Keep Your Side Hustle From Sidelining Your Job


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Friday, April 28, 2023
Man juggling two jobs (clipboard in one hand, laptop in other)

For many of us, the days of having one job that can meet all your personal and professional needs are long over. It’s increasingly common for working adults of all ages to have side hustles: money-making ventures that happen outside of their regular work hours. Side hustles can take on all forms: freelance writing, making crafts, driving for ride-shares, teaching, cooking/baking, reselling goods online,  or even starting your own business. A side hustle can be a great way to increase your earnings while also making new connections, learning new skills, and opening yourself up to new professional opportunities.

Taking on a side hustle can be a challenge, however, when it comes to managing your time. We only have so many hours in a day and our regular work takes up a significant chunk of that time. Working off-the-clock can be done: the key is to do it in a way where you can maximize your effectiveness while also not letting that side work get in the way of your day job. The last thing you want to do is put the work that pays your bills on the sidelines.

Know Your Goals

One of the most important things you can do to strike a balance between your main professional work and your side hustle is to have a clear-eyed understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish. What do you hope to get out of your side hustle? Are you trying to create a steady alternative stream of income? Are you doing it to develop or hone a skill? Trying to start a new business or pick up freelance work? Knowing what you want to get out of this off-the-clock endeavor will help you manage your time and prioritize your efforts.

You also want to be realistic about your goals. Is this something you can achieve with the time and resources you have? Do you need to scale it back a bit, or do you think you can be more ambitious with your plans? Setting realistic benchmarks to hit will help prevent you from getting discouraged if you don’t meet your goals. It’s better to pursue a humble objective and vastly exceed those expectations than to aim for the stars and never get off the ground in the first place.

Set A Firm Schedule

Good time management is essential to balancing the competing demands of a regular job and a side hustle. A great way to set a schedule that suits your needs is to take an audit of your time. How many hours do you spend at work? How much of your day is tied up with home care, family, exercise, and other obligations? How much free time do you have left after you factor all that in? Any kind of side hustle — be it freelance work, a creative pursuit, or crafting — will most likely take place in those free hours. 

One thing to pay attention to during your time audit is notice what time of the day you’re most productive and energetic. If you’re a morning person, you may want to do your side work before you clock in for your day job to take advantage of that early bird energy.

Once you know how much time you have to work with, set specific hours that are for your “other” job and commit to that schedule. If possible, try to fit an hour or two between your regular job and your off-the-clock work as a buffer. That gap between the two will give you time to relax and mentally recharge. It’s also important to create a temporal distance between those two roles so you don’t end up mixing up projects or using the wrong mindset.

Be Flexible

While it’s important to develop a reliable schedule and stick with it as much as you can, there will be times in your life where something has to take priority. Give yourself permission to shift your focus as needed. If you start to feel overwhelmed, it helps to do a bit of triage: determine what is the best use of your time and drill down on that. What NEEDS to be done? If you only have a couple of hours a week for your side hustle, what can you do in that time that will get you closer to achieving your goals?

Don’t Be Afraid To Say No

One of the biggest culprits for burnout is taking on a bigger workload than you can handle. While it’s good to be a team player and to help out when you can, you also have to be realistic about how much time you have in a work day and whether or not you have the energy, resources, or focus needed to take on more responsibilities. This applies just as much to your side hustle as it does to your main employment. Say yes to things that you know you have the bandwidth to cover: don’t overcommit to things you may not be able to do. You may think at the moment that taking on more work will make you look good to your co-workers and employers, but whatever shine you get from stepping up is dulled dramatically if you fail to follow through. It’s better to say no and preserve your mental health than to overwork yourself.

The other benefit to saying no and being more selective with what you do is that it will help you better manage your time. If you try to take on too much with your side gig, for example, that could cut into your job time and make you less productive and reliable.

Track Everything

Develop a system for tracking your side hustle work. Track your expenses, profit, and accomplishments. Seeing that work grow over time can be a powerful motivator. It also helps you keep things straight with your normal job because you know what resources you’re putting into your side hustle. It’s also critical to track what you’re doing with your side hustle for tax purposes.

“You may also want to track your time so you can evaluate the profitability of your side hustle,” said Gina Pinch, Rio Salado College Faculty Chair for Business, Management, and Public Administration.

Maintain a Strict Separation

You’ll want to maintain a “church and state” style separation between your day job and your side hustle. Few things can land you in hotter water at work than doing work for something else while you’re on the clock. You don’t want to confuse your roles or objectives. Never use your work email for outside business. Avoid checking your personal email or doing any kind of side hustle work while you’re on the job. If you’re at a critical point in your side hustle work where you need to be “on call” about a big opportunity, that’s a great reason to use any time off you have from work so your focus isn’t divided.

You also want to make sure that your side hustle doesn’t create conflicts of interest with your employer. If you’re doing side work in the same industry, check your employee regulations to make sure that’s allowed and take care not to do any work for businesses that are competing with your employer.

Don’t Neglect Your Personal Life

It’s good to have ambitions at work and beyond but you don’t want to neglect your physical and mental wellness. Make sure you allocate time to exercise, rest, and be with family and friends. You’ll need that time to ground yourself and replenish your energy reserves. 

Do NOT Quit Your Day Job (Yet)

Maybe your side hustle picks up steam over time. Orders are coming, opportunities are on the horizon, and things are looking good. You may be tempted to quit your job and go all-in on this venture but don’t be hasty. Freelance work and other side jobs can come and go; you don’t want to forgo stable employment for something that might hit a dry spell a few months down the line. If you’re serious about making that career switch, make sure you have a little bit of a financial cushion before you take the leap. Have a few months worth of savings socked away and get your health care in order before you put in your two weeks.

Also remember that your revenue stream can be much more unpredictable with a side hustle. With a day job, you have a regular cadence of payment. With freelance work, it could be months before you see a check. It’s nice to have supplementary income but if you have bills to pay, waiting two to three months for money to roll in can be a huge problem. 

“This is one reason why tracking is so important,” Pinch said. “Tracking may identify cyclical patterns.”

And Don’t Forget About Taxes

Whether you’re freelancing for other businesses or going into business for yourself, one thing holds true: you still have to pay taxes on that work. If you’re doing freelance work, you’ll need to pay quarterly taxes. Track everything you do; you can’t rely on a corporate HR department sending you a W-2 come tax season.  Consult a tax advisor for professional help when needed to calculate what you owe Uncle Sam off your side hustle earnings.

Article by Austin Brietta


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