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by Stephan Maldonado | October 24, 2019

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According to Bankrate’s latest Side Hustle Survey, 45% of working Americans have some sort of side gig outside of their primary job to supplement their income. A side gig can look like a lot of things. For some people, it’s freelancing—using their skillsets to consult on projects. Other people take on a steady second job, like bartending, or provide specific services through platforms like Lyft, Seamless, or Task Rabbit.

Some people spend their time outside of work doing something that brings them personal fulfillment—if not a few extra bucks. Pursuing a hobby professionally, like DJ’ing or standup comedy, contributes immensely to a person’s overall well-being. It might not always pay, but that’s not always the point. Besides, if you become good enough at something, you might eventually be able to make some money off of it.

I, personally, spend many of my weekends working on my passion project: a novel I’ve been writing for three years. Of course, it would be nice to eventually rub elbows with Stephen King at his iconic house turned writer’s retreat/museum, but for now, I’m just happy to flex my creative muscles.

However you spend your time outside of work—making money or making memories—it’s important to set boundaries between your responsibilities and carve out time for each. Balancing your side gig with your full-time job can seem daunting, but it’s not impossible. Here are five ways to make it easier.

Set clear boundaries between your full-time job and your side gig.

No matter how much cash your side gig frees up, you’ve still got a full-time job for a reason. That means when you’re at work, your primary job is your priority. There are plenty of reasons not to do anything for your side gig during working hours. It’s unprofessional, first of all, and people will notice. It’s probably against policy to use company equipment (like your work computer) for personal reasons. And it impacts productivity. You won’t do your job as well if you’re distracted by your side gig, and the output for your “extracurricular” work will suffer when you’re trying to sneak it in.

Boundaries are important for your side gig, too. It’s all too tempting to take work home with you at the end of the day, but if you’ve committed to a project, then the time you’ve set aside to work on it should be spent on it. Not everybody has clearly-defined working hours, but you can still be mindful of when you will have free time. And if you’re expected to be on call or respond to emails on a given night, then that’s just not a night to work on your side gig. You don’t want to sacrifice productivity in either arena of your life for the other.

Be realistic about how much time you have in a given week.

There are 168 hours in a week. A full-time job consumes at least 35 hours of those (often much more). Subtract sleep, commuting, and quality time with loved ones, and you’ve got precious few hours left. Still, the side gig must go on, so it becomes a question of making the most of your “free” time.

When scheduling gigs or projects, be realistic about how much you can do without overburdening yourself. There are some weeks when your full-time job will be more demanding and you might need to scale back your “extracurricular” work.

If you can anticipate a busy week at your full-time job, don’t take on so many side projects, or try to take fewer shifts. If a busy week happens unexpectedly, be honest with your freelance clients and ask for an extension on a project. Similarly, when you know you’re going to have a normal week (either in advance or as it’s happening), that is the time to reach out to people and say, “Hey, I have some availability.”

Become a pro at structure and self-discipline.

Structuring the time you spend on your side gig, even when you don’t have a fixed schedule, is essential. Approach every side gig as you would your primary job and be just as efficient and thorough as managing your time. For a more detailed guide to time management outside of a traditional nine-to-five, check out our article, “How to Best Manage Your Time as a Freelancer”.

Remember, you’ve still got a life to live. You need to eat, unwind, and take care of other “life things”. How much time can you commit to your side gig, realistically? Three hours? Only half an hour? With minimal time to work on your side gig, you need to assess the project at hand and determine the best way to tackle it. How do you prioritize? What can you do tonight and what is okay to save for tomorrow?

Identify how much more you’re willing to work that day and stick to that. Find a space that promotes productivity—someplace with minimal distractions and everything you need to focus, whether it’s in your home or a nearby café.  Structuring your time will make all the difference.

Got a few extra PTO days? Use them!

If you find yourself with a surplus of PTO (specifically vacation time or personal days—not sick days or time you receive for life events), this can be a great way to carve out some additional time to work on your side gig. Admittedly, this way of doing things might be better suited for somebody working on their own project, as opposed to projects for clients, but even part-time freelancers can try to schedule more work around the days they’re planning to take off from their full-time jobs

These days are yours. You’ve earned them, and many places won’t allow you to roll them over if you don’t use them. Of course, you should use your vacation days for relaxation and adventure—you’ve earned that, too—but if you don’t anticipate any major trips, or you suddenly find yourself with more PTO than you know what to do with, this is one way to make the most of it.

Don’t create any conflicts of interest.

Depending on your line of work, you may find yourself in a position where a side gig may create a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest can arise when working on a side project for an individual or business in the same line of service as your full-time employer. There’s an entire spectrum of what may or may not constitute a conflict of interest, and it’s all highly specific to your role or industry.

Before taking on a side gig that could theoretically create a conflict of interest, you must be aware of your company’s policies regarding such matters. These policies are likely readily available—perhaps in your employee manual or the company’s Intranet. If you feel comfortable enough, you can also ask HR or your boss.

Do your due diligence to get the best sense of what might constitute a breach of policy when it comes to taking on a side gig. Avoiding conflicts of interest is ethical and it mitigates the risk of repercussions.

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