How do you balance freelance work to build a portfolio with putting in the extra drive/effort to also excel at your current job?

Answer by Scott Koon:

Let me start by suggesting that "stand-out" work does not need to equal spending more time at work.  Rather, outstanding work should be about delivering results that surpass requirements.  Fortunately, this is often demonstrated by small things–attention to detail, regularly identifying something surprising, making connections with work done by others, communicating in ways that make sense to your supervisor/customers, etc.   This doesn't mean the work is easy.  In fact, identifying these small things is often quite difficult.

Therefore, in order to make certain you are doing "stand-out" work in your current role, you need to be focused on it.   So, my recommendation would be to make your regular job your first priority.  While you are at work, constantly be looking for ways to become more efficient.  Look for ways to do your work faster.  Look for things you can do, or information you can provide that makes your supervisor's job easier.  Look for ways to help your colleagues.  The bottom line is to always be searching for (and acting upon) ways to increase your value to your organization.

Then, once the work day is over, leave work at work (as much as possible) and make those side projects your second priority.

If you are struggling with this, try making a daily log of the time you spend outside of work.  The goal is to see what else you are doing besides working on your projects.  How much time do you spend watching television?  How much time do you spend "surfing" on-line, or keeping up with others via social networking?  Are you a gamer?  How much time per day?  How long does it take you to get ready for work in the morning?  Can you get up a little earlier?  Look at everything you do.  My bet is if you look critically at how you spend your time, you will easily be able to squeeze in an extra hour or two a day for project work.   Like with your job, focus hard on those side projects.

This strategy has worked very well for me.  It has enabled me to continue to progress in my IT Career while pursuing multiple other interests.  These interests have included acting, completing my Master's degree, writing and publishing a book, speaking at conferences, teaching classes, running a web-based company (on the side), and strengthening the relationships with my wife and daughter.

It isn't always easy.  It takes a lot of practice.  But for me, the results have been worth it.  The most surprising thing I discovered was that strengthening my ability to focus and working to improve my efficiency not only made me more successful at work, it also improved the results of my side projects.

Good luck!

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