In my first months as a freelancer, I puzzled over how to think about my time. One of my goals in this new chapter of my career was to dedicate significant time to personal creative work. Soon, I found myself thinking of time as being split between either "work" or "art." At other times, I thought I was either working on "things that pay" or "things that don't pay." Both are problematic for different reasons.
Avoid thinking in terms of "work" vs. "art"
"Work" always involves some amount of creativity. "Art" always takes time, effort, and lots of work. These two concepts should never stand alone. The idea that art is somehow separate from work is dangerous. It leads us also to separate work from play, and art from life. I wanted to avoid this kind of thinking completely, especially because a long term goal of mine is to work full time on projects that embrace creativity and culture fully as tools for social impact.
...and avoid thinking of time as "paid" or "unpaid"
Some things might pay in the immediate sense. As in: If I finish this strategic plan by Friday, I will get a check before rent is due at the end of the month.
However, it is short sighted to think of other kinds of work as "not paying." If you write every day for 1 hour, you might not get a book deal at the end of the month, but you will certainly become a better writer. Developing that skill will pay off by making those strategic plans even more valuable. Other payoffs might include the unexpected connections and opportunities that come from sharing your writing.
Similarly, if I meet with artists and entrepreneurs during my office hours, I'm not getting paid, but I am strengthening my community and opening doors that may lead to opprortunities in the future.
Short Bets and Long Bets
A more useful construct that I've come up with for thinking about how I divide my time is: "short bets" and "long bets."
Short bets are things that are relatively safe and highly likely to pay off in the immediate future (typically, with a bank deposit). Long bets are things that may take much longer to pay off, or may pay off in unexpected and less tangible, but no less valuable ways.
Why "bets?" I'm not a fan of gambling in the Las Vegas sense of the word, but everything we spend time on has the potential to either pay off or fizzle. Acknowledging this allows room for experimentation and even failure as an essential part of work.