Sunday, March 09, 2014

Low Stress Side Projects

This week's Tungsten Hippo post is very short- I collected the reasons I love short ebooks, which I had tweeted out a few weeks ago, and posted the list. I think it is a good list, but I fully admit that it is not a particularly meaty post.

But that is OK. Tungsten Hippo is a hobby, just like this blog is. I refuse to let my hobbies stress me out.

I was thinking about that as I thought about the management blog I was considering starting. That blog would not be a hobby- it would be part of my professional life. It might be a great thing to do for my professional life, but there is no doubt that it would sometimes add to my stress, because I would necessarily take it more seriously than I take this blog or Tungsten Hippo.

So I started thinking about how I could manage that, and I tried to really understand what would make it add stress. I think it would come down to the fact that there would be a schedule I'd want to stick to. Of course, I have a posting schedule for Tungsten Hippo, too. In that case, the things I "have" to post on certain days (book recommendations and quotes) are short and easy to create- I designed the site that way. The more time-consuming items- i.e., the blog posts- I intentionally left loosely scheduled. Furthermore, since Tungsten Hippo is not something attached to my professional identity, there isn't a huge amount of pressure to write brilliant blog posts. Obviously, I don't want to write dreck, but posting something like this week's lightweight list is fine.

I was still intending to setup my management blog, though, until my company's legal department put out a new policy which would require that I prescreen any posts with them. THAT would add a lot of stress. So now, I'm not so sure. Maybe I'll try again to get permission to write a column for the other site that has asked me to do so- at least then, I'd get paid for the hassle of getting my columns approved by the legal department!

I may still write fewer blog posts for Tungsten Hippo, because I am now thinking I'll devote some extra time to my chosen learning project for this year, which was to create an app. I also have another kids' story that is now completely drafted. It needs revision and fine tuning, and then I'll try it out on my captive audience and see what they think.

Mr. Snarky and I had a nice dinner out on Thursday, courtesy of my visiting in laws. We were talking about hobbies and side projects, and I realized that of all my non-work activities, the kids books are the most fun. I took some time last week to finish drafting my current work in progress, and that was pure fun. I think that is due to a combination of a lack of time pressure and the fact that writing children's books is completely different from what I do at work. It isn't that it is entirely easy- I was stuck for months on a plot point in my current story- but the problems are nothing at all like work problems.

Mr. Snarky wondered why I didn't just write more books, since I enjoy that so much. I don't think it works like that. I think I need a balance of things to keep me happy. That was one of the key bits of insights into myself that I picked up from reading the books about being a "scanner." I know that sometimes other people look at all the things I have going and think I'm insane and adding stress to my life, but I am actually fairly careful to structure my extracurricular activities such that they do not add stress. It is hard for people who aren't like me to understand this, but I would find it very stressful not to have some side projects going. I just need to be sure to pick the right side projects.

What about you? Do you like to have side projects going, or do you prefer to be focused on one thing at a time?

31 comments:

  1. I think I really do need side projects of some sort, like you, though I still haven't read up on what sort of personality I am. I need to feel productive to be happy, even if I'm just being fun productive designing silly-ass things like address labels and handmaking postcards, hemming kitchen towels, or writing a second blog that I really don't have time for :)

    On the mgmt blog, I guess that would almost have to be under your real name to hold authority? I had considered writing one such myself a couple years ago but wasn't yet willing to pen a blog under my real name. (If not, how would your work know about or be able to block it, as either a practical or a legal matter?)

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    1. I *want* the management blog to be under my real name if I do it, so I haven't explored the implications of writing it under a pseudonym. I'll just funnel my energy into other projects, I guess!

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  2. I'm like you. People often tell me I'm adding stress to my life by my side projects but really, they keep me sane!

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    1. I think it is funny how some people (no one here, of course!) assume I am not capable of determining what adds stress and what keeps me sane...

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  3. I always have side projects going on. At the moment it is just knitting and reading (so...I guess some people wouldn't consider reading a side project...but that's how it feels to me). Often I include computer games, more technical reading (typically math or physics). I've got "learn Python" and "write an app" on my list, but they're really mentally intensive things and are going to have to wait until I have the mental space to tackle something like that.

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    1. Ha! I'm learning Python, too. I decided to take some EdX courses to fill in some gaps in my comp sci theory background, and the first one is also teaching my Python. It is slow going, though, because the problems aren't "real" to me, so I have to force myself to care. I do better learning programming with problems I actually want/need to solve!

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  4. I'm not good at doing much outside of work when I have a toddler. If it weren't for #2 (and, of course, our wonderful readers/commenters) I'd probably have given up the blog by now. I guess I currently have a side project of figuring out enrichment etc. for the oldest kid, but again, that's parenting related.

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    1. Although I guess the 5 cats count as a side project, even if I wish they didn't.

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    2. Not everyone is into side projects- in fact, I think most people aren't, judging by how people react to the fact that I have them. Also, I think your job has more diversity of interests in it than mine does- and you can drive your research where your interests take you (within the limits of funding, of course!) while I have to do what the company needs even if it feels like a solved problem to me.

      And yes, 5 cats would be a side project... Yikes!

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    3. I had side projects before children! Mostly volunteer tutoring in math. And the blog started when DC1 was in his mid to late 3s.

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  5. I cannot imagine doing anything beyond job and toddler at the moment, and I'm barely surviving that. That said, though, even before having a kid, I've never been much of a project person. I suppose I do things, but not in an organized way, and I don't think of them as projects, just as things I do (reading, cooking, writing, hiking, website work, etc.).

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    1. I only started doing anything beyond writing occasional blog posts around the time my youngest turned 3- before that, it was much more survival mode!

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    2. Zenmoo11:31 PM

      This is what depresses me most about being pregnant again - I feel like with a 4yr old I finally got my brain/energy back and it's going to be gone again for years.... (I am looking forward to having another 4year old though. Eventually)

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    3. Congrats!

      4 was the magic year for us too...

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    4. I missed the announcement! Congrats!!!

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    5. irisevelyn1:34 PM

      Cloud, somehow it really makes me happy to read that you started with side projects about the time Petunia turned three. My kids are 2.5 and 4.5 and my side projects are just things like doing crafts with the kids and planting bee friendly plants on the balcony, but I don't have the energy for a real side project. With the kids getting older and less dependent, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I'm not out of the tunnel yet, especially with the kids getting sick all the time at the moment.

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  6. I don't know how you have time for side projects with kids, but I'm jealous. Right now, our joint project is kids. Now we had to license for foster care and then deal with a very disturbed kid. But I don't foresee having time for much else for 3-5 more years, when our kid hits high school age and maybe has better stability. If I have a few free minutes, my side projects are baths and reading!

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    1. When parenting is intense, my side projects get shunted even further to the side. It is frustrating! Hang in there.

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  7. I tend to have side projects as well, or at least things to be involved in (such as being a part of a new charity-type group and starting a support group for mothers who share the same hobby). So, not the same kind, but still other things I take on that might add stress to others but I find it energizes me.

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    1. Your charity group is such a cool thing. It is an awesome side project!

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  8. I really need external creative outlets, but I am reluctant to do anything that would make them a chore (e.g. I don't schedule posts etc). I like writing (hence the blog) and I have started to draw again after literally decades of not drawing at all, and I am enjoying it so much!!! But I don't want to do anything where I start committing to some predetermined quality of either writing or drawing or to a posting frequency. I really want to be able to suck or not suck and just do stuff when I want and how I want.
    I wish I could write more, learn a new language, and exercise more, but for now blog-related activities are what I have time for.
    I am probably a scanner, like Cloud, but it also appears I have (for real) a bit of ADD, so I need to be overstimulated to be happy and productive; caffeine plus academic life often do the trick, but I generally need more.

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    1. Side projects must not have strict schedules in my book... I'm really enjoying seeing the drawings you post. I'm glad you picked that back up!

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  9. I feel like I am nothing but side projects some days. It can be hard when you have multiple interests and talents and get different and necessary things from all of them.

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    1. Both of the books I discuss in the "Scanning My Renaissance Soul" post that is linked to in this post talk about how to handle having multiple interests. If you haven't read them, maybe take a look. They helped me a lot.

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  10. I don't have as many side projects as you, but I do know that I need more than one focus (outside family) to keep me happy! I believe in "diversifying" one's portfolio of hobbies/ambitions. When I'm stalled and grinding my teeth at fiction writing, it can be a relief to turn to a technical medical writing assignment (and the paycheck is an ego boost, too). And fiction writing--when it's going well--is such an escape from everything else. I'm also trying to cook more seriously, and have gotten more involved with a local mother's group. . . of course it's easier to "diversify" when you don't have a full-time job =)

    By the way, congrats on the second children's that you're working on! My kids and I loved your first =)

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    1. Thanks! The second book is supposed to be out in time for me to give it to Petunia for her 5th birthday (in October). I am really excited about it!

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  11. I love side projects! They make me feel like I am making progress on something I find personally satisfying, even when most of my other time is used for other people. I do find general themes though with what I am interested in.

    I read The Renaissance Soul and Refuse to Choose awhile back. I found what she said about how most people are interested in a few themes, even when it feels like they are interested in everything, to be true for me.

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    1. The biggest takeaways for me were the idea of a "sampler tray" of interests- i.e., having ~4 "focal points" at a time, and the idea that I lose interest in a project when I've gotten what I needed from it. That helped me understand (and accept) my need to drop things and move on from time to time.

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  12. Great tips! I love side projects. They are great stress reducers. I enjoy blogging, DIYs and reading.

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    1. Interestingly, I have yet to get into an DIY projects. The time may come, though...

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