How to Balance Your Day Job While Building a Business on the Side

day job and side business balancing act

This post is from Careful Cents contributor Kali Hawlk who’s documenting her journey to quitting her day job and starting her freelance businessRead the rest of her story here.

Building a business on the side of your day job is tough for a variety of reasons. You not only need to develop superhuman time management skills, but you must also learn to manage your emotions as well.

This means keeping meltdowns to a minimum. It means not comparing yourself to others who are further along in their journey than your are (try learning from the experiences they can share instead!). And it means absolutely no whining about having to work hard to achieve your dreams.

Dealing with your day job (while you have a split focus)

Yes, you will have to work hard. If you’re like most of us who have made the switch, you’re holding down a full-time day job as you slowly nurture your side hustle into a side business. You’ll need to continue showing up to work for weeks, months, or even years before it’s time to make the leap into self-employment.

I know Carrie was working insane hours for months before she quit her job to develop and run her business full-time. I mentioned my 80-90 hour work weeks in a previous post about handling burnout. Your full-time job still requires attention and energy, no matter how badly you want to ignore it in favor of your own venture.

You need to develop the skills to cope with your day job, even when all you want to do is quit and focus only on your own work.

Don’t like that? Toughen up, buttercup. It’s time to learn how to deal with your day job when all you really want to do is focus on building a business on the side.

Your day job matters as much as your side hustle

You won’t survive if you’re not passionate about what you’re creating. But losing the drive for performing well in your day job can kill your self-employment dream just as fast.

I know. As a budding freelancer this is not what you want to hear. (I’m sorry! I wish I could grant you permission to jet off as soon as you got your first paying client.) The reality is, your day job is necessary to your future success as a freelancer or self-employed business owner.

Why? Your day job provides a steady source of income, benefits, and compensation for your work. And some of those benefits will disappear when you quit, so take advantage of them for as long as you possibly can.

Your day job matters as much as your side business because it’s removing the financial pressure to immediately succeed away from your creative work. In other words, you don’t have to pimp out your creativity in order to make a buck — at least not yet. You may carry a heavy workload, but that burden is preferable to dealing with crushing debt and other money problems.

Not to mention, many businesses — even bootstrapped, digital ones — need financial support to get off the ground. It’s difficult to provide your dream with the practical resources it needs if you don’t have any.

And sure, money isn’t everything, but smart go-getters know financial security is important to success in other areas of life.

Another excellent reason to keep working hard in your 9 to 5: managing a day job alongside a side business provides better lessons than business school. You’ll learn a lot as you launch your own career and create your own opportunities.

If you can survive a few months as both an employee and your own boss, you can handle anything once you officially work for yourself full-time.

If you’re at the point where you feel like you’re working two jobs (one for someone else and one for yourself), think of this as your transition phase. Right now, your day job is serving as a bridge between two important pieces of your career. Your success lies in crossing that bridge, not jumping off of it as soon as you come to it.

Coping with your dual role as employee & freelancer

Understanding why your day job still serves a purpose may help you find peace with saying goodbye to 8 hour workdays and leisurely weekends and hello to work that requires full steam ahead.

But it doesn’t explain how to deal with the crazy, stressful, and difficult situations you’re facing while in transition between your two positions. Try these strategies and ideas to help you make it through:

1. Get organized

Really organized. Setting schedules, maintaining a calendar or planner, tracking your ideas, and managing tasks are all essential to success while you still have your day job. Personally, I like Trello to keep track of my notes, Asana to keep me on task, and handwritten planners and notebooks to schedule out my time. (Carrie’s note: the entire Careful Cents team is run on Asana and we love it!)

2. Ask for help with your side business

You may be 100% responsible for your position in someone else’s company, but you call the shots in your own business. Consider outsourcing any tasks you don’t like or can’t do, so you can focus on the big, important stuff.

3. Ask for help with non-work-related tasks

You can reach out to people to help you with more than just work, as well. Make sure you have a support group made of friends, family, coworkers, or like-minded folks in a similar situation that you can lean on when you need them. This may mean having someone to talk to when you just need to vent, or it could be asking a friend to run an errand every once in a while or a significant other to bring you a meal

4. Make use of all your time

Do you receive breaks or lunch periods at your day job? Consider taking that time to work on your personal projects. (Be sure you familiarize yourself with your company’s rules and policies first.)

5. Prioritize what matters

Just because you need to continue taking your day job seriously doesn’t mean you need to give 110% in every area. You don’t need to feel obligated to volunteer for extra work or assignments in the office. And don’t be afraid to say “no” to additional projects if you lack the bandwidth.

6. Look for alternative work arrangements

Ask your boss about setting a new schedule or allowing for some remote work. This can allow you to save time on commutes (or avoid wasting time sitting in the office when you’ve finished the days work, doing nothing but twiddling your thumbs until 5pm). You may also want to discuss working 30 hours per week instead of 40 if that’s an option in your position.

7. Set goals and timelines

Keep yourself focused on what’s really important by creating a detailed action plan that contains specific goals and timelines. This can help you eliminate the noise and concentrate on progress — and it can also signal when it might officially be time to hand in your notice and make the leap to working for yourself full-time.

What strategies do you use to deal with your day job while building a business on the side? 

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  1. Kirsten says:

    What a grew point about needing your full time job do you don’t compromise your integrity. Never thought about it that way before, but it’s so true.

    Eliminating my commute my be a blessing and a curse. It’s nearly 2 hrs a day I’m trapped in a car, with hubby driving. I read blogs, comment, and respond to comments then. But it’s also on a slow cell connection…

    I’m considering using some of my first freelance funds to help with housework so I don’t let everything go and feel stressed out about it. I won’t be getting ahead financially – but it wil help me keep stress down so I can continue to hustle!

  2. Nick Loper says:

    Love it Kali, thanks for sharing. I wanted to add that in some meaningful way, keeping your day job allows you to make bigger bets and take more calculated risks on the side, because you still have the steady income to fall back on. In a way, your employer is your venture capitalist, because you can use your paycheck to fund your side business 🙂

  3. Ruthann says:

    This is exactly what I needed to read. My schedule and work can be hectic, but I needed the reminder that the resource of money is a necessity. Thank you for your insightful post!

  4. Krystal Hart says:

    Something that helps me in this transition phase is separating my full time job from my freelance work. When I’m at work I give my employer 100% and do not allow freelance clients or projects to distract me at that time. When I’m home I give my freelance work and do not bring my employer’s work home. That means no checking work email or answering calls from the office when I’m off and vice versa. It has helped tremendously.

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