How to Find an Hour a Day for Your Freelance Side Hustle

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When you first set out to freelance on the side, everything looked great. You already had a steady full-time job, so making extra cash on the side would be a breeze. After all, what’s another five to 10 hours in your weekly schedule?

At least, that’s what I thought when I first started freelancing.

Holding a second job isn’t as easy as it sounds. Especially if that second job doesn’t have a set schedule.

When I first began freelancing, I was working full-time, taking courses, and I was involved in other activities. Squeezing in freelancing “whenever I had the time” seemed to make sense. I could go to work, do some studying, and then spend the remaining time freelancing.

In reality, I would get home from work exhausted. I would surf the internet or watch TV, and before I knew it, it was time to sleep. All the other tasks competing for my attention earlier in the day left me with no motivation to do anything else.

It can be tempting to let freelancing take a back seat to other priorities in your life. If you’re in this situation, you can either hope that you’ll start writing someday, or actively make changes to create time for your writing career.

How to fit your freelance business into your schedule

Work, family, and other activities make it easy to put off freelancing until later. But with some changes to your schedule, you can consciously decide to make your writing a priority.

Here’s the three-step process you can follow to carve out more time for freelance work.

1. Assess your schedule

Look at your daily routine. What time do you normally get to bed? When do you wake up? Are you incorporating a healthy lifestyle? These factors affect how much free time and energy you have to write.

Try using a timer to log how many hours you spend on freelancing in a week. Also track how many hours you spend on non-productive activities such as surfing the net, using social media, or watching TV. You don’t have to give up these activities, but it helps to know where you might be able to steal some time for your side hustle.

When do you feel the most energetic? As you track your time, take note of your energy level throughout the day.

I found that I wrote best in the morning, which meant that I would have to squeeze in time before work. When I tried this approach, I felt that as long as I had done a certain amount of writing first thing, the rest of the day was free to do other work and activities.

Waking up earlier can be difficult at first because it also means going to sleep earlier. But if you find you’re too tired later in the day to do any work, it’s well worth the effort to try adjusting your schedule.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a morning person, give it a shot. Over the course of a few weeks, you’ll likely find yourself waking up earlier with less effort, creating time to do freelance work in the morning.

2. Determine your ideal freelance work plan

Imagine your ideal scenario. For example, you might want to spend an hour per day on your business.

If you want to fit that hour into your morning, you can gradually adjust to an earlier wake-up time.

Novelist Huraki Murakami has a pretty strict routine: “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4 a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9 p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation.”

Even if you don’t have five to six hours to spare, training yourself to stick to a routine helps you stay productive each day. And if you can also fit in a quick workout, daily exercise is another way to energize yourself to work on writing projects.

3. Identify small steps to find time for freelancing

Once you’ve assessed your current and ideal freelancing situations, create a series of steps to get there. Start small.

For instance, aim to go to sleep a little earlier than you’re used to. This could mean relaxing in the evenings by reading a book, and setting your alarm to go off 10 to 15 minutes earlier in the morning.

Experiment to see what gives you more time to write. You might need to cut out social media in the evenings, or keep a notepad near you in case you want to jot anything down.

If you find yourself with periods of downtime throughout the day, you can try fitting your writing in then. “I’m a security guard, and have pockets of downtime throughout the day,” horror writer Mark Allan Gunnells explained in one interview. “I have trained myself to write in those pockets. It isn’t ideal for some, the constant stop-and-start method, but I’ve managed to make it work.”

You might find that long, intense periods of writing help you work most productively. If that’s the case for you, a few hours working during the weekend might get you to your goals. Or, writing in short bursts may work better for your schedule and work style.

The key is to make gradual improvements over time so that you can adjust and get used to a new routine. It may not be easy, but it’s certainly doable if you plan where you want your freelance career to go.

Do you have a full-time job and a freelance business? How do you make time to write?

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Melissa Chu helps people get productive and develop good work habits. Check out the free guide that shows you how to develop a framework to achieve your freelancing goals, so that you can fit more writing into your day.... .

Jumpstart Your Dream Life | @melissa_jydl

Melissa Chu
Find Your Freelance Writing Niches

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Comments

  1. Thanks for letting me contribute, The Write Life. I’m happy to answer any questions or comments anyone has!

    Also, after leaving a comment, feel free to grab my guide (in my bio)!

    Looking forward to hearing from all of you,
    Melissa

  2. Even as a full-timer, I find that there are many different tasks to juggle. After all, a freelancer is a business owner, and business owners have to wear many hats. Even when you don’t have a separate “day job” competing for your time (because freelancing has become your “day job”), you will always have to balance completing various projects with looking for new clients, keeping up on bookkeeping, etc.

    Time management is crucial for business owners of all kinds, including writers (and editors!) The time management skills you learn while balancing freelancing with a day job will be a great help to you if you ever succeed in going full-time.

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Coaching
    epiclesisconsulting.com
    epiclesisconsulting.etsy.com

    • Very well said, Trish! I guess that’s why they say entrepreneurs and freelancers need to be a “jack of all trades”.

      Time management is especially important in freelancing because you don’t really have that face-time concept that applies to jobs, where the most important thing is showing up.

      I have to say, the good thing about being employed full-time while freelancing is that having a job can provide you with structure. You know that there’s deadlines to meet and places you need to be at within a certain time frame, and that sense of responsibility can carry through to your outside work.

      Melissa

  3. Murakami’s advice is very good!

    • Hey Kiwi, yes I was pretty impressed when I read about his routine. At first glance, it sounds like a strict regimen, but I think it just comes down to developing a habit.

      I find a lot of writers get the most out writing early in the morning as opposed to later in the day. Ernest Hemingway was another fan of writing at the crack of dawn.

      Melissa

  4. Right now, I wake up very early to do my writing. It is exhausting by the end of the work day (I work 12 hours in the hospital), but hopefully it will pay off someday (when i can leave my job).

    Thank you for your tips!

    • Hi Lynn,

      Wow those are long work hours. It’s good that you’ve found a system that’s working for you. I think having aspirations, such as aiming to freelance FT, help when things get tough.

      Thanks for your comments!
      Melissa

  5. I struggle to fit writing into my daily routine mostly because I have a 50 minute commute to work and back I already get up at 5am to get to work on time and am lucky if I can get home by 6pm which leaves me exhausted.
    I do a very physical job which also involves using my brain a lot for calculating.
    those fifty minutes are really good thinking time and I often have to pull over to write an idea down.
    So I am going to set my alarm for 4am and use every extra minute as you suggested.

  6. Melissa–

    Sooooo GOOD to read a piece that captures the ‘gotta do’ to make incremental/real changes in habits to gain leverage on writing production. As I sit in bed with my iPad, I can attest to just about every nugget you mention; my largest leap came (2 years ago) by setting cell phone for 7:05 and on other side of room so I *had* to get up.

    By 7:15 I had coffee in hand, and knowing I needed to shower and get something to eat before heading to work (11-7 shift, but only 4.5 mi. away) and that it took me an average of 2 hrs. to knock out/polish a 700-800 word blog, I gained the specific CONSISTENCY that I (big toe dug into carpet, head down) frequently kicked myself about lacking for years.

    The absolute BEST change came after I edited two years of group essays from a youth leadership conference into chapters for a childrens read-along book. With 7 weeks of discipline and no additional material coming from the group, I (tah-dah!) opened the binder with the printed copy of my book– which I hadn’t worked on for *3 years* since getting it to 63,000 wds. for NaNoWriMo submission, which is another of those spurs that helps push productivity.

    Reading the 3-4 chapters I’d tagged on end to be ‘finished’, I was stunned that I was so close with good stuff, and for next 5 months, I was CHARGED to get it edited and moved forward. Yes, I took pages to retail job and worked on it during slack times. After a *friend* did a brutal hack job of editing, it took 5 MORE months to get it submitted.

    The point is, you need to start with the obvious little point about where you steal the time. Really, great piece!

    • Glenn:

      Awesome and glad you liked the piece! I think it really does come down to developing good habits incrementally rather than just “trying harder.” Putting the alarm on the other side of the room is a great idea.

      I also apply that technique in the opposite direction – putting things nearby so that I make it as easy as possible to get started on things. I’ll put a book right beside my computer and leave it open so that it’s as easy as possible to read it.

      Like you said, it’s funny how the physical distance of our work makes a BIG difference in terms of productivity. If you liked the piece, feel free to check out my guide (in my bio above)! I talk more about productivity and habits on my site.

      Melissa

  7. This is my biggest frustration right now. I simply can’t carve out the time. Full time job, two busy kids, and all the other thing that come with a family – it has been so hard to carve out time to get a writing side gig going. And at the end of every day, when I haven’t moved that side gig forward one bit, I go to sleep (or toss and turn) completely frustrated that I’m not getting anywhere.

    I need to put my big girl panties on, pull myself up by the bootstraps, and get it in gear!

    • Hi Jen,

      It does sound like you have a lot on your plate! If it helps, I do know of other moms who work FT and have managed to make a side-gig work for them. Not easy, but lots of tea (or coffee, your choice) and doing work when others are sleeping seems to be the way.

      If you’re tossing and turning instead of sleeping, you could try doing some reading or jotting down some points on a notepad.

      You can do it!
      Melissa

  8. AMEN!
    After years of writing and as a full time banker I’ve found my pockets every Monday and Tuesday nights. I can squeeze n several hours in this slot. Combine that with early weekend mornings before the family rises I can write, edit, and be creative.
    I do hate when someone changes their schedule and interferes with these blocks though, family or not!

    KEEP WRITING!

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