that whatever hobbies you have, you can combine them with working on your full-time job and still end up doing both properly.


I’ve heard many people say side projects are a waste of time, as they do not always bring you good money. It’s not always about money. Actually, once you have the minimum financial success you need in order to live a decent life, it is not about money anymore. Personal satisfaction is very important in our lives and if you don’t aim reaching it, you career will suffer too.

If you are open-minded you will notice side projects can only be beneficial to your career and you will start finding time for them in your schedule right away. None of us is so busy that we don’t have time for personal projects anymore. Time can always be found, all we need is the will to do it.

Until next time… how do you combine your side projects to the paid work you do? Do you have a better way or some other suggestions on the topic?



  1. billywood805

    ramadan sms is very nice article. You have position the information which installation in eid messages existence and individual can accomplish something if they really go behind them. Great job. Keep it up!

  2. The points you have mentioned here are actually great but as per my experience it’s really hard to strike a good balance between personal and work life. The tension and stress of work creeps into personal life, which is totally unwanted and lot of problems pop up because of that.

  3. I typically start the first half of the day dealing with client projects ( freelance web developing) and switch to my primary side project by 1 or 2pm and work until I’m s satisfied for the day or the Simpsons come on TV ( big fan and long term fan/addict)

    I’m fortunate enough to have a side project that pays more than my freelancing work if broken down to hourly rates. I just haven’t hit the point where my side project can replace my freelancing career… yet (maybe by the end of 2012!)

    Another good reason to have side projects with long term goals which deliver financial freedom overtime.

  4. CH

    Whoah, topic I’ve always read with pleasure :) I have full-time job as creative manager/webdesigner and words: “After eight hours of work, it is highly unlikely that you want to continue doing the same thing at home…” is so like me – I’ve even said: “yea” to myself ;/

    I have tons of ideas to make, I’m writing/saving them to notepad and keep on my desktop and when I have spare time (which is soooo dam hard to create some) always open that file and try to put one-two into reality. I found highly pleasurable activity tho’ – I make stickers and share with them to other people :D It’s so relaxing to stick one here, stick second there at day/night … generaly everytime;)

    But, sincerely I have problem with reconciling job-projects and personal ones ;/ I will try 1/7 rule maybe that helps. I agree money is not always everything – we need to find some enjoyment in our work :)

    Best regards, Ch.