Earning More: Short- versus Long-term Projects and Income

marathon-not-a-sprintI’m always struggling with how to balance my work. I don’t want to focus too much on projects that don’t generate much or any income right now but not also spend all my time on work where I make money but the income and growth potential are low. Lately, I’ve been starting to get frustrated when I feel like I’m spending too much time on projects that don’t bring in any income right now. But I’m resisting the urge to drop this work because I know that 1) I still have a job that provides steady income and 2) I’m building up for the long-term and for greater returns. Steve Jobs (thank you for everything and R.I.P.) didn’t build Apple overnight. He even ate free meals because he was so broke at one point in his life. But he succeeded by not being short-sighted. Here’s how to look at it in your life.

Short-term versus long-term

This isn’t really anything too scientific or complex, but this is how I group projects and work:

Short-term – This is something that generates money right now. It’s typically a time exchange for money (not passive), and there’s little potential for scale or growth. Pay is relatively low and probably won’t increase substantially.

Some examples: your job (for most people), selling stuff on eBay, anything that earns less than $25 an hour (arbitrary amount – this is just the ballpark for me right now) and you have to directly be doing it to earn money.

Long-term – This generates little or no money right now. It’s typically something that you spend time on with the hope that returns will be much higher in the future. It also has at least some passive income potential. If it does involve a time exchange for money, there’s an upside for increasing your hourly rate.

Some examples: creating a product, building a website and increasing traffic to it, building some other kind of business, or (if you don’t want to start a business) managing your investments

How to break it down by time

Here’s what my weekly breakdown looks like currently (I’m now tracking my side-work time):

Time spent on short-term work/projects

  • Job – 35 hours a week
  • Freelance writing – 3 hours a week

Total short-term = 38 hours

Time spent on long-term work/projects

  • Freelance work/partnerships – 10 hours
  • Blogging – 5 hours

Total long-term = 15 hours

Total short-term and long-term = 53 hours

Short-term time, percentage of total = 72%

Long-term time, percentage of total = 28%

This is just a rough idea to give you an idea of where I’m at. I realize this is pretty rudimentary, but I do have limited time to get stuff done, so I need to be effective with my time.

What if you don’t have a job?

Personally, I think as much time as possible should be devoted to long-term projects and goals. After all, these projects have larger and more desirable returns, they just take longer to get to. I want to get rid of the low-paying, short-term stuff as quickly as possible. Ideally, I would devote nearly 100% to long-term goals, but that’s not possible when you need some form of income to live.

Once I leave my job next year, I imagine that my time will shift to about 60% short-term and 40% long-term initially. This is mostly because I don’t expect that everything I do for immediate income will bring in a lot of $$ – I’ll probably have to settle for some lower-paid work that will simply take more hours to earn the level of income that I need than I would hope.

The best part about this model is that the more success that the long-term work brings and guarantees, the more you can “re-invest” time into other long-term projects. Once you start seeing returns from your long-term ventures, there’s less of a need to do the crappy, short-sighted stuff just to bring in income. My long-term goals are much more tied to my interests and aspirations in life rather than simply collecting money and living life day-to-day.

Does it have to be so complicated?!

Absolutely not. I’m just an analytical person, so I like to look at the numbers whenever possible (after all, numbers don’t lie). Don’t make this overly complicated. You don’t need to track hours and break it all down with percentages. At the very least, just have an idea of how you’re spending your time, and re-evaluate on a regular basis to check on yourself. If you’re busy putting out fires all the time and haven’t done anything to look at the long-term, that’s a problem.

Cliche (but true) – It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Do you evaluate what you do  in terms of short- and long-term? How does your time break down?

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photo by: Gamma-Ray Productions


  1. Hey Jeffrey,

    I liked the article, I wasn’t clear on the last part did you mean to say that when you don’t have a job your short term projects should becomes long term? 

    • Hi Mathy,

      Ideally, I want to shift to long-term projects as soon as possible. I don’t think that will be possible right after leaving my job (I’ll need some immediate income), but I’ll work towards that goal. Most of my long-term projects are entirely separate of the short-term stuff as well.

  2. I do a combination of both short term income generating projects (with little room for growth) along with longer term projects that can grow or  continue to grow into something more profitable in the long run.  

    My logo design business on the side is one of those short term projects right now that produces a decent amount of income, but it really is trading money for my time – and it isn’t passive at all.  

    My blogging businesses on the other hand started out not being very profitable in the beginning, but over time they’ve grown to the point where they are close to or will eclipse the income from my day job this year.    It has been a 4 year slog through it though – thank goodness I enjoy it so much.

    The day job is a job I enjoy, gives good benefits and decent pay, and while there isn’t a ton of room for advancement, I enjoy it for now.  

    The long term goal is to go full time with the blogging, creating a variety of more passive income streams – that while they still require work – won’t necessitate me spending 12-15 hours a day on.

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