Career & Education / Work/Life Balance

How I Work 60+ Hours A Week To Make Extra Money Without Losing My Sh*t

By Sunday, September 20, 2020

I started freelancing alongside my full-time job about two years ago so I could put away money to buy a house. I also realized I loved freelancing because it made me feel like I was more in control of my career and my finances. Working in media, it’s not uncommon to learn that entire editorial departments have been laid off overnight, and I always feared the worst wherever I went. I knew I was good at what I did, but layoffs are, in a way, an act of nature, disasters that nobody can really avoid. I decided to preemptively brace myself, so I freelanced up until getting laid off from the startup I was most recently working for back in March, and then immediately ramped up my assignments and number of clients so that I could avoid a comet-sized financial hit. (And when I say “immediately,” I mean, the transition took a few weeks — finding freelance work as writer and editor can be tough and involves a lot of pitching and reaching out.)

I freelanced for a couple months before I was contacted about a full-time position. During this time, it was my husband’s turn to lose his job (because 2020), so I decided to accept the full-time job in hope that I could at least provide us with benefits. I also decided to continue freelancing so that I could earn a two-person salary, and hoped for the best. Since my husband is a chef, we both understood it might be a long time before he was able to secure another job, so this was the reality we were working with.

Since late July, I’ve been balancing a 40+ hours at my full-time job and approximately an additional 30 hours dedicated to my freelance work. Has it been difficult? OMG yes! I’m not going to put rainbow frosting on a jacked-up cake for you: It’s really hard, and some weeks are even harder. Clients may not pay in you time (or straight up not want to pay you at all, but we can save that for another time), and you might miss deadlines and feel horrendously guilty (FYI, most people are incredibly generous and kind, and will cut you a break). Sometimes you might feel like you physically cannot do it anymore, but before you turn into a pile of ashes, I wanted to go over some of the ways that have stopped me from reaching that breaking point.

But before I do, I just want to make it clear that I’m *not* romanticizing or promoting side hustles. You might see posts on LinkedIn that praise the side gig, but if you’re able to earn a good living without having to moonlight, you should totally take advantage of that stability. Your work (and the money you make from it) should never be synonymous with your worth, and productivity is not a competition. On the flip side, I totally get that a lot of people have no choice but to work several jobs to make ends meet. I choose to do this because of the current circumstances (the mortgage and bills gotta get paid), and because I also just love what I do.

Okay! Let’s started on how not to internally combust while juggling freelance work and a full-time job.

1. Accept the fact that you may be working 60+ hours a week and work out what that means for your social life, time spent with family, and weekends.

There’s no way around it: Your days are going to look different, and they will be longer. It’s up to you how you want to best optimize them, but the truth is, unless you have Hermione Granger’s time-turner, you’re going to have less time you’re not working. I usually work from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and give myself a couple hours to deflate and watch true crime on Netflix, and I generally either spend half my Saturdays and Sundays working, or a full Saturday working with a Sunday off. But that doesn’t mean weekend getaways and traveling to see family for multiple days are out of the question — you just need to plan for it. For example, I booked a couple nights in the desert to spend some time away from LA and in a pool, and I bulked up on assignments the week before. No lie, that week will not be fun, but I also bought a mega-pack of Red Bulls from Costco. Time management is key — but even if you’re the most organized, efficient human being, you’ll still be working a lot. Be mentally prepare for it, and savor the time off you do have.

2. I’ve written this before, and I’ll write it again: Give yourself a “cutoff” time every day.

Not only does giving yourself a clear cut-off time make it so that you can’t easily procrastinate because you think to yourself, “Well, I have all night to finish XYZ,” it gives you healthier work-life boundaries. Log off. Give yourself an hour or two of sugary, stupid TV. Read a book. Journal. You cannot and should not work 24/7.

3. Allot a specific number of hours you’re willing to spend every day on your side hustle.

Understanding how many hours you’re working is key to organizing your day as well as understanding your limits. And 100% give yourself limits. You can only handle so much before you burn out and start submitting work that’s not up to your usual standards (and that can happen when you’re overwhelmed!).

4. Be efficient with your time (see also: work smart, and hard)

I hate the term “work smart, not hard,” even though the intentions behind it are fine, I guess? I think you can both work hard and be efficient — you just need to understand which tasks needs to be optimized and how you can do that. For instance, I hired several subcontractors when I realized I couldn’t possibly lay out high level strategy and be the one executing it for one client. (That also forced me to learn more about payroll and best practices when it comes to paying subcontractors, which is good to know if are running your own LLC or S Corp. If you plan on doing this, I also recommend finding a solid accountant for tax season.)

5. Say “yes” to opportunities before you say “no.”

It’s true that it’s important to say “no” to opportunities that aren’t worth your time, or don’t pay you what you’re worth. However, I’ve taken a different approach before I say no to an opportunity. I’ll pretty much always give something a go, and if my planner tells me I’m working way too many hours for the amount of pay I’m receiving, then I’m able to come back to the client and either ask for a bump in rate, or respectfully let them know I can’t continue to provide services for them. In a lot of cases, I’ve been able to negotiate a higher rate after demonstrating my abilities and showing results.

6. Avoid staying up super late to meet a deadline — just ask for an extension.

Don’t sacrifice your brain energy — you’re going to need it for your full-time job the next day. And you never, ever want to let your performance slip when you work full-time for a company. At the end of the day, you want to make sure everyone you’re working for is happy with your work.

7. Carve out a safe, happy place for yourself in your home.

Whether it’s your living room, a smell desk in the corner of your bedroom, or an office you’re able to revamp and truly call yours, you should try to create a serene spot to differentiate work time from the rest of your life. Because otherwise, the two will blend, and no matter what you’re doing, you’ll feel like you’re working. I get that this might not be possible if you have children, partner, or a roommate. COVID has made it difficult for us to even escape to a coffee shop or library. But hopefully this won’t be the case for long. In the meantime, invest in noise-canceling headphones, find a seat that doesn’t turn your back into petrified wood by 3 p.m., light a candle, and settle into focus-mode — on your own terms.

8. If you can: Ask for help.

Since my husband is at home all day long, he self-elected making dinners and cleaning the house, which has been tremendously helpful. He also decided to master making sourdough bread and bagels, so that’s also a plus. Not all of us have this, but if you do live with a partner or even a roommate, see if you can divvy up chores and other tasks so that when you do have time away from your computer, you can spend it as leisurely as possible. When it comes to meals, if you can’t rely on someone else to make them, try to meal prep one day of the week, and try to keep things as simple as possible. Make a casserole or soup that will last you for five days. Make several types of meals in one day and freeze portions you can heat up later. Try to avoid ordering takeout, because that may defeat the purpose of why you’ve decided to take on a side hustle (more money).

9. Find ways to practice self care.

Trust me. I too am not sure if I can handle seeing the word “self care” anymore at this point, but there’s a lot of validity to the intentions behind it. Self care doesn’t mean spending money on yourself — it can mean baking, applying a hair mask while you read a book, or making yourself a cocktail at the end of a long day. For me, this past weekend, self care was going to Trader Joe’s and browsing the aisles like I used to do before COVID happened. I couldn’t stay long, but just participating in an activity I used to love so much brought me a lot of joy and soothed my frazzled brain. Also, yes, I bought two bags of maple popcorn and apple cider spread. Yes, they are delicious, and I highly recommend.

10. Talk to people.

Almost every person is going through some kind of hell right now, and almost all of us need someone to vent to. Sometimes, it helps to just text a friend or family member and let them know you’re stressed, or even ask them how they’re doing so you can take your mind off your own anxieties and worries. I’ve found that all of my friends are more than happy to talk it out (just make sure you’re also lending an ear and giving them the support they need, too).

Ultimately, there are no magic tricks for juggling an intense workload. I wish there were! But managing your time as smartly as possible, setting realistic expectations for yourself, tracking how many hours you’re working for specific clients, and asking for help are ways that have made it so I say somewhat sane.

Image via Unsplash

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