Well...haha, good question. Well maybe the first thing is... I don't have a girlfriend!!!
Second, it's my job. By grace I got given/found a dream job with a good art director that gives me the opportunity to study and do mostly what I want (minus having to work with Softimage and providing I deliver). I am also addicted to work, so I work 10 to 14 hour workdays during high season, sometimes sleeping at work to get more hours; and on weekends I party hard to balance it, lots of friends, people, family, food, sleep, dance and alcohol.
A good work ethic for me is.. never work where you sleep/eat/rest/socialize; example: at home. I get so distracted so easily. So I go far away to work, generally by bike (keep the flat nerd butt healthy and pump blood to the brain, also to aid sleep) and when I'm there, turn the internet off to focus and work. Only use the internet for tutorials or a mental break.
This month is slow cause it's holidays and we just finished a major production, so we can take it easy.
But with that said.. most of the projects I work on aren't technically "mine" because it's for work and mainly television.
My private projects... on the other hand... take forever, if at all........
But when you find a job in animation or any production for television, gaming, or cinematography.... you get paid to do what you love, and it's the best way to go.
Then all the time you have to spend working, the 9 to 5.. well.. is time spent on doing what you love.
Good idea on learning only a couple of render engines. Cause of work I have to stick to the industry standard using Mental Ray...... but I would love to learn Vue, I agree totally, for entire worlds, it's the way to go!! I will experiment with compositing the more I learn it.
I would love to learn how to use the beta of Arnold, which I found online somewhere, or some other GPU based engine, but I have yet to find one I like that also does good animation and integrates into Softimage seemlessly.
Do you have other work done with Vue to showcase? Would be awesome if you setup some tutorials to your work. I'd study them for sure!!