(By Chris Guillebeau)
“At first it was just an hour or two a week. But then I started focusing on it, checking analytics whenever I arrived at my desk in the morning, then checking them again during the day. It became a distraction, and even when I forced myself not to work on it, it was still on my mind.“
I stumbled upon a business opportunity that had a lot of potential. It wasn’t the work I usually did, and it didn’t add a ton of value to anyone else’s life. It was just an opportunity—a short-term one at that.
So, what did I do? I jumped at it. Even though I had a full schedule of projects and tasks related to my real business, I took on this side project. It turned out to be fun, and surprisingly lucrative. Without a ton of work on my part, regular income began to arrive. If I did a bit more work, even more income would arrive.
Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, there were two big problems.
The first problem was that even as I devoted time and energy to it, I knew it would soon disappear. I wasn’t building a foundation for something more substantial, and I wasn’t doing anything that was tremendously helpful to someone.
The second problem was that it began to take more time than I initially expected.
At first it was just an hour or two a week. But then I started focusing on it, checking analytics whenever I arrived at my desk in the morning, then checking them again during the day. It became a distraction, and even when I forced myself not to work on it, it was still on my mind.
The opportunity eventually went away and I went back to my work. But there was that nagging question in my head: Should I have allowed myself to be distracted?
Two Sides To Every Side Project
Two competing perspectives are at the heart of this dilemma.
Perspective 1: Free money! When an opportunity comes your way that will bring in revenue, why not pursue it? Sure, you shouldn’t compromise your core business, but there’s nothing wrong with doing something on the side. Embrace the side project and don’t look back.
Perspective 2: Big distraction! Regardless of how interesting or lucrative the opportunity is, if it’s not part of your core business, forget about it. It will only serve as a distraction and prevent you from moving forward with what really matters. Resist temptation, ditch the side project, and don’t look back.
In my case, I’m not sure which perspective was most applicable. The project was fun while it lasted. It brought in extra money that I could then allocate to other projects.
But part of me feels like I’m rationalizing. Sure, it was fun and lucrative, but then I started thinking about it more than my real business. I let a few things slide—nothing major, and hopefully no one else noticed—but I certainly noticed.
An Expert Weighs In
The Accidental Creative, a great book by Todd Henry, argues that “priority ping-pong” hijacks our thinking and prevents us from being fully present in the work we love.
“Because we tend to gravitate toward possibilities, many creative people wrestle with focus. We can quickly become fascinated with new ideas or bounce from unsolved problem to unsolved problem without really solving any of them,” Henry writes.
The summary describes my situation well: I wrestle with focus, but I continue to gravitate toward possibilities. In some ways I regret spending time on the short-term opportunity, but in another way, I know I’d do it again if another opportunity presented itself.
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