Why You Need a Side Project

Lots of people I know act as if the busier they are, the more productive they’ll be. The work-life balance is something all entrepreneurs and self-starters have to negotiate in their own way, but here’s a curveball most haven’t considered: start procrastinating.

More specifically, put off what you have to do slightly in favor of side projects, ideally ones that teach you a new skill, and if it’s related to your main gig, all the better. But it doesn’t have to be.

I don’t know if Make Magazine Writer Saul Griffith coined this phrase, but he calls it “productive procrastination.” Here’s his reasoning:

I gave up on trying to do exactly what I was meant to be doing in favor of always doing something. Frankly, I’m not sure we’re designed to focus on only one thing for eight or ten hours in a row. I’ve always found that it’s useful to have something else to be doing when you’re too burnt out to face the next thing on your list. That way, flipping back and forth between the two projects prevents focus fatigue.

It’s totally true. In the rare months I have off from teaching, I feel like I’m much more susceptible to burnout. That’s why I also run as much as possible, weather permitting.

But that’s still not exactly what he means. He means a learning project, and that “it doesn’t really matter what it is, just have something on the back burner.” In that spirit, I have lots of writing side projects: There are scripts I’m writing, a web series I’m co-creating with my friend Ceda and so on. But I should probably develop some side projects that have nothing to do with writing because, guess what, I do that a lot. I suggest you do the same: Take stock of what you’re usually doing and think about what new thing you could explore that will re-ignite your passion. In other words, turn your burnout into a fire under your behind.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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