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The Writer’s Guide to Avoiding Side-Hustle Burnout

by | Feb 1, 2018

Side hustles can be awesome.

When I was starting out as a freelance writer, side hustling allowed me to test the waters and build my business while still having the safety net of a day job. Now that I’ve been forced to return to the 9-to-5 (freelancing doesn’t always pay the bills), side hustling allows me to continue to pursue my writing in the hours around my job.

But side hustles can also be challenging.

It takes a certain blend of ambitious insanity to take on a second job that requires so much of your brain power. Exhaustion, frustration and occasional panic are very real side effects of the side hustle.

To combat these symptoms, we recommend these five tips.

1. Manage your energy

All work and no break makes your writing a dull thing.

The secret to producing consistent, quality work isn’t cramming your hours so full they could burst; it’s about working with your body’s natural rhythms to use your hours as wisely as possible.

Concentration, clarity and creativity ebb and flow.  

There are times your reserves are dry, and trying to push yourself through that will only result in burnout (and some pretty crappy writing). Figure out your peaks and dips, and you can use that knowledge to make sure you’re working smarter.

If you’re a morning person, use those quiet early hours to focus on your writing before the day gets away from you. If you hit a patch of low energy, use your writing time to do a task that requires less creativity, like proofreading or researching new publications to pitch.

Of course there are times you have no choice but to push through a low patch, but whenever possible, try to plan your work to match the times you’re at your best. See your side hustle as a series of sprints, not a marathon, and you’re much more likely to cross the finish line.

side hustle burnout2. Be picky about what you say “yes” to

When freelancing is a side hustle, you only have a limited amount of time to spend on it. Which means you must be deliberate about which projects you accept.

Ideally, you’d be able to only take on the gigs that speak to you creatively — but if you don’t have that luxury, you should at least ensure you only accept gigs that will prove worthwhile.

What “worthwhile” means is up to you. You may choose to focus on a specific topic area you find interesting. Or on the jobs that give you the highest ROI money-wise. Or on the ones that give you the most exposure, even if they don’t pay quite as much. Know what matters to you, and refuse to waste your time and energy on anything else.

Oh, and watch out for red flags when considering a new client. An awful client can significantly decrease how much a project winds up being worth.

3. Don’t blur the lines between your day job and your freelancing

This tip has an ethical component as well as a practical one.

Ethically, you owe it to your day job boss to work only on the work he hired you for when you’re on his clock. Sneaking in some writing time when no one’s looking could get you in trouble — and, morally, it’s kind of shady.

Practically, keeping a solid boundary between day job work and freelance work will help keep you sane.

Your day job becomes a reprieve from deadline stress and client drama; your freelancing becomes a creative outlet. Try to multitask both jobs at once, and you’ll end up stressed, distracted and prone to mistakes.

4. Insist on work/life balance

Finding time for friends, family, hobbies and all the other stuff that makes up a “life” can seem nearly impossible when you’re working two jobs. So make a point of scheduling these thing in just like you would a client meeting or other event you can’t miss.

It’s all too easy to fill your days with work when you don’t have anything specific on the calendar. Make a point of peppering your weeks with things that bring you joy and relaxation, and you’ll find yourself planning to work around them like you would any other appointment.

Also, do not (I repeat, do NOT) allow yourself to feel guilty for taking this time for yourself. You’re a much better writer when you have a life outside of work. And, you know, you also deserve it.

Freelancing in addition to a day job is a serious undertaking. And like any ambitious goal, pursuing this path forces you to prioritize.

Your house will most likely be messier than you’d like. PJs could become your go-to outfit when you’re home. You might make friends with your local food delivery people. Being a successful modern adult doesn’t mean having a perfect, Pinterest-worthy life; it means going after the things you love and rocking the living daylights out of them. If you’re holding down a day job and a side hustle, you are already killing it. Learn to let go of the rest and you’ll be much happier.