Are Your Side Jobs Just Wasting Your Time?

Dear Smartly,
Here’s what’s tricky for me: time management. I am spending so much time on income-generating side projects that I am barely making any art. If I invested more time in my art, I might be able to sell it for more than the craft items I make, but there is only one of me and I need sleep. Any tips for avoiding the art void?‬ —MLM

Dear MLM,
I think it’s a matter of looking at your side income projects and asking yourself if they’re doing the job for you that they were meant to do.

When looking at my streams of income, I lump them into two distinct groups, Category One: Fine art/personal fulfillment/makes life worthwhile, and Category Two: Utilitarian/makes money. My goal is to get Category One to the point where it is doing the job of Category Two — and it’s getting there — but these things take time as you know. It’s fine for something in Category One to not make tons of money, if it’s balanced out with more lucrative streams of income in Category Two.

Because I have such lofty goals for Category One, I need to make sure that all of the work from Category Two is doing its job: funding my life, meeting my financial goals and supporting Category One. If it’s not doing that job it either needs to move to Category One (I would spend my free time on it and feel personally enriched) or it’s wasting my time.

Let me give you an example from my own life. Most of my Category Two work falls under the umbrella of graphic design. I’ve been a designer for years, and do freelance jobs for a variety of people and companies. Every once in a while I’ll get an email asking if I would help set-up a few things for a new company, “We don’t have much money, but we’ll need business cards, letterhead, a logo…” I hate designing logos. It’s a task that takes forever, and there’s a lot of little fussy futzing that needs to happen to make it absolutely perfect: ‘Move that line over a hair’, ‘make that circle a touch larger’, ‘what if this word was a shade darker…’ and so on.

Often my well-intentioned client doesn’t know what they want until they’ve seen it, so there’s a lot of ‘trying this,’ and ‘trying that’. Everyone involved has their own unique opinion, and because it’s such a small deliverable, it might not be respected for the huge job it is. Ultimately, logos always take tons of time, and the budgets often don’t reflect the necessary effort. Inevitably, I would finish feeling like I didn’t get anywhere financially or creatively; I’m just 2 weeks older and 2 weeks closer to death (yes, that really sums up how I feel about designing logos!).

So I’ve made a blanket policy in my life to NEVER design another logo for anyone ever again, because that work doesn’t do what it needs to do to be in Category Two, and it definitely doesn’t fall into Category One. In the past I would have taken those jobs, and other low paying, low personal satisfaction graphic design gigs because I felt like I needed the income from whatever paying opportunity was offered to me. But now, I see that I only have time to take paying work that funds my passion. If it can’t do that, it’s just paying me to stay in place, gobbling up the time I could have used to advanced my Category One ambitions, or gotten better jobs that fit into Category Two.

What I would do in your position is to look at your income-generating creative projects and put them into the above two categories. For those in Category Two ask, “are these generating enough income to fund my life and Category One?” If not, look at ways that you can raise your prices to the point that they become worth your time. That may mean refining them, tackling them in a more efficient, cost-effective way, or offering them to a different audience. If that’s impossible, then you’ll need to take a hard look at your Category Two work and decide if your time could be used in a more profitable manner, or better spent furthering your Category One goals.