Balancing a day job with a creative life on the side doesn't have to be stressful

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Working a full-time day job and being a spare time creative can feel like your trying to fight time while stress wants to be your closest friend. But it doesn't have to be like that.

It can be a happy, balanced and meaningful way live your life.

Over the past two years, I've run this blog, photographed for my Instagram and worked on my novel, along with lots of other projects, all while having a regular office job. 

At times, I've definitely worked too hard. But I've learned a whole lot about what makes me more and less stressed, and nowadays I know what to do when I start feeling like there's never enough time. And today, I'd like to share the most important things I've learned.

Realistic goals are essential to balance a day job with a creative dream

Dreams can be big and fierce, and when you've finally worked up the courage to start working towards them, when the momentum is pulsing through you, it's tempting to set your goals sky high. 

Let's call them what they are: wishful thinking.

You'd love to send a completed and polished draft of a novel away to publishers in a couple of months, so you set that as your goal without really considering that you'll occasionally be tired, you'll still have to cook, clean and wash your clothes like a regular person and that you're essentially human.

You scramble and fall behind and feel like a failure. 

Instead of going down that road, you need realistic goals. Don't get me wrong here, I don't at all advice against brave goals that will force your to grow and go outside of your comfort zone. I just don't think goals based on how much time you'd like to have are very helpful.

Instead, choose ones based on the life you're actually living. You can change aspects of your life to fit your goals, but there are things that you won't be able to change. Accept that and set goals you'll actually be able to meet. I promise, it'll feel much better.

Tend your schedule and your habits with great care

Those realistic goals you've chosen needs to be broken down into a schedule that you constantly keep your eyes on. Not to follow like a die hard fan, but to adjust and iterate on as you go. 

Maybe you're a pro planner, but I'm not. I've never been able to make a schedule that I then managed to stick to religiously. Earlier, that made me feel bad but now it's just part of my routine. 

You plan, you create, you update your plan. 

And when you do, there are a few golden scheduling rules you'd do well to stick to:

  1. Don't take on too many things at once. Having many different tasks going at once creates stress, especially if they are new thing you're not used to doing regularly. Try to focus on one or a few things at a time. It'll be more efficient, and you'll feel better doing it.
  2. Don't leave things to do "if you get the time". As you may know, that time rarely comes and those things will be in the back of your head, like a constant little stressor. Make time for all your tasks, or put them off for the time being. And if you do suddenly find yourself with extra time on your hands, great!
  3. Schedule times to work on certain things. Don't make a huge to do-list to work away at each time you sit down. Instead, plan in advance which task to work on when, based on what fits best. And if you end up doing something else than you planned, just reschedule. 

Apart from a carefully put together schedule, you need intentional habits. The easiest is to always do your creative work on certain times, right before dinner when you get home from work, right after the kids have gone to bed, while eating breakfast or on weekend afternoons.

But if that doesn't work for you, your habits will be even more important to get you in the right mood. Maybe you always make a cup of tea and light a candle, or put on a certain playlist. A little ceremony to get you started.

Even with the best schedule and habits, you'll likely still find stress creeping up now and then to give you a not-so-appreciated hug. For those times, I have three strategies to offer.

  1. Make a brain dump. Always a great way to get small things out of your brain and down on paper. After that, you can start remaking your schedule.
  2. Start counting your work load in time spent working rather than things achieved. Decide that you'll work an hour and after that you're done, whether you did as much as you hoped or not.
  3. Prioritize what's most important and push the other things on the future. Stress is usually a good sign that you've taken on too much. It's okay if things take a little bit longer. 

You need to prioritize self-care and rest if your want to achieve balance

Creating can be a terrific form of self-care, but if you have goals you're reaching for, it will probably not only be relaxing. Creativity forces you to focus and concentrate, and however wonderful, it also takes energy.

You can't just skip rest and self-care to work on your creative projects. It won't work in the long run.

So you need to make it a priority to do those things that makes you relax and feel good. You probably know best if it's taking nature walks, watching Netflix, doing yoga, having tea with a friend or binge-reading. 

Just make sure it happens.

Patience and persistence are your biggest supporters

Let's establish something here, because this is important to understand about yourself.

You'll probably always wish you had more time. It's one of those human things that are extra especially strong if you're trying to balance a day job with a creative life.

You'll get frustrated that things are taking so long. You'll resent your day job a bit for taking up so much of your time. At those times, you need your best buddies: patience and persistence.

Patience is what helps you to be okay with slow progress. It'll help you to celebrate the small wins and decide that you are in this for the long run. That creativity is your life, not a quick little project.

Persistence is what will make you move forward at a slow but steady pace. Not working in big burn out bursts. Not hustling until you can't sleep. But building something beautiful while staying healthy.

So don't despair, dear creative. You're allowed to get annoyed at your situation and fail at balancing your day job with your creative life. Just keep at it and don't accept stress as a normal part of your life.

Now, let's take the scenic route and enjoy the ride!