How to Balance Your Side Hustle With a 9–5
If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you’ve got a dream of bringing a side hustle idea of yours to life.
And who can blame you? At their best side hustles can be a great creative outlet, an incredible way to learn new skills, and also bring in a bit of extra cash. Which is never something to complain about.
The problem is, at their worst, side hustles can become a source of stress and guilt in our lives.
We finish our working day and the idea of opening up your laptop for a few more hours of work really isn’t that appealing.
Before we know it our passion projects are gathering dust, just a dream of something that could have been.
I know this because I’ve been there. I’ve started and failed more side projects that I’d like to count. My side hustles now earn me $0000’s a month, and are something I find great pleasure working on. But it wasn’t always this way. In this article, I’ll share the tools, techniques, and systems you need at your disposal to make proper progress with a side project,
How to manage your side hustle(s) with a 9–5.
Principle 1 — Blocking out time
One of my mates has a saying about his side project:
“9–5 pay the bills, 6–10 build the empire.”
There are things I like about this quote, and a couple of things I don’t like.
What I like is that sets the expectation that every day you need to be focusing time towards making progress on your side hustle. It’s the expectation that, at the start at least, rather than focusing on results, let’s just focus on our own internal locus of control. We can control the hours we put in. We can control the effort we put into those hours. It’s a pretty good saying.
What I don’t like about though, is that the timing is backward. It should be 6–9 build the empire, 9–5 pay the bills. When I made this shift to thinking about my passion projects things started to really progress for me. The reason is simple.
You only have so much energy in the day, and if your full-time job is demanding you’ll often be completely shattered at the end of work. You need to work on your side project at the start of the day.
Plus how often have we said, “I’m going to finish work on time today so I can work on my side project”. Then we get called into a late meeting or end up working late on some problem that needs to be solved.
By just flipping the order so we always work on our startup up before our main job we make sure we have the energy to put our all into it, we also make sure that we have time for it. There are usually far fewer distractions early in the morning than later in the evening.
The main issue I faced with getting up early was having energy in the morning. Some people will argue some of us are better suited to late-night working, and shouldn’t get up early.
My experience has been that humans are really adaptable, if I get into a solid routine of going to bed early and make sure I have a great morning routine that energises me I can guarantee I’ll be in a really good flow state about 30 minutes after waking up.
If you can take one thing away from this article it’s this. Put in an hour or two or three, whatever you can manage before you start your 9–5, if you have energy left over at the end of the day, great you can work a bit more. However, I really like the feeling of logging off from my 9–5 and then having the evening to unwind and relax, without the pressure or guilt of feeling I should be working on my other projects.
Principle 2 — Get efficient with your 9–5
This is a hard truth. But if you are working 12 hour days in your 9–5, it’s going to be nearly impossible to make any meaningful progress on your side projects.
You need time to sleep. You need time to unwind. You need time to not be working.
Ideally, you want your 9–5 to be just that, a 9–5. not an 8–6 or a 9–8. You want a 9–5. Some of you may be thinking that’s a complete pipe dream, that you are just too busy to get everything done in that time.
I’d question that. I used to work way over 8 hours at my day job because I thought that was what was required for good performance.
In reality, I was just being inefficient. I was focusing on the wrong things, spending time in the wrong meetings, and generally not being that productive.
The first practical thing you can do to get more efficient with your day job is just to review your calendar. If it was anything like mine it was full of meetings that didn’t really add much value.
I put a rule in place that if a written update was given for a meeting like a business review, company update I wouldn’t attend unless I had something I wanted to contribute. I’d also schedule fewer meetings myself, in favour of written updates or smaller, shorter 1:1 sessions. I never schedule a meeting with more than 5 other people.
After you free up time in your calendar you want to make sure the time you do have is laser-focused on high-impact tasks.
Get off slack. Stop sending emails. Do some deep work on problems that matter.
Just a few hours of really focused work every day can be enough to make more impact than a lot of your colleagues who work for 10 hours in a constant state of distraction, hopping from urgent, low importance task to urgent low importance task.
If you want to best facilitate the conditions for deep work I’d recommend checking out Cal Newport’s great book on the topic.
Principle 3 — One project a week
One of the things that kills side projects is a lack of momentum. You work on something for a few months and see no results, so you decide to pack it in. The issue is, we often set our goals way too high when thinking about the first milestone of our project.
We might think that we need to create a complete website for our clothing business. A complete video course for our cooking school idea. Or an app for our delivery box.
To counter this I have a simple rule.
Every week I ship something that customers of my product can interact with. This might be a blog post, a video, a Notion system, or something bigger, the item itself doesn’t matter, it’s just getting into this constant habit of shipping that does.
After 1 year of following this approach, you’ll have 52 products out there. Sure they might be 52 tiny products. But they are 52 things you can get feedback on. 52 things that you have learned from and 52 things that you can look back on and see clear progress.
To get into this habit you need to build a system that literally won’t let you fail.
I use my Focused Mind Productivity System, but the idea is fairly simple. Each Sunday I sit down and think, ‘what project am I going to ship this week that will contribute to my north-star goal for this side project?’
I then break that project up into tasks that are small enough that I can complete them in a single day. For example, if I want to build a Notion system I'll split this up into creating the system, creating the landing page, organising the CRM, and filming and editing the video that explains it.
I’ll then assign the exact day that I’m going to complete the task, and the task will get done on that day. If I complete all the tasks the project is done. It’s like magic!
If we can combine these 3 principles, starting with carving out focused time, preferably in the morning. Getting really efficient with our full-time jobs so we have time and energy to work on our projects and get into the habit of shipping one product a week I can guarantee you will start making progress on your side hustle, it may take a while, but step by step you’ll get there.