Picture this. On Friday morning you rush to the hospital with a sick child. Your partner is crying and you’re suffering from chronic lack of sleep. You cancel your 11 a.m. consultation with a potential client who’s clearly annoyed.
At 4 p.m. you’re supposed to start a brand-new college teaching job. Luckily the doctor gives the little one the all clear just in time for you to rush home for a quick shower. No time to review your lecture notes. You survive class, but a million tasks wait at home. You can’t get to them because friends have decided to “check-in,” and they’re staying for dinner.
Saturday morning you visit a coffee shop to work on that presentation for your day job. It’s due Monday. You’re about to put on headphones when a stranger strikes up a conversation. He’s your ideal client, so 90 minutes later you say, “Sorry, I have to get going.” Looking at your phone you find three texts that say, “Hey is this meeting happening?”
You missed your virtual team meeting for your side hustle, so you reschedule—that product launch will have to wait. At home you ignore the dishes from Friday’s half-eaten breakfast, open your laptop, and spend seven hours on sales calls. So much for Sunday off, you spend it finishing that presentation. Monday you’re back to the 9-5, and give a surprisingly expert performance. Nobody detects the cloud of chaos swirling around you.
This is life for most side hustlers: simultaneously invigorating and pressure-filled.
Is “having it all” inseparable from chaos? Yes, but no. Some disarray is built into the pursuit, but you can take back control. Here are 12 efficiency secrets for busy people like you who are building a side hustle while juggling a full-time job, a social life, exercise, sleep and 47 other desires.
1. Clarify your purpose.
Clear conviction is an unstoppable force. A clear “why” provides at least 80% of the motivation needed to achieve anything. Unfortunately, clear purpose is rare among side hustlers. Many say, “I’d like another $1,000 a month,” or, “I want to quit my job.” But when the sick kids and bad deals inevitably come to test your grit, “Gee, I’d like more money” will not carry you over the mountain. Success demands a “burning desire,” to paraphrase Napoleon Hill. And the only way to create that fire is to connect with your purpose at an emotional level.
Humans put forward logical explanations for decisions, but our emotions have a not-insignificant effect on our decision-making as well. So take the time to get emotional about your purpose. Write and think about it. Walk in the woods and scream it at the top of your lungs. Once your “why” is lodged in your heart, abundant motivation will tame the chaos.
2. Create a ‘Will Not Do’ list.
The Latin origin of decide, decidere, means “to cut off,” and cutting the nonessential is as important as selecting priorities. Most achievers have no trouble codifying clear goals but then let time-sucking “opportunities” creep into calendars. Be ruthless with your time in order to grow a business while balancing a full-time job and life responsibilities. Essentialism author Greg McKeown calls this “The power of a graceful no.”
Write a list of activities you refuse to do and plaster it on your walls. Start with obvious fluff, like post-work drinks. Then say a teary goodbye to activities that, while important, will not lead to your best life. Ruthlessness here might mean skipping that birthday party or telling your in-laws that Sunday dinner is no longer a tradition. When you mindfully choose the activities you’ll sacrifice, the gods of productivity will fortify you with the courage to say “no” when the time comes.
3. Play offense, not defense.
Billionaire Chris Sacca has a golden touch for investing. He bought early in Twitter, Uber and Instagram. You’ll know him from his tour of duty on ABC’s Shark Tank and his nifty cowboy shirts. The secret to his success? Unlike typical venture capitalists, he left Silicon Valley to get away from the constant stimulation, “just touching base” emails and endless coffee dates. “I was just reacting to everything, rather than actually going out and playing offense,” Sacca says. He moved three hours east to focus only on priorities he set, rather than every shiny opportunity.
You’re forced to play defense when your car breaks down, a client goes bankrupt or your child gets sick. But you can make a conscious decision to put the lion’s share of your focus on priorities that bring you closer to Goal City, and not let others control your time. Be unavailable; that’s playing offense. Yes, this means passing up exciting opportunities, but when you chase two rabbits you lose both.
4. Practice self-care.
The most neglected piece of any productivity plan is your most important asset: YOU. Best-selling author and business strategist Tony Robbins says that 80% of success is determined by your mindset. If the programming between your ears is delivering anxiety, doubt, fear and frustration, no amount of hustle or strategizing will deliver results.
One key to creating an optimal mindset is to invest in self-care: inspiring hikes in the woods, playing your favorite game, an excellent meal, time with close friends; whatever recharges your soul’s battery. You can’t do your best work when your mind and heart are overwhelmed. You wouldn’t constantly run an engine at the redline without oil, but Western culture applauds this same abuse when we inflict it on ourselves. Then we wonder why burnout strikes.
A word of caution: Brushing your teeth, taking your meds and reading self-help books is self-maintenance, not self-care. To accomplish more, prioritize compassionate activities that supercharge your spirit. For many entrepreneurs, this is the missing link in their success plan.
5. Leverage health hacks.
The standard disclaimer applies: this is not medical advice, talk to your doctor before you try any of these current favorites of some of the highest achievers in Silicon Valley.
- Bulletproof coffee: Your morning cup mixed with grass-fed butter and MCT oil from coconuts. It provides the fuel your brain needs to function at its peak until lunchtime, leading to the next hack.
- Intermittent fasting: Don’t put any food into your stomach for 16 hours in a 24-hour period. Simple. This means lunch at noon, dinner at 6 p.m., and your bulletproof coffee in the morning. Benefits include fat loss, muscle gain and growth of nerve cells in the brain, which unlocks peak performance.
- Supplements: Nature provides loads of goodies. Ginkgo biloba may reduce anxiety and stress, and omega-3s can improve sleep and protect you from disease. Find the right cocktail for you.
- Cut sugar: It can contribute to—or increase the risk of—disease, potentially suppress or weaken the immune system, impair cognition, and increase stress.
- Sauna: Spending time in a sauna may trigger growth hormone production, improve physical endurance and improve cardiovascular health.
Take care of the vehicle that carries you through life and your work output will soar.
6. Play to your strengths.
Stop doing things you’re not great at. Yes, in a startup of one, you’ll need to tackle bookkeeping or mop floors. Essentialism author Greg McKeown calls these obligations the “slowest hiker” because they keep you from your destination. “Even activities that are ‘productive’—like doing research, or emailing… can be obstacles,” he says. They require energy better allocated to your strong suits.
Sure, you’ll feel proud teaching yourself how to code an app over three weekends. But you could outsource that to an expert in Croatia for $300. Sites like Upwork, Fiverr and Freelancer are a side hustler’s best friend.
To be truly efficient, spend maximum time applying your unique abilities. Are you a strong writer? Then delivering blog posts via an email list will be a better marketing strategy than creating video. You’re an amazing photographer? Find your tribe on Instagram and start selling there. Do not mistake activity for efficiency. Play to your strengths and your results will multiply.
6. Be the early bird.
Time is the one shared asset no one can create. Take advantage of the productivity goldmine that is your early morning hours. At the moment we wake, our willpower and creativity are highest and our minds are free from phone notifications, external demands and noise. Rising late forces you to rush to work, skip a healthy breakfast that activates your metabolism, and robs you of the solitude that creates calm and joy.
Tackle your most important work during these golden hours. Productivity master Brian Tracy calls this “eating the frog”—striking your ugliest, most-likely-to-procrastinate-on task off your list first. This doesn’t need to be unpleasant; string enough morning wins together and you’ll crave more, no matter how wart-covered the task.
How do you own your mornings? Author Robin Sharma suggests:
- Exercise: Start with 20 minutes to activate healthy brain chemistry.
- Reflect: Journal or meditate to create a productive mindset.
- Inspire: Read or listen to books in order to lift your spirit.
8. Understand the maker’s vs. manager’s schedule.
In 2009, Paul Graham, co-founder of startup accelerator Y Combinator, wrote an essay entitled, Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. Read it, and you’ll have a lightbulb moment about work rhythms. The Manager’s schedule is comprised of one-hour chunks, where you run from one task to the next. But the Maker needs clear, half-day sessions to excel. A coder or a writer can’t do great work in an hour; he can barely get started.
Side hustlers are Makers and Managers at different times, but tend toward managing. A business only succeeds by creating value, and creation is easier in those Maker periods. Wise entrepreneurs schedule Maker time first thing each morning, leaving frenetic Manager work for late-day.
Tim Ferriss simplifies this to the dictum: “Make before you manage.”
“Even token efforts allow me to reassure myself with ‘Don’t worry. You did produce something today,’” Ferriss says. First, understand which work belongs to each domain, then prioritize Maker time each week.
9. Always be shipping.
Planning is crucial, but over-planning is poison. Another hour of research, one more self-help book, a deep dive into the analytics—these are excuses to avoid action, a.k.a. procrastination. The antidote to “preparing to start syndrome” is to set yourself deadlines to “ship” regularly: Post the article, call the client, record the video, release the app, eat the frog. Author Seth Godin admits shipping is dangerous because it exposes us to criticism, failure and financial loss. His response? You can’t spend life curled up in a ball. “You’re going to ship anyway… why bother indulging your fear?”
Set regular, non-negotiable shipping goals that leave you not quite enough time to finish. Why hurry? Because according to Cyril Northcote Parkinson, author of Parkinson’s Law, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” You don’t need as much time as you think. Light a fire under yourself to ensure you’re getting in front of customers. That will provide valuable feedback about your strategy, and keep you motivated to keep going.
10. Overlap your efforts.
Always follow the “two birds with one stone” approach. This could mean getting paid for the same work multiple times, reusing blog content on multiple platforms or choosing a side hustle that complements your day job.
Brian Dean has built a thriving SEO training company, Backlinko.com, by producing quality blog posts. When he wanted to start marketing through YouTube, he didn’t create new content, he converted existing blog articles to video. This is working smarter, not harder. For you this might mean using your company’s data in your side business or sharing clients. Hustling as an interior designer? Take a job in a furniture showroom where you’ll meet a stream of clients. Just be sure to get written permission from the boss. Get rewarded for the same work more than once and your productivity multiplies.
11. Mind the analytics.
You can’t hit a target you can’t see, so you set goals. By extension, you can’t reach your goal without tracking progress. Analytics is the art of pulling valuable information from raw data. Your analytics can reveal how website visitors or app users are behaving and which features generate sales. But analytics become most powerful when applied to yourself.
You can track any metric. Simple ones include how many gym sessions or alcoholic drinks you had this week. Prioritize metrics tied to your main goals. If you market your side hustle through social media, create a spreadsheet that records your engagement rate, comments and clicks to your website from social networks. Does your business rely on a lead funnel? Then monitor leads, sales calls made and conversion rate to sales.
There’s also hidden power in analyzing your mindset. Any free daily mood tracking app will reveal which activities promote productivity and happiness—and which hamper you. Only when we analyze results can we evaluate our strategy. If you’re on track, the rosy picture will generate serious motivation.
12. Adjust your sails.
When he was a general in World War II, Dwight Eisenhower said, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” The same is true off the battlefield: No business or life plan stays intact once we start executing. The process of planning is indispensable because it forces us to anticipate outcomes, setbacks and the resources we’ll need to succeed. But reality will always surprise us.
In your side hustle, you adapt or it dies. Tracking analytics shows us reality, but this information is valuable only when used to alter strategy. As you cross the gulf between your present and your desired future, be willing to navigate around reefs and storms, always pointed toward the port where fortune awaits.
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The colossal test of building a business while working full-time and trying to have a semblance of a personal life can energize you like nothing else. One day you’ll look back on this struggle as the most beautiful chapter of your life. But the road to your most exceptional life is littered with boulders, and you’ll need every advantage to stay motivated. These 12 secrets are no magical shortcuts, but they will roll some of those stones out of the way.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine and has been updated. Photo by G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock