I feel a weird sense of gratitude when people ask me “how do you fit everything in!?” While I don’t want to fuel the “busy fetish” society has become obsessed with (self care IS important, people), I am, at this point in my life, genuinely quite busy. So when people ask me how I fit it all in, it kind of gives me this little bit of recognition that my hard work is going to pay off. Whether it’s laced with judgement, contempt, or just general interest, I really do take a sense of thanks from that statement. It feels a bit like someone’s saying “I see you working your arse off, and you’re doing great.”
So if you’re one of the many, many, many people who have asked me that, thank you.
I work full time 8.30-5 (with approx. a 40min commute either side), and run four side hustles. Yes I’m actually kinda bonkers but I’m an only child so I’m sort of conditioned that way.
I won’t go into too much detail on the specifics of the side hustles as that’s really another blog post, but for anyone who doesn’t know, alongside my full time job, I:
Run a small cat sitting business in my local area
Run The Broke Generation blog and Instagram @the.brokegeneration
Sell second hand fashion on @midsize.thrift
Work freelance with clients on digital content and copywriting
(Note, if you’re wanting to start a side hustle in 2020, my Be Better With Money eBook has a BIG chapter focused on using cold emailing to land a side hustle, and some fun ideas on ways you can get started earning extra income.)
So, how DO I fit all that in? Here are my top tips for staying motivated and productive when side hustling alongside a full time job:
1. Brain dump
When you’re working multiple jobs –particularly if you’re creative – you’ll likely have different thoughts, ideas and to-dos whurring around your brain at all times. You’ll have blog ideas in the middle of a meeting at your day job, and you’ll get emails about your day job when you’re getting stuck into your side hustle in the evening. Plus you’re trying to be a functioning human and badass millennial, so you’re gonna be thinking of housework that needs to be done, bottomless brunches that need to be consumed, etc. The effect this has on our brains is an ‘always on’ mindset. I find what really helps with this is to brain dump. I’ve got into the habit of brain dumping everything within seconds of it entering my brain, so it doesn’t take up unnecessary headspace and brain power.
To brain dump successfully, you need a weapon of choice. Mine’s Google Keep. You can create different lists and notes, colour code them and organised them into the layout that works best for you. I have a different colour for each side hustle, and then one for personal stuff. Every time something enters my brain, whether it’s a gift idea for a friend, a webpage I need to visit, a book I need to read, or a blog idea, I put it straight in Google Keep. Then I can carry on with what I was doing, distraction-free! You can get the app on your phone and also install the Google Chrome extension, so you can ‘keep’ things direct from web pages.
2. Don’t read emails unless you plan to respond right now
This is a huge one for me. I’ve found myself giving emails double energy because I’m impatient and read them the second they hit my inbox (like while I’m waiting in the queue at the supermarket), and then ultimately end up losing them in my inbox or forgetting about them.
I’m really trying not to open emails unless I have the time to respond right there and then, so I’m not double handling.
3. Logically plan your side hustle to-dos
When you’re working on a side gig, all your tasks can blur into one. It helps me to break everything down into to-do list items, and plan the week out on a Sunday. I’ll literally write in my Google Keep schedule list “Monday AM: reply to Susan, write blog, proofread article and send off”, etc, so I know what I need to do and when.
It helps me know how much work I can take on, and helps fit in social events too. Before I did this, I’d know I had “work to do”, but might assume it’ll all fit into a Sunday, and go off gallivanting around bars on a Saturday. By not allocating a specific task to each day, I’d get to Sunday and realise I had far more to do than is possible in one day. Boom – stress.
4. Set yourself up to actually start working
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’d sit down to get an hour of work done, only to spend the whole time setting myself up. If you need materials from a client, or access to a specific program, make sure you’ve got that in advance, so your allocated time to do the actual job is reserved just for that, not scrambling about looking for resources you thought you had.
As an example, if someone’s said the document is “attached to this email”, make sure it actually is rather than just assuming. I’ve had a number of experiences where I’ve sat down to work on something, gone to get the resources I need, only to find they’ve forgotten the attachment or the document is locked.
5. Consider phone calls and emails a to-do list item
Emailing and calling can take up time. Make sure you allocate time to do these tasks as though they’re separate work items, as you’ll delay your start time if you try to smoosh everything in as one task.
When you are making calls, try to go in with an agenda of points to cover. Without a plan, you can waste billable hours on the phone getting the answers you need from clients/business/collaborators.
6. Schedule breaks
Whether it’s a whole night off or a break between work bursts, add these to your schedule. If I get home from work at 6.30pm and I want to dedicate that whole night to work, I’ll schedule a burst from 7pm-8pm, and again from 8.30pm-9.30pm, with an hour reserved for winding down 9.30pm-10.30pm. It helps with motivation, too, as you’ve only got that one hour before your next break.
It’s important to schedule downtime just as much as uptime (unsure if that’s a word but hey we’re going with it). I LOVE trashy TV, so often I’ll unwind with an episode of Love Island or The Bachelor to let my brain cells chill before bed. Find what switches your brain off and schedule time for it. Not only does it help your sleep and unwind, but it can make you more efficient and therefore more profitable.
7. Use Google Calendar
When your mind is occupied with a million different thoughts and responsibilities, storing your appointments, meetings and social life in your head too can feel overwhelming. I use Google Calendar religiously, and as soon as something gets mentioned, it goes in the calendar and gets colour coded for work/appointments/meetings/life/social etc. I can pick it up on my phone, laptop or even public computers, so I can always see where I need to be and when.
8. Back-up and sync EVERYTHING
When you’re trying to run a side hustle while working a 9-5, you’ll find yourself making the most of every bit of downtime. Whether that’s a delayed train or a late-running appointment, if you’ve got spare time, you could be jotting down ideas or getting on top of emails. To make this as easy as possible, get your digital life synced.
I use Apple devices that sync with each other in seconds, store files in Google Drive and Dropbox, use Gmail for email, and Google Keep for note keeping. That means wherever I am, I can jump onto any device and access everything I need. My Macbook Pro and iPhone sync down to every single copy and paste, so I don’t even need to waste time moving files back and forth between devices. Oh, and it means everything’s backed up, so no lost file dramas!
Just be sure to change your passwords regularly for optimum security.
9. Optimise your time
You probably have a lot of dead time in your day, whether it’s the 30mins you scroll your phone in the morning or that random dead hour between getting home and eating dinner, try to highlight the periods of time in your day that you’re not really achieving anything.
I don’t mean cutting out your hour of Netflix or reading, because that’s self care downtime and it’s important. I mean time where you’re not working OR relaxing. You’re just sort of existing. That time can probably be optimised and put into ticking off your to-do list.
A note on side hustling
I want to round off this post by saying that nobody should be compelled to be “busy” or “hustling”. The reason I do all the bits and pieces I do is because I do genuinely enjoy all of them, and didn’t start any of them out of any “need” to do something. All of my side gigs were born from actually wanting to “do the thing”. I consider all of my side gigs as hobbies, first and foremost.
When I talk about being productive or motivated, either here or on Instagram, I don’t want anyone to feel compelled to be doing the same, or to feel inferior for doing less than me. In all honesty, the degree of ‘busy’ in my life right now is not sustainable, but I am in a transformative phase in my life that will, in the end, consolidate into a more manageable workload.
Find what works for you, lean into what feels good, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.