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Use Part-Time Work to Explore Your Creativity

It's no secret that job security is a thing of the past. Taking on part-time work – especially in a creative area you've always wanted to pursue – is one way to earn extra income and begin exploring new work opportunities before it becomes a necessity, says Scott Belsky, CEO and founder of Behance, a New York-based company that develops products and online tools for creative industries.

But fitting this extra work into your schedule takes planning, and making the wrong decision can wind up hurting you in both jobs. So how can you be sure the opportunity that you're pursuing is right for you? Follow these tips to get started:

 

Don't duplicate what you already do.

If you're working eight-hour days as a programmer for a company you like, taking on the same work outside your full-time job presents not only a possible source of tension with your boss, but also a way to quickly drain your passion for the work.

Instead Mr. Belsky suggests developing a different skill set than the one you use in the office. Instead, put to use skills or interests you've never pursued actively, says Mr. Belsky. For example, if you love to plan family events, consider taking on part-time work as a party planner; if you love illustration or photography, try your hand at free-lancing projects that let you put those skills to use.

Tell people.

If you've got a job on the side, your first instinct may be to keep it hush-hush. But Mr. Belsky says that being open with the boss, particularly when nondisclosure policies require it, will be better for you in the long run. Make sure you emphasize that your part-time commitments won't cut into your daily routine at the office. And get the word out about what you're doing to friends, family and colleagues. Doing so also can help keep you on track with your side work-especially if it is a creative endeavor, says Mr. Belsky. What's more, friends and colleagues might have ideas for you on where to find part-time gigs.

Set a schedule.

Coming home from a long day at the office, it's tempting to head straight for the sofa. Set aside time a few nights a week for your part-time work to help add structure to your schedule.

If your job has some flexibility, another way to make more time is asking the boss if you can compress your schedule and work more hours certain days, says Jessica Riester, founder of FlexWork Connection, an Orange County, Calif., recruiting and consulting firm. "If you don't have to be chained to your desk, you can juggle more during business hours," says Ms. Riester.

Build a brand.

Like anyone looking for free-lance work, getting your name out there is an important way to drum up business. But for part-timers with less wherewithal to put toward marketing, creating a Web site with work samples or a portfolio becomes even more important in getting business going. Mr. Belsky suggests setting up a blog to get your work noticed by more people, and joining groups dedicated to your interest. Make deadlines. Give yourself until Friday to post photos online, two weeks to get a blog going, a Thursday evening to get in touch with five contacts who can help you find work. Setting short-term goals will help keep you moving when there's no boss telling you what to do next. "We are very hard-wired for this full-time way of life and we have to force ourselves to make the time to do things that are a little unconventional on the side," says Mr. Belsky. Keep it simple. If creativity isn't where your part-time pursuits take you, finding part-time work doesn't have to be a major endeavor. It can be as simple as getting a barista gig or doing telemarketing from home, says Ms. Riester. You just need to find something that suits your style.

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