I have always enjoyed reading about other people’s productivity hacks and workflows, in general, regarding whatever they might be doing. However, I often stumble upon reading how people maintain an extravagant lifestyle with dozens of different hobbies, interests, and passions with ease. So it makes me wonder how they manage their time to maintain a healthy level of participation in their interests without burning out.
I don’t have dozens of different passions or interests in my life, but my passions tend to be quite large on their own, so when combining those with 40 hour work week, I need to think about my time management thoroughly. These passions I would consider to be writing, music and programming. Fortunately, I currently work in the tech industry, so I can make a good living by doing one of my passions. Writing on its own isn’t necessarily a huge topic/interest in the sense that it only consumes time, but the practice itself is pretty straightforward. On the other hand, music is time-consuming, and it involves many different activities, in my case. Sure, you could argue that writing includes other practices, too, like planning what to write, but music is on another level. I play multiple instruments, which I record for myself and others in my home studio. I enjoy composing tunes, adding some mixing and mastering to this, and you need to sacrifice a lot of time for this. Programming is also something that I enjoy spending my time on. While I do it for a living, what makes me genuinely like it is the projects I work on in my free time, whether it’s my pet projects of various sizes or some open-source projects.
Finding the time and focusing on the task at hand isn’t necessarily an issue for me, but it’s more about maintaining a healthy balance between all these passions that I hold dear to me. Although that being said, I would consider myself a very gifted procrastinator, so focusing on the task at hand can often be tricky. However, focusing becomes no more an issue once I’ve gotten into the flow. A more significant problem here is often finishing projects rather than starting a new one (which I feel is entirely another issue to improve).
When I work on my passions, I tend to focus for days or weeks on one passion, e.g. programming, neglecting my other passions like writing and music. This on its own isn’t necessarily a bad thing since I don’t feel that I’m wasting my time when I’m doing something that I enjoy and can get rewarded in multiple ways. But I would like to maintain an equal balance between my passions.
Tools to the Rescue
A while ago, I started reading about how other people have managed their time with multiple passions/hobbies, and almost unanimously, everybody used various schedules for this. So I have already used a “life management” system for a long time to handle all my to-do lists and schedules related to my home and work life (insert praising words about Emacs’ org-mode here).
I’m not going into details about how I manage my life with org-mode, but if you’re interested in the tool, I would recommend going through articles found at Org for GTD and other Task management systems and from Rainer König’s OrgMode tutorial
I realise that I have been missing for a long time in my current setup because I haven’t scheduled when to work on what project. While I’ve split my free-time projects into sub-tasks and occasionally schedule and deadline when to work/finish those, the work has always been very sporadic. The result has often been that I work for an X period on one project and then move on to another, so I usually just forget what I was supposed to do on the earlier project. For me, this often leads to unnecessary postponing or cancelling/removing tasks completely. I also quickly start saying, “I’ll do it tomorrow”, which everyone knows won’t happen.
So I started to approach the whole concept of time management between multiple different interests: to make dedicated timeslots and days for whatever I might be working on. I maintain numerous ongoing projects that don’t necessarily have deadlines but are just larger projects that I want to work on it from time to time. Then these projects have sub-projects which are usually scheduled with deadlines. These projects and sub-projects might include something related to work, home, open-source work, recording, or simply writing something.
I nowadays approach working these by dedicating timeslots for something on a specific day. My work life and day-to-day home stuff take a good portion of my days, but I try to use it as efficiently as possible the rest of the time. So on Monday, I might work on some programming-related endeavours based on my backlog, Tuesday something else and so on. The way I still approach tasks haven’t changed in any way, as in I still manage my tasks and TODOs and keep track of them, but nowadays, I just dedicate specific days to specific interest/passion.
This way, I don’t feel that I’m neglecting the stuff I want to work on. Issues with this kind of approach are the context switching almost daily. However, this kind of switching isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I don’t want to think about work-related topics after I’ve “clocked in the hours”, but I want to do something to relax or move my thoughts elsewhere. I’ve mainly stumbled with issues that when you might focus on programming one day, you focus on music. While this switch on its own hasn’t been too bad in my case, when I get back to, for example, programming after doing something else for several days, it always takes a while to get back to the flow. But I do believe that this is just missing practice in the world of managing multiple different passions.
I have now split my time between multiple passions for several weeks, which is an excellent way to go. It has also taught me about the stuff that I genuinely want to work with since when you write down what you want to do and when it’s easy to spot the stuff that you don’t want to work on or just don’t have an interest in it. So this also works in my case to find the topics that genuinely interest me. Will I continue to manage my time like this for long? Well hopefully. I feel that this way, I can contribute to all the stuff that makes my life interesting, so obviously, I wouldn’t want to miss that.