Finding a Balance Between Personal and Paid Work

Finding a Balance Between Personal and Paid Work

When you’re the creative type, personal projects can really be beneficial. It allows one to grow within their skill set, and also helps to constantly be rekindling the creative side of our work. Beyond that, some personal projects can turn into some side income, or entire businesses.

Finding a Balance Between Personal and Paid Work
Image credit: Busy Building Things

We all have those weeks where we are so into our top personal project that we want to put our client work on the backburner, I know I do. As I’m in the process of writing a book right now, I tend to procrastinate far more on client work, especially if a deadline isn’t looming. Of course, too much of this and I find I can get behind on those projects that pay my bills!

On the other hand, many designers can get too ingrained with client work that they forget what their creative side is all about. Whether it’s because we took on too much work or we’re just overly focused with no personal projects to work on, only working on this type of work can be detrimental to a creative career. While putting in more billable hours, there is no time left to grow and learn in order to move a design career forward.

In this article today we’ll go over some tips for finding a balance between these two types of work: paid client work and personal creative projects.

Why It’s Important

We’ve already gone over briefly why having both are important to a creative career, but let’s look more into why having a balance of both is even more important.

A design job with only client work means only work that we’re mostly unenthusiastic about. Of course, there are those projects that are less than desirable that we have to take on every now and then, but even the types of projects that we love doing most and that we may get a rush of excitement for doing in the beginning are lacking true enthusiasm. When you do work for clients, you are creating nothing for yourself, and while doing the type of work you love, the project itself is not something you can dedicate to.

They say money and the lifestyle that may come from it is far less of a motivator than previously thought. In fact, getting paid more for a task often times leads to less quality work. Just check out the video below, and how their research found motivation to work:

They found that when people do work out of free will (hence, personal projects), there are far better outcomes for the project, and the workers ultimately end up happier.

With more time spent on personal projects, one can not only move their career forward, but also be in better spirits to do higher quality work for paid projects.

If one does only personal projects though, it begins to feel like a task. Yet another fact of human nature is that we are workers. Without minor stress that comes from work and without a balance of challenge and concentration from out daily routine, we become unhappy. Put more simply, the more we do what we love, the less we love it. We may even begin to despise it!

Therefore, we need client, paid work in order to pay the bills, but also to keep loving our personal projects and maintain a feeling of balance in our lives. We also need to dedicate some time to our personal projects in order to move forward with our careers, and also keep our quality of paid work in check. Without one or the other, nothing comes out at top quality, and we may even begin to dislike our careers.

Finding Balance

There will always be those weeks where we have too much to do and will not have time to work on our personal projects. There will also be times when we don’t have enough to do and are feeling extra creative, so we’ll dedicate a large portion of our time to making progress on our next big personal project. For the most part, creative types can go with the flow in regards to balancing out personal vs. paid projects. It does, however, take a bit of management to not get too far behind in either category.

Finding Balance
Image credit: Heiko Brinkmann

Below are some tips to keep in balance:

Dedicate 1 day a week to a personal project

Having one complete day will help you to get fully focused on the personal project, and help to make a lot of forward progress. It also gives your mind a full break from any other pending client tasks. Spending time on a personal project can help to act as a “vacation” away from client work, and when you return to your paid work, you may find that it goes much smoother and you may have the solutions to any problems from before. It can act much like any other kind of break from your work.

Keep your finances in check

Because client projects ultimately pay your bills, you never want to get so far behind that you’re not only rushing to meet deadlines, but also struggling to pay your bills in time. If you get caught up in the excitement of a personal project, this can surely happen. Always track your finances like a hawk — if you get too far behind, re-focus on paid work until you even out again. Likewise, if you plan on focusing a few solid weeks on some unpaid work, be sure to plan ahead and budget for it! It may even help to save up a bit beforehand.

If your muse strikes you, go for it

As long as there are no deadlines fast approaching and your priority list is flexible, if you find inspiration to make a huge dent in a project, then go for it. This can apply to personal projects or client work. Sometimes I don’t feel any inspiration towards a paid project, and put it off as long as there’s no rush. I’ll suddenly get the urge to work on it a bit, and end up spending the whole afternoon making huge progress on it. (I love those types of afternoons!)

Variety in Personal Projects

The most effective way to get something done is to focus fully on it. The same goes for personal projects, and when there’s no deadline or check coming your way directly from it, any motivation to get it done helps. It’s important to always focus on one personal project at a time in order to ensure its completion and quality (it’ll likely leave you less frazzled too).

Variety in Personal Projects
Image credit: msdiamondfarah

However, what happens when you want to do something creative and you’re burnt out from both your primary personal project and all of your paid work? It’s nice to have something to go to during working hours. Working on two major projects can become a burden, but many creative people tend to find even further balance between a main personal project and a few other small ones. These might include blogging, creating a freebie to give away, or perhaps a personal creative project that is far from one’s own industry, such as learning a new language or an artistic hobby.


Many think that personal projects are something only to work on in their spare time, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They should be planned for and scheduled, and treated just as importantly as client projects because they are the driving force behind moving a creative career forward and also keeping the respective creative person happy and with a feeling of being in control of their business and career.

This is exciting news — it’s now good advice to dedicate more time to the things we love! Finding a good balance is most important though, enough of a balance so that paid work is sufficient for your current lifestyle and you do not get behind in it, but also so that personal projects get the attention and forward progress they deserve.

Kayla Knight is a web designer and frontend web developer. She specializes in responsive web design, progressive web technologies, and also knows her way around most CMS’s and PHP. You can find out more and check out her portfolio at


    • Tyler,
    • January 14, 2012
    / Reply

    Nice post, Kayla. I’ve found it useful to try something completely different from what I’ve been doing to keep myself motivated to do paying work. If I’ve been designing a bunch, I might try some writing. If I’ve been doing a ton of SEO, switching gears to working on web development might work.

    • Jon,
    • January 15, 2012
    / Reply

    Loved the post. I’m just getting started in the field as a student, and was glad to read this prior to it becoming a problem for me. Thanks!

  1. / Reply

    Finding a balance like this also creates the opportunity to discover new things. Taking a break from the usual mundane gives your creative space more room to rest and bounce off new ideas you had the time for previously.

    • Jason,
    • January 17, 2012
    / Reply

    I’ve just started out in the web design industry, I find it hard to find a balance between personal and paid work, sometimes I use some ideas from paid work as inspiration for personal work and vice versa.

  2. / Reply

    Loved this post! I have been working full-time as a freelance writer for two years, and it all started out as just a hobby. I recently found myself in a rut, in large part due to neglecting my creative projects. Thanks for the inspiration!

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