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How to Juggle Your Creative Projects Around Family Life
Making the most of the creative time you do have
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ali Luke.
It can be tough to make the space and find the energy for creative projects at the best of times. But when you have young children or a busy family life, it’s often particularly tricky.
I’ve got two kids, aged five and nearly-seven. Eight years ago, I could spend whole Saturdays writing fiction, if I wanted to, and it was easy to work into the evenings on my blog posts and ebooks.
But, like pretty much every parent out there, I’ve found that it’s a lot harder to find the time, energy, and attention for creative projects since having kids. Raising kids takes time — not just the time spent with them, but the extra time spent on what I think of as “household admin”: laundry, dishes, tidying, scheduling activities, and so on.
For many creatives, too, having kids makes it even more imperative that (at least most of) your projects result in a financial gain. It’s a lot harder to justify spending time and money on building a creative practice that’s purely for enjoyment, or that might not pay off for years.
So how can you juggle your creative projects around the demands of family life? It might mean more planning ahead and more patience than you’d need if you were childfree. But it’s definitely possible to manage multiple creative projects.
Here are a few things to try out. (Note that I’m going to focus on writing, because that’s where all my creative efforts are focused, but a lot of these tips will apply to artists, musicians, and other creatives, too.)
1. Coordinate With Your Partner
If you’ve got a partner or spouse, you’ll need to get them on board with your creative plans. (If you’re parenting solo, is there a supportive family member or friend who could pitch in with occasional childcare?)
I know that it can be tough to explain the importance of your creative project(s) to someone who doesn’t “get” that type of creativity. But even if your partner doesn’t really understand why you want to write/paint/sing, you can still come to some sort of agreement that preserves time for your creativity.
One way to make this work is to discuss finding some time for each of you to pursue your own projects or interests. That might mean one of you takes the kids out to the park for two hours on a Saturday while the other has time off from parenting, and that you swap over on a Sunday.
2. Streamline Household Tasks
Even now that I’m almost seven years into parenting, I’m still sometimes astonished by just how much time routine household tasks end up taking. If regular chores seem to be taking all the space (and mental energy) you could otherwise spend on your creative projects, some options are to:
Hire help. When our children were very small, we had a cleaner coming in once a week to do the bathrooms, kitchen, and hoovering — it made life so much easier!
Buy an appliance that saves you time, like a dishwasher, tumble drier, or slow cooker.
Create a weekly meal plan and shopping list. It’s easy to end up wasting a lot of time on emergency trips for milk/bread/etc. otherwise.
Buy most things — including groceries — online, so you don’t have to spend hours trailing round stores with your kids in tow (time consuming and energy draining).
Focus on meals that are familiar, quick, and easy to prepare … and that don’t result in loads of dishes to wash.
3. Set Aside Regular Time (at Least Weekly) for Your Projects
It’s usually very hard to keep momentum on a project if you can only work on it once a month (even if you can manage a longer session then). Because of that, find a pocket of time at least once a week that you can use for your creative projects. Ideally, you’ll want a full focus block (1.5 - 2 hours uninterrupted). If that’s just not practical, work with whatever time you have.
When I had a toddler and a three-month old, my writing time (and energy!) was very limited. I used to aim for two 15 minute blocks each day. Often, it felt hardly worth bothering with — but the words and the pages edited began to add up.
4. Take Occasional Longer Periods of Time for Your Projects
One of the things I found myself missing most in the early years of raising a family was having long chunks of time — a whole afternoon, or even a whole day — to devote to my creative work. A few years ago, I took an overnight writing retreat at a nearby hotel, immersed myself in the novel I was writing for a full afternoon, evening, and morning, and loved it so much that it became a semi-regular practice. Since then, I’ve been doing this two – four times each year.
Depending on the type of project you’re working on, it may not be practical for you to get away from home to tackle it, or all stages of it. But if you can pack up some of your work to take with you, perhaps you could do something similar to me. Or if an overnight creative retreat doesn’t seem possible, maybe you could spend half a weekend day at a coffee shop while someone else (your partner, your kids’ grandparents, etc.) takes care of the kids.
5. Make the Most of the Time You DO Have
Whenever I sit down to write, there’s a long, long list of other things I could be doing. There are always chores left undone. There are always books I could read or shows I could watch. My desk is often a mess. It’s very easy to get distracted (especially when resistance has built up). It can be all too easy to end up avoiding or frittering away creative time.
Guard your creative time. Treat it as something precious and non-negotiable. The more you stick to your commitments to yourself, the easier it’ll be to make creativity into a regular, important part of your life.
You don't have to give up on your creative side while you raise a family. Yes, you won’t be able to be as spontaneous with your time as before, but it’s still possible to fit in some creative time around family life. Like me, you’ll probably find that you’re a happier, better parent for it, too.