How to be Productive at Work and in your Side Hustle

14 best productivity tips for people with a 9 to 5 job and a side hustle


Photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash

The other day my girlfriend and I were talking about our adulthood. About how we know we are adults because well, the age tells it all, but we both agreed that financially and in so many other aspects of life, we don’t feel like adults.

“I have this constant feeling that I don’t make enough money. Or I won’t have enough money by the time I’m 30.” I said

Later that day, I thought about how many more of my friends and readers must be battling with this same feeling. In fact, so many millennials feel this way which brought about the term adult children.

Nobody prepared us for the kind of curveballs life throws at us. As always, I don’t have a magic pill to make you feel better if you’re also going through the same. But I have often found that I feel better and more hopeful about the future if I follow through with my plans. These could be work, regular exercise, good financial habits, eating healthy meals, putting in hours in building my side hustle, taking care of myself etc..

I realized that my self-esteem and self-confidence largely depend on the quality of my work and the life that I design for myself.

I’m writing this for myself as a reminder of what I need to do to feel better and for you out there who’s experiencing the same pressure. Or that constant worry that you’re losing the grip over your life.

After 30 weeks of consistently publishing these personal finance articles and more than a year of good, dare I say outstanding financial discipline, I want to share the productivity hacks that I use to keep up the consistency.

What does this have to do with money? The more you learn how to control your attention and productivity, the more skills you can learn and the more passive income streams you can create for yourself.

You’ll create work options for yourself. A lack of options is what makes us get stuck in a job we hate for years and in relationships that are bad for our mental health.

“If I set for myself a task, be it ever so trifling, I shall see it through. How else shall I have confidence in myself to do important things?” — The Richest Man in Babylon

Why your productivity is important

Time, just like money, is a limited resource. We have a limited number of years to be young. With each year that passes, we move closer to retirement. As you age, you realize you’re not as energetic as you used to be which limits how much work you can do. Sometimes ill health also forces us to slow down.

When you’re young, strong and healthy, you should build a stellar work ethic that enables you to accomplish as much as you can now.

I have struggled a lot with maintaining consistency with my habits in the past, and sometimes I don’t always do my best work, but this year I have managed to create a system that generates results and a constant feeling of progress.

My best productivity hacks

1. Work on projects that will be of value 10 years(or more) from now

Zoom out your life. Is what you spend your time on going to matter in 10 years? Are the skills you’re building and refining going to matter 10 years from now? If you keep up with this habit, what will be the outcome in 10 years?

For example, if you don’t create an exercise routine, what will happen to your health 10 years from now? If you don’t get out of debt and create good money habits, what will be your net worth 10 years from now?

To retain a high level of productivity without feeling frustrated about my progress on a daily basis, I have picked habits and projects, such as writing daily, investing regularly, and tracking my expenditures, that will be useful and will pay off 10 years from now.

Money is not the only thing in our lives that depends on the magic of compounding, your work also does.

As much as it feels pointless to start a new side hustle, or start a business because you’re scared of how much time it will take before you make money, you must remember that you will experience real and tangible results years later.

This productivity hack is also applicable to investing. You will not make money overnight. You’ll need to save and invest for decades before you can feel financially secure.

The secret is to keep showing up daily and put in hours in the project and to always remember to zoom out your life anytime you feel frustrated.

Build for 10 years. Or more.

2. Prioritize the one activity that you need to do to keep going

Building this website and community that openly talks about money involves a lot of work. Publishing articles on a weekly basis, being a personal finance consultant for my clients, building a subscription list, reading and research, web design, social media marketing…I could go on. Sometimes it’s overwhelming especially since I also have a 9 to 5 job.

To avoid feeling like the journey is pointless or that I should quit, I asked myself “what’s the most important thing? What can’t I compromise on?”

For me, this is publishing on a weekly basis and being a professional and helpful consultant to my clients. If I’m not consistent on these two, I feel like my world is falling apart. If I’m doing a stellar job with the two, then I have this constant feeling of pride, accomplishment and that ‘I got this!’

What’s your most important activity? What can’t you compromise on? Which activities do you need to work on consistently to achieve results? Write them down and don’t let other less important ones take over.

Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. — James Clear

3. What’s the one thing on your list that you need to do today?

I hate days when I lie in bed and the first thing that comes to mind is a feeling of regret due to the time I wasted during the day. How distracted I was by social media and sometimes daydreaming that I didn’t accomplish anything significant.

This year, many of us agree that we’ve had way too many of such days. We’re struggling to wrap our heads around this pandemic, job loss, salary cuts, distancing ourselves from our loved ones, losing our loved ones, struggling to pay the bills…

To manage this struggle, I often ask myself ‘What’s the one thing on my to-do list that I need to do today that if I don’t do the rest, I’ll still feel okay with myself?’ Like even if all other things fall apart, what’s the one thing that will make you confident that you indeed accomplished something today?

Start your day with that.

4. Use the Pomodoro Technique

Do you ever feel guilty for not being as productive as other people? For not having the work ethic of people we see in movies such as The Wall Street?

And then there’s this breed of people who are still tweeting that you can’t outwork them…sigh

I found a hack called The Pomodoro Technique. It’s a time management tool that involves using a timer (not your phone!) to break down your work into 25 minutes intervals, separated by short breaks (5 and 15 minutes).

Within the 25 minutes, you get to deeply focus on your work then break for 5 or 15 mins to do fun stuff, make calls or do chores if you’re working from home.

After a few months of testing it, I realized that 25 minutes is too short for me since writing works better if you concentrate deeply for at least an hour.

I changed my technique to 1-hour working intervals with 15-minute breaks.

Works magic because it makes you enjoy work and fulfilling other aspects of your life such as calling or texting your friends during breaks.

5. Invest in automation

If you’re into online content creation, you know that social media posts, sending emails, creating social media content can take over your life while also giving you a feeling that you’re wasting too much time and getting zero results.

I used to send personalized individual emails to the 45 subscribers of this blog every Thursday. It was one of the most time consuming and tiresome tasks in my schedule. As much as I loved the personalization and addressing my subscribers by their names, it was a mentally draining activity.

It’s not a sustainable approach as we only have so much time in a day. So I invested in Convertkit which is a software that sends these emails automatically every time I publish an article. It also does the same when somebody subscribes to the blog. It doesn’t matter if I’m sleeping, busy with my 9 to 5 or just chilling, I have set up a system that saves so much time while still ensuring that I send personalized emails.

If you’re trying to set up an online side hustle, a passive income source, automate any tasks that can be automated and that is within an affordable price. Use the time for quality content creation.

6. Wake up to a clean house

If I wake up to a sink full of dirty dishes, or a disorganized house, that determines whether I’ll have a productive day or not. I won’t have the psyche to make breakfast if the dishes I need are dirty. I’ll just get ready and go to work hungry.

If I wake up to a clean kitchen and everything is in place, I feel so proud of myself. It’s a legit accomplishment in my life which makes me super energized to make a healthy breakfast and start my day with a positive attitude.

Before I go to bed, I clean my dishes, kitchen and sitting area. I leave everything in its rightful place.

This also makes me make my bed first thing in the morning which adds to my pride and productivity.

I see it as a gift to myself. Waking up to a clean house and serving myself in a clean dining area. This adulthood is about looking for 5-star treatments for yourself.

“Your evening routine is about taking the decisions out of your morning. You want to wake up already knowing what you’re going to do.”

7. Feed yourself like you would a friend

Eating for me is such a mundane task. I hate that my life depends on it.

It’s worse that I have to cook, which is another thing that I absolutely don’t enjoy (except for making tea).

If I’m asked to list my life’s greatest struggles, cooking healthy meals and making sure I eat three meals in a day would top the list.

I remember there was a period in my life when I survived on bread, bananas and tea due to laziness. But then real adulthood kicks in and you realize that the quality of your life and work depends on how well you feed yourself.

It’s still a struggle, which is why I said that having somebody in my life who’s job is making sure that I eat healthy meals is one of my definitions of being wealthy, but I have made tremendous improvements this year.

I usually decide what I’ll have for breakfast the previous night.

You’ll be more productive at work if you eat a filling and healthy breakfast.

Feed yourself like you would a friend. Your health, more so your mental health depends on it.

8. Create a healthy sleep hygiene

Every time I meet somebody who says they can function with 5 or fewer hours of sleep per night, I always wonder what they gave to the gods to deserve such superpowers.

If I don’t get at least 7 hours of sleep, I will be dysfunctional, groggy, moody and clumsy all day.

I’ll also be overly distracted at work, and will check the clock and my phone multiple times wishing for time to pass faster so that I go home to my bed.

Then there’s the slight headache; a strong cappuccino helps with this sometimes but not always.

Such days end up being a waste of time, with no productive and quality work done. There’s also guilt at the end of the day when I think of all the time I wasted.

Create for yourself a proper sleep routine that ensures you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Avoid using your phone in bed, get yourself a mattress and pillow that’s good for your back.

Create for yourself an environment that fosters quality sleep because this affects your productivity and the quality of your work.

“The seeds of a productive day are planted the day before. Today’s activities determine tonight’s sleep; tonight’s sleep determines tomorrow’s energy.”

9. Track your habits

To avoid being unrealistic about how productive you are, track your habits. Create a habit tracker. At the end of the day, mark how many of your habits you did that day.

After about two weeks, you should be able to tell if you’re living in your head or you’re actually getting work done.

“You’re more likely to succeed if you track your progress. Habit tracking also keeps you honest. Most of us have a distorted view of our own behaviour. We think we act better than we do. Measurement offers one way to overcome our blindness to our own behaviour and notice what’s really going on each day. When the evidence is right in front of you, you’re less likely to lie to yourself.” — James Clear

10. Get screen time reports

Being addicted to my phone, especially during this 2020 has been a real struggle. There’s bad news everywhere about mass layoffs, black lives matter, Beirut explosion, and of course trying to keep up with the COVID-19 numbers.

My phone sends me a report of my average screen time per day every Sunday morning. I realized I’m doing badly when I used to get an average of 7+ hours.

This also meant that I wasn’t giving my work the attention it deserves. There’s that guilt you feel when you keep doing substandard work yet you know you can do better.

My goal has shifted to gradually reducing this screen time because I believe attention is a currency.

Some days when I have very important work, I leave my phone at home, and I look forward to Sundays to see how well I did in the past week.

Don’t let that device get in the way of producing your best work and prevent you from reaching your goals faster.

“It’s hard to maintain a zen attitude in a life filled with interruptions.”- James Clear

11. Get over the mentor syndrome

As much as we have established that we sometimes don’t feel like adults, get over the mentor syndrome. I have met brilliant and talented young people, I included, who don’t implement their ideas because they don’t feel they can do it on their own or don’t feel qualified enough.

So you sit there, waiting for somebody to mentor you through the process, to make the path clear.

Mentors are good, but you’ve also got it in you to get things done.

Nobody has everything figured out. Take time to observe, everyone is learning on the job. Go out there and learn on the go, make mistakes, make changes and create beautiful stuff. And make money while at it.

Nobody is coming to save you, you’ve got this.

12. Set clothes for the entire workweek

If I have to decide what to wear to work in the morning, then I will leave my closet and bed in a total mess. I will try out multiple outfits and get frustrated if they don’t look as good as I had envisioned in my head.

This, of course, plays out to having a chaotic morning.

If I combine that with waking up to a dirty house and not knowing what to have for breakfast, then that’s it. That day’s productivity is cancelled.

Every Saturday evening I pick 5 outfits for my work week and hang them separately. This task makes my work week bearable.

13. Know the value of hard work, and the importance of rest

Somebody said that if hard work is what determines how rich one becomes, then our African mothers should be billionaires.

Don’t get sucked into working so hard that you forget to live, to rest deeply and to enjoy the beautiful things that life has to offer.

14. Read James Clear’s Atomic Habits

If you really are committed to improving your productivity, which you should be, then read Atomic Habits.

Owning your productivity is about creating a morning routine, evening routine and a system that ensures that you are in control of your life and the trajectory of your creativity and work.

Living in a chaotic space both physically and mentally makes you feel like life is pointless, that you’re not and you’ll never make any progress.

Life is set up in a way that brings so many distractions your way. If you don’t actively control how many of them you pay attention to, then the work that matters to you will never get done.

As adults, work is part of us, and you want to make sure that you’re paying attention to work that brings you results, that utilizes your creativity and also fattens your bank account.

I dare you to create a productive lifestyle that works for you. To work on yourself for 6 months straight, to take control of your days.

Originally published at on August 20, 2020.