10 Steps To Balance Multiple Interests

Today’s post is a bit personal.  If you’re only interested in reading my marketing content, feel free to skip this one.  I want to try and answer a question I’m asked repeatedly:  many people I talk with wonder how I am able to do so much.  The answer is simple:  I’ve learned to balance multiple interests.  It’s not really that difficult and there is nothing stopping you from doing the same.

For those who don’t know me, here’s what I do.  By day I work for one of the top search/social marketing firms globally.  At night I keep this marketing/media/PR blog and participate in industry conversations around the web.  I also write music.  In between all of that I read 1-2 two non-fiction/sociology books and some 300 blogs monthly (I’m a knowledge-junkie).  I also don’t do any of these things halfway, they are not fleeting interests – I’m fully committed.

I am sure there are people who do more and people who do less.  Personally, if I added anything else I wouldn’t get the same results.  And if I removed anything it would disrupt the mental balance I have built of creative and analytical outlets.  It took me years to develop the self-discipline necessary to split time across interests and get fulfilling results in all of them.

Today I thought I would share the process I took to get to the point of balancing multiple pursuits.  If you also have multiple interests and are frustrated you’re not able to devote enough time to them, this might help.

1.  Internalize what outcomes you want from each interest first

You shouldn’t have to write them down either.  You need to know them to focus your life on achieving specific outcomes.  Understanding objectives is key, as unconsciously you’ll align time spent in each interest to achieving them.  If you go no further, follow this step.

2.  Define what specific activities support your desired outcome from that interest

You might not know the answers right away, but in time it becomes clear what is actually producing results and what is not.  There isn’t enough time to have multiple interests and not hone your time spent in each one.  For example, I no longer play live gigs as an artist.  I used to quite frequently in college.  It was fun, and my previous thinking was that it provided inspiration at getting better at original composition (that’s what I most want as an artist).

But I realized that’s not accurate:  nothing replaces focused 8-10 hour sessions in studio.  That’s the real path to refine your art.  The time spent networking in order to get gigs in the first place and then the time spent programming unique 2 hour sets for each gig takes a committed effort to do properly.  It’s far better time spent (at least for me) focused on production work.  Certainly this is not as social, but long-term it is more fulfilling.  I stopped caring about having a “name” as an artist years ago, and so playing gigs is not something I worry about.

3.  Remove everything else

This is the hardest part.  Some of you will disagree with me but I’ll be honest:  you have to eliminate fluff time from your life, or at least define an amount you can spend and still achieve the outcomes you want.  The first question someone usually asks me when they enter my apartment is “where is your TV?”  Why would I own a TV when watching it doesn’t align with what I want out of life?  I do actually manage to make time to be social – however something like watching TV (for me) is self-defeating, it has no alignment with what I want from life.

4.  Automate or outsource all collateral activities

Automate payment of your bills.  It’s 2010, you should never physically have to mail a bill.  Such an idea is ridiculous in a world when electronic transfer of payments is possible.  Anything you can’t automate out outsource, find ways to accelerate.

5.  Your career should be an interest

If you’re going to devote yourself to multiple passions and succeed, you need to be working on them all day.  Having a day job that is not your passion can lead to spending free time in destructive patterns or filling your mind with fluff instead of focus when not working.  But if your career is an interest, you’ll be fulfilled enough after a day of work to come home and continue being prolific.  Work you are truly passionate about leaves you energized.  If your current career isn’t also an interest, it’s time to reconsider your path.

6.  Learn to ignore others who tell you to focus on one thing

Conventional thinking says to pick one thing and be good at it.  Nonsense.  In fact, you’re going to be a better person by living at the intersection of multiple fields of interest.  It is the path less traveled.  Embrace multiple areas fully and publicly as part of your character.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” — Robert A. Heinlein

7.  Focus time where your mind is naturally drawn during free time

Having a balance of creative and analytical interests works for me.  Some days in my free time I’m drawn to blogging, others music, and others internalizing information.  I don’t force which activities I engage in during in free time and by keeping this open I am usually more prolific since I’m spending time where the moment draws me.

8.  Learn patience and dedication

Consider your interests areas you get to work on and elevate your skills in throughout life.  By approaching them this way you will position yourself as truly able to grow and advance.  There is no such thing as instant progression of skill:  it is the result of sustained effort.  If you have multiple interests there will come inevitable points one will get neglected.  Don’t let this bother you – it’s always possible to shift focus back to it when ready.

9.  Be grounded in reality, realize life is short

Life is short and the demands on our time are great.  If you have multiple interests and you’re not giving them focused time you’re not going to wake up one day and be successful at all of them.  What will happen is you will regret not having developed a part of yourself further and have something to show for it.  Don’t live in your dreams, don’t think anything will be handed to you – instead live in reality and push yourself each day to reach the next level.

10.  Remember that focusing on one and only thing is mentally limiting

Sometimes it’s temping to stop other pursuits and focus on what is producing the greatest returns today.  But this is shortsighted, and you may regret letting your other passion slip away.  Remember, the best part about developing your skills in any field is it becomes progressively more rewarding as you move forward.  You can’t fathom the intrinsic rewards available at higher levels of skill from the bottom.  As you move up bit by bit the returns grow – both in your output and enjoyment.  Why should this be limited to just one thing?  It doesn’t have to be.

These items work for me – your mileage may vary.  I’m curious for those of you with multiple interests, how have you been able to balance them and remain prolific at all of them?