Sacha Greif wrote about side projects in his last newsletter, making some good points about the benefits of such things. He mentions that these side projects allow us to exercise creative muscle we might not otherwise get to and build up our resume. And I agree.
He also defines a side project fairly broadly and recommends keeping them to 10 hours in duration, start to finish.The issue though, is this: for some, even 10 hours are hard to come by. Personally, I don't have 10 extra hours a week. He talks of the need to make sacrifices elsewhere:
I suggest committing a block of time that you usually spend on something else. For example, stop going to the gym or eat a sandwich at lunch for a week (or even call in sick for a day, or, as I like to call it, "self-initiated 20% time").
I'm stretched and don't have time in my life for going to the gym (I exercise by doing work on my land, something my kids can be involved in). If I'm going to squeeze in 10 more hours of work in a week, sleep is the only thing left to sacrifice.
Sacha makes some good points, but I don't believe he has any children. And that makes a difference.
Your family is not a side project
Over time, there can be a sense of guilt, or being left behind. I haven't had time to learn SASS, or use GitHub enough. I haven't redesigned my online store yet. These are all things Chris Bowler would like to do. And I hope to at some point.
But my purpose here is to simply encourage those with families. Please do not spend your time endlessly comparing your accomplishments or progress with those who have no family. Your setting yourself up for guilt at best, and resenting your family at worst.
Do not confuse this advice with a good work ethic. There is a place for working hard, for being focused, and for sacrificing things like social media and RSS so you can meet a target. So you can create more than consume.
But people who do not have a family to care for don't even realize how much free time they have. They can even afford to waste some, because they have it in such abundance.
Not so with the family man (or woman). I have a wife, six kids, a full time job, a decent sized house, 1.5 acres of land, and lead a small group bible study. I cannot possibly pump out side projects at the pace of a single 20-something living in an apartment in San Francisco. The sooner I realized that, the sooner I could let things go and be at peace.
In all of this, you will have to decide where your priorities lie. Is launching a new application, store, blog more important than building up your children? Do you find yourself watching the clock between 5 and 8 PM, waiting for the kids to go to bed so you can get in a few more hours of sketching, coding or PhotoShop?
I'm not proud to say that has been an accurate description for a lot of my days in years past. And I still struggle with focusing too hard on one project or another. But what I've stopped doing is comparing myself with others. And that has led to more peace.