Why having a “side project” is far more important than you think

8
min read

Sam

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Here’s how clients and creatives can benefit from creative pursuits outside of work.

You may not feel like it after a long slog in the day job, but that time you have to yourself in the evening – whether it’s hours or just a few minutes – can lead to some of your most inspired and creative work. But working on a side project can produce wide-reaching benefits that you might not expect when you start out.

If you’ve seen your fair share of daily grind style content on social media (and it’s everywhere) then you might be wondering why I’m talking about a “side project” and not a “side hustle,” as the latter term is certainly more popular today. There is a significant amount of crossover between the two, but a side hustle is predominantly focused on making money outside of your day job (think building your own business or even working a second part-time job) while a side project encompasses a greater variety of interests and hobbies, with a range of motivations behind them.

Ultimately, however, the term “side project” fails to convey the importance of working on your own creative pursuits. We decided to reach out to a group of creatives throughout our network to see how their own projects have helped to shape their lives.

“Framing the day job as the thing that supports my lifestyle”

Rob, Senior Copywriter

From the outside, a project that someone works on outside of the day job might be viewed as the “side hustle”, but this doesn’t mean that you have to see it the same way. Rob, a senior copywriter and content strategist, had this to say:

“Working as a copywriter isn't always creative. That's not necessarily a bad thing. There's satisfaction to be found in any job well done. And besides, we can't all be working on award-winning brand campaigns all the time.

That said, I’m happiest when creating something that holds emotional value for me. So making music, which I've been doing for more than 20 years, is key to my mental wellbeing.

Writing and playing songs outside of work allows me to frame my day job as the thing that supports my lifestyle, rather than a creative endeavour contiguous with my self-esteem. As a result, I’m happier and I do better work. Win-win.”

“More confidence in my creativity”

Charley, Creative Designer

Following a passion project outside of work can lead to a confidence boost that you can apply to your work and other areas of your life.

Charley, our creative designer, has been involved in film production since she got involved in creating a short thriller film and a music video for her A-Level in Media Studies. After leaving school, she also worked on multiple event wrap-ups, promo videos, and local music videos. On her film projects since then, she said:

“In 2020 I did my own short film in a dolmen with a couple of friends. It ended up being super successful, winning some awards and even being shown at Pinewood studios. After that my projects got much bigger, and I was chief editor for a feature length film that won more awards, and secured an international distribution deal.

These experiences have given me more confidence in my creativity, and the courage to just go out there and do what I enjoy.”

“A lark that I thoroughly enjoy”

Tom, Digital Marketing Consultant

A side project can be as simple as a hobby that you enjoy in your downtime. Tom, an experienced digital marketing consultant, shared his interest in photography, which started as a child on family holidays.

“Though my parents were sceptical and often concerned that I was about to ‘waste film’, I always had a hunch that I could take a better photo than either of them.

As technology evolved and digital cameras became more prevalent, I caught the *ahem* shutterbug and haven’t looked back.

Discovering the work of street photographers like Joel Meyerowitz and Matt Stuart has changed how I think about taking pictures. There’s real humour to their work.

Nowadays, my idea of a perfect day is to wander around a foreign city, looking for funny or unusual scenes to capture. That said, I’ve hamstrung myself a bit by vowing to only post an image to my Instagram account if I can think of a suitably bad pun for the accompanying caption.

Maybe I’ll start taking the pursuit more seriously at some point. For now it’s a bit of a lark that I thoroughly enjoy.”

“I find a lot of peace when I’m doing it”

Lorna, Content Lead

Working on a creative task outside of work can also be a great way to look after your mental health. Lorna, our content lead, shared her ceramics hobby that she started with a friend six years ago.

“I find a lot of peace when I’m doing it. It’s a space where I can stop thinking about the usual things that clog up my brain and just focus on the clay and what I’m making. I enjoy the process, it can get quite scientific and requires some relaxed problem-solving when things go wrong.

At the moment I’m really into making lamp bases as I love how they’re functional but also decorative. I keep meaning to get more into creating standard ware – plates, cups etc., but every time I go to the studio I get distracted by making another weird lamp.

My studio is at my parents’ house which is great because it means I get to see them and play with clay all at the same time. I’m not very good at marketing it, but if you want to check out the very minimal selection I’ve posted online my Instagram is @lornafrankeramik.”


“The community aspect is great”

Adrian, Founder and Director

Your side project could unlock a community of friends that you might not have discovered otherwise. For Adrian, the founder and director of Ah Um, that came through playing music.

“I studied it at uni and have been involved in some way or another since. Teaching guitar, organising live shows and tours, occasionally playing in a band when time permits, and of course going to concerts.

The community aspect of playing in a band is great, and I've made lifelong friends doing it - if I'm ever lacking inspiration, a show at the Southbank or Barbican completely transforms my outlook. I think music for me (and art generally) helps bring a better perspective to work.”

“It’s fun to create something from scratch that’s entirely my own”

Sam, Copywriter

Having complete creative freedom is something that won’t always come from a day job, but a side project can offer the opportunity to explore your own ideas. Sam, our copywriter, does just that through his fiction writing.

“I’ve always had a passion for reading fiction – particularly fantasy, the more swords and dragons involved the better – and it felt right to try to create my own world, and the stories that could come from it.

It’s an up and down process for sure, there have been times where I’ve stopped altogether for weeks or months, but it’s also incredibly rewarding at points, like when I finish a chapter and send it over to friends for feedback. I’ve also just recently started posting some of my more finished chapters on a blog, which I’ve found helpful to self-actualise as a writer, and break a large project into smaller, more manageable chunks.

It’s fun to create something that’s entirely my own, and I’ve become a better writer because of it.”

“Just the act of switching gears is all that any of my side projects need to achieve”

Josh, Designer and Art Director

You might find that starting a side project serves as a full reset and refresh from day-to-day work, which is what Josh, a designer and art director, had to say when we asked him about his myriad of creative pursuits.

"Over my career as a creative, I’ve had endless side projects, and most never make it much further than a thought prefaced with “wouldn’t it be cool if…” and some will find momentum, gather steam and become fully fledged projects that involve other people, actual cash money and a final outcome.

In my early years, I used to beat myself up relentlessly if one of my many side projects didn’t take off in some massive way and make the front page of every design blog I read.

What I’ve come to understand nowadays is that (as cliché as it is) it’s the doing that matters – not where the side project ends up. It’s the freedom to create without any limitations, briefs, budgets or clients where the real value lies. I can try out that new 3D type technique from Instagram or get my oil paints out and remember in 10 minutes flat why I put them away in the first place. It doesn’t matter, just the act of switching gears and turning off the “business-creative” mode in my brain is all that any of my side projects needs to achieve."

“For me, it’s a form of self-care”

Maddie, UX Lead

A side project can also be a form of relaxation when you have those precious moments to yourself. For Maddie, our UX lead, that comes from creating her own nail art.

“It’s a bit like doing art on a micro canvas, so you have to really tone down your ideas to fit the limited space, but at the same time you can experiment with different combinations of colours, patterns, and shapes while still maintaining a consistent theme.

I tend to use display wheels (a ring of fake nails) because I’m too impatient to sit and let my nails dry without wanting to get up and do something in between layers. But using display wheels also means that I can dedicate a wheel to a specific theme like a set of colours or a type of pattern, and experiment with more ideas.

For me, it’s a form of self-care as I can relax and unwind while spending time painting. I tend to focus on one idea at a time, so when I zoom out again at the end and see everything come together it makes me feel good about what I’ve accomplished.”

Our key takeaways

Your “side project” can in fact be the goal that you structure the rest of your life around and derive the most meaning from, or simply be a way to rest and recharge.

One thing in particular stands out from the conversations we’ve had: the process of creating something that you find valuable is the most important thing, aside from any success that may come from your endeavour. The process itself can be an act of catharsis, of creating not because you think you should, but because you’d be missing something internally if you didn’t.

You may also find that undertaking your own side project helps you to perform better in your work. In your free time, you can learn and practise new skills without the pressure of a client looking over your shoulder, and bring a fresh perspective to the projects that pay the bills. As Iroh says in Avatar: The Last Airbender:

“It’s important to draw wisdom from different places. If you draw it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale.”

Whether you do it for the social reward, the creative freedom, or your mental health, your life could well be better from working on your own side projects.

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