Full-time / part-time

Or, why side projects never go anywhere

Say there are four types of projects you can work on in your life:

  1. Full-time full-time projects are rare. Unless you live a very strange life, you’ll only ever experience a few full-time full-time projects. Because of their importance, we tend to have societal structures and rituals surrounding full-time full-time projects.

    Becoming a parent is a full-time full-time project. Adopting a new religion is a full-time full-time project. Getting married is (hopefully) a full-time full-time project.

    It’s full-time because you’re going to do it for the rest of your life. It’s full-time because it becomes part of who you are.

    It is not the goal to complete a full-time full-time project — the goal is to keep the project going for as long as possible. Full-time full-time projects are those that are started with no expectation of finishing.

  2. Part-time full-time projects are the next type of project. Besides full-time full-time projects, part-time full-time projects are the most time-consuming of the bunch. These projects are what we typically think of as “work”.

    If you’re a salaried employee, your job is a part-time full-time project. Moving to a new city is a part-time full-time project. Owning a dog is a part-time full-time project. Attending college is a part-time full-time project.

    It’s part-time because the project will eventually come to an end. It’s full-time because while it’s going on it will take up most of your attention.

    Part-time full-time projects are long. Looking back, you can identify the phases of your life by which part-time full-time project you were working on at the time. Although they seem permanent in the moment, part-time full-time projects create a patchwork of related stories that describe your life.

  3. Full-time part-time projects are sometimes called “hobbies”. Unlike part-time full-time projects, they are not your primary focus at any given time. Full-time part-time projects are where social events and friendships tend to happen.

    Your weekend intramural league is a full-time part-time project. Your garden is a full-time part-time project. Your book club is a full-time part-time project.

    It’s full-time because it’s consistent. It’s part-time because it’s never your top priority.

    Full-time part-time projects are important to maintain a sense of self. They give your life texture and help differentiate your identity from others who have similar part-time full-time projects. Full-time part-time projects require a consistent level of attention to blossom.

  4. Part-time part-time projects are the last type of project. They are the most common and also usually the shortest in duration. Part-time part-time projects are high variance.

    The guitar you bought but didn’t consistently practice is a part-time part-time project. The language that you never quite mastered is a part-time part-time project. The diet that doesn’t end up sticking is a part-time part-time project.

    It’s part-time because it begins and ends. It’s part-time because it’s not consistent.

    Part-time part-time projects exist on the fringes of our attention. They are where full-time part-time projects go when neglected. They can also be the source of new projects if you take care to nurture them.

    Your new hobby started as a part-time part-time project. That genre of book you love was once a part-time part-time project. Unless it was love at first sight, your significant other may have drifted in through the part-time part-time periphery.

    Paying close attention to part-time part-time projects can be beneficial. Keeping too many around can sap your energy and not leave room for new growth. Part-time part-time projects are powerful when managed well.


Together, these four types of projects describe all of the ways that we can spend our time. Many common expressions can be rephrased in terms of this framing:

  • Being “stuck in a rut” means it’s time for a part-time full-time project to come to an end.

  • “Taking the leap” is another way of saying that you’re planning to move a project up a level (e.g. from part-time full-time to full-time full-time).

  • “Getting rusty” means that a project has fallen from full-time part-time to part-time part-time.

  • When you’re “obsessed” with a new thing it’s usually because a part-time part-time project is becoming a full-time part-time project.

  • A “tragedy” is when a full-time full-time project unexpectedly becomes a part-time full-time project.

It’s natural for projects to change types. What causes stress is not recognizing that the change is happening.