Let’s talk about combining your full-time job with a side project. It doesn’t have to be a side business. It can be a hobby, a volunteering project, house renovation, etc. Something that requires a substantial amount of time on your end. Something that you wanted to do for the longest time, but just couldn’t find the time.
My side project
- I have a full-time job as a product manager in a tech company here in Toronto. It is a very demanding job. I have a ton of meetings every single week. This is not a type of job where I have downtime during the day, where I can spend few hours on my side business. No. My days are fully booked. I don’t have time to dedicate to my side business during my work hours.
- I also have a side passion project called Monthly Method. I release a podcast episode every week. It means that they have to record, edit, and publish them.
- I also work with clients one-on-one. I teach them how to apply scrum principles to their personal productivity.
- Right now, I can’t add any more one-on-one clients, so I am working on creating a course that would allow me to teach the Monthly Method to more people.
So, how do I combine all of that with a full-time job? In this post, I will address the first thing you need to master.
Foundation of starting a side project:
Become disciplined in your full-time job.
Before you commit to a side project, you need to clear out time outside your 9-5 job. What I keep seeing is that people allow their full-time job to expand into all the hours of their day: their weekends, evenings, and mornings.
Limit your work hours to 9-5 making sure it doesn’t spread into other time blocks of your day.
I knew from the very beginning that if I wanted to build Monthly Method, I needed to be consistent with my effort. In order to be consistent, I couldn’t allow my full-time job to spread into all hours of my day. I couldn’t afford to be checking my work emails at night. I can’t afford to respond to slack messages first thing in the morning.
That meant that I needed to become extremely disciplined about sticking to my 9-5 schedule in my full-time job.
What prevents people from stopping work at 5 pm?
- Your day is just booked with meetings. You’re not having enough time to do focused work because all your hours during the day are booked with meetings. There is not a single moment where you can pause, think and be proactive instead of being reactive. The only time you can do focused work without interruptions is if you do it in the evenings or weekends.
- No shut-down routine. People bring their laptops home. With the pandemic, it became even more problematic. You don’t know when your workday ends. Your work laptop is just sitting there on the dining table 24/7. It’s not clear when you’re supposed to finish working. And on top of that, you keep getting emails from your manager at 10:00 PM, because this is the only time they can actually process what just happened during the day and send out action points, documentation, meeting notes (see point 1). Because you are getting emails from your manager at night, you feel pressured to respond to them right away.
How to address these issues
- Book the time in a calendar for focused work. This way, you can find a perfect amount of time to get your thoughts together, create documents, work on the reports, do data analysis and research. Protect your mornings from meetings. I’ve done it in several jobs now and it worked really well. People respect your time blocks and always find another time for a meeting.
- Use the time-blocking approach for important projects. Right now I am responsible for rolling out a new scanning app tovour warehouses across North America. This involves creating training materials, writing down SOPs, communicating with all the parties from engineers to operations. I create time blocks for each of these activities in my calendar. For every time block, I have a clear definition of done. I know that by the end of this time-block, this is the document I need to have ready. It also ensures that I allocate enough time during the week to create these documents. Learn more about time blocking here and here.
- Embrace meeting agendas. If the meeting has no clear agenda, it shouldn’t be on your calendar. When I have a clear agenda for the meeting and I communicate it well ahead of time, the meetings tend to be more effective. Solutions are found quicker. There is less rambling. And meetings with clear agenda tend to end sooner. Everyone is happy because they have some time back. I highly recommend including a meeting agenda before you send that calendar invite.
- Create daily routines before and after work. I like to leave my computer in the office. It sends a clear signal to my brain that the work stays in the office. I recently started going to F45 classes right after work. They have a class at 5:15 pm. This is the best way to turn off all the work-related worrying and not bring it home. You end up being physically tired, but mentally clear. I find it really helpful because it allows you to have a restful evening to focus on your family, to do the activities that you want to do, maybe focus on your side project. But most importantly, it allows you to keep your work and all of the work-related thoughts between 9-5.
- For more work-related productivity tips, check out the guest post I wrote Let’s Bring 9-5 Back.
If you want to start building a side project, you need to become very disciplined and efficient at your full-time job to make sure that your full-time job doesn’t spill over into other times of your day. This is the foundation. This is Step 1. Once your work is contained within a 9-5 window, you can add a side project to the mix.
Once you’re disciplined with your full-time job, you can be disciplined with your side project as well. If there is no structure to your nine to five, how are you going to bring structure and consistency to your side project?
Once you are disciplined and structured with your nine to five, it means that you’ve built the productivity habits that will skyrocket your chances of success in your side project.
If you prefer an audio format, please consider subscribing to the Monthly Method Podcast.