A Side Hustle Survival Guide: 10 Tips for Maintaining Balance
Grab a cup of cold brew and cozy up! Sharing the details of my (kind of) crazy “side hustle” schedule …..
I get asked this question A LOT – “How to juggle work, life, family, blog…” I am NOT claiming to have some secret that no one else knows. I think when it boils down to it I am able to juggle it all because of my husband, the age of our kids, where I work, sleep-deprivation and a really strong passion for what I do.
But I will dig into the nitty gritty with you guys here and let know the realities of having a 9-5 job in addition to building a “side hustle” business on nights and weekends – I hope it provides some insight, some inspiration or reassurement that I am not some super-woman – I am just like you. And maybe you can take away some pointers if you are working towards your own dream.
Back-Story – I think walking you through my blogging journey will help illuminate some of the struggles/challenges/growing pains I have gone through over the past (almost) 3 years to get where I am today – it hasn’t always been so “balanced”:
I started The Wooden Skillet in October of 2015. My youngest was 1.5 at the time and my oldest was about 4.5. I was working full-time at a law firm right in the same town we lived in. My kids are now 4.5 and 7.5 and we are expecting our third (and final 🙂 ) in late October. I still work at the same law firm, although as I will explain later, I now work 4 days a week instead of 5 (a change I made about 8 months ago). My husband is a teacher and also works in the same town we live in.
When I started The Wooden Skillet, it was honestly just a hobby. I would maybe do 1 photo shoot on a weekend (possibly 2 if I got really ambitious), I didn’t do social media (maybe Pinterest but it wasn’t a lot) and it just didn’t take up a lot of my time in general. Finding time for it wasn’t an issue and my husband was happy for me that I found this little outlet of creativity (hi – I am a lawyer, we don’t really do that creativity thing). As far as balancing goes, I would say it wasn’t really an issue for the first 6-9 months because it wasn’t really a big part of my life.
I think the summer of 2016 things picked up steam a little bit. I was seeing an increase in my page views every month, which pulled at my competitive spirit (as did posting to food-sharing sites like Foodgawker). I think this is when I may have added a few ads on my site and earned my first penny (seriously I think I still have the screen-shot). I did more and more research on How to Make Money Food Blogging and I REALLY worked hard on my photography. This was when I would say The Wooden Skillet actually started – up until this point, I wasn’t very serious about the blog, but I had a turning point this summer and I started putting more and more of my time into it,
Around that time I believe I started trying to stick to a 3-post a week schedule (sometimes 2). We were able to make it work, but I would say the next year of my blog (summer of 2016 – summer of 2017) were the hardest and most challenging. I tried my hardest to fit blogging into naps (my girls thankfully both took about 3 hour naps from 1pm – 4pm during this time) and after they went to bed. While I was getting more serious about the blog, I still was pretty adamant that I didn’t want it to cut into my time with them. The result was that I became pretty obsessed with working at night, which meant I basically had little to no time with my husband. And I didn’t really like going anywhere on the weekends because it cut into my precious photo shoot time. I only use natural light so I could only do photo shoots on the weekend during daylight hours (this was particularly challenging during the dark Minnesota winter months). If we had plans on a weekend, that meant I had to double up the weekend before. I would basically do anything I could to be able to get my 2 days of photo shoots in on Saturday and Sunday during nap time – this made weekend plans very challenging. Which, in turn, put a stress on …. everything.
I stuck to this brutal schedule for about a year. I worked almost every night, I worked over my lunch hour (since we live in the same city we work in I get to home go home for lunch) and on the weekend (as much as I could during nap time, but it was starting to overflow into non-naptime hours at times). I was learning so much about photography and the learning curve was HARD – I was up until 1:00am on too many nights to count learning Photoshop and Lightroom and studying photography, etc. It was hard, really hard.
Predictably, that kind of schedule couldn’t last. Although I was getting everything done at work and on the blog (and the blog was continuing to grow) I wasn’t giving myself anytime and I feel like I barely saw my husband. And he felt like he barely saw me. And it felt like we couldn’t do anything on the weekends. So this summer was a huge turning point. My husband and I had to have multiple discussions about the blog, work, balance ….. it was clear that something had to give. Either I had to pull back on the blog or I had to pull back at work. I didn’t have balance. I had anything but. I did some serious soul searching and my husband had a lot of discussions about (okay they probably looked more like arguments at times…) about all of it.
Bottom line was, I loved the blog. It brought me so much joy and it was growing! It felt nearly impossible for me to walk away from that. Plus, ever since my youngest has been born, I have dreamt of being my own boss (okay I have actually dreamt about that since I was like 6 years old and used my jewelry box to try and start a bank…). In other words, my “why” was VERY strong. As in, “why” was I doing this. So, we made the decision that I would ask to drop down to 4 days a week at my law firm. This was super hard for me to do. I wasn’t quite making enough from the blog to make up for that 20% loss in income, but we had a plan to pull back on some spending, crunched the numbers and decided it was the right thing to do.
It took a while for that request to be reviewed/discussed (you know lawyers 🙂 ) but it was approved in late October/early November 2017. Ever since then, things have actually been pretty balanced.
So I still work 4 days a week at the law firm, but being a lawyer is the type of job where if you have a deadline or need to get something done – you have to get it done. So if something comes up or I have a court hearings etc. I have to be there – no questions asked. So I am as efficient as possible on my 4 days in the office and do everything within my power to not have to come in on Fridays. I generally work from 8am – 5/5:30 or so, but again, if I have to get something done – then I have to get it done no matter what it takes. I do have an incredibly flexible schedule and I get to go home for lunch – both HUGE benefits.
I work on blog posts, etc. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings for sure – usually from about 8:30-11:00. Lately with how busy the blog has gotten, I also work Wednesday nights. I make an effort to hang out with my husband before I work and then try to not work at least 1 night a week so we can watch a movie. I plan out my recipes for the week usually during one of my lunchtimes and go grocery shopping either Thursday evening or early Friday morning. I try and get the vast majority of my photo shoots done on Fridays, but I also look at the weather and see which days(s) will be cloudy and work around those (I really try to only shoot on cloudy days to the extent possible). I also work on the blog one night on the weekend quite often, sometimes more. If I know we have plans on a weekend, then I know I have to double up the weekend before on content and I make sure my husband knows this as well. Social media has become a HUGE part of the business so I have just generally woven that into my daily schedule. I post to Instagram every morning (I write out my posts the night before) and check comments and DM’s in the morning, over lunch and at night, sometimes in between if I have a free moment and the response only needs to be quick. I schedule to Pinterest about 1 x week using the scheduler Tailwind.
That is it. Every week. Week after week. And I honestly, truly love it. Sure, I get tired sometimes or wake up and want to just have veg-in-front-of-the-tv-day … but my personality can be obsessive at times and right now, I am obsessed with my blog and growing my business – so it isn’t hard for me to choose work over relaxation (most of the time). I have to work in SOME “me time” or I would go crazy, but overall I just work a lot. Any time I am not with my kids or husband, I am working on the blog. Its that simple.
So here are my “tips” for you if you are building a business on the side of your “real job.” Some are tips some might be tough love – take it for what you will!
- Be on the same page as your partner and get their “buy-in”: Communication is key here! It would be an incredibly difficult job to be on the other side of this “side hustle” – my husband is absolutely amazing. But we have had COUNTLESS conversations about the blog and the business behind it. And he knows my personality and that if I have a goal – I am going to do everything possible to achieve it. But I also keep him in the loop on the business side of it. We own it together. He knows my ultimate goal and he sees me inching towards that goal every day. I show him my progress, I dig into the numbers with him and tell him my plans, etc. He and I see it as a a joint business and therefore a big part of his “job” is to help and be supportive (and help me with dishes 🙂 ). But if I cut him out of it altogether, and just kept my head down and expected him allow me to chase my dream, I don’t know if he would be AS supportive. I try to make it as easy as possible for him to WANT to help me (aka I get his buy-in). And that means communication. About everything. About plans, about when I want to do photo shoots, the girls, etc. Communication is key!
- Know your “why” : Why do you want to do this? What is your driving force? What is your goal? You need to know this because this is what will keep you going on those nights when you don’t feel like working and you would rather just curl up in a ball and watch The Proposal for the 100th time. If your “why” isn’t strong – you will most likely have less chance of making it for the long haul. Keep your goals clear, know what you want and what you need to do to get there and go over that every. day. Create your best life (on paper for now) and every day take even one step closer to that life. (Hint: share this with your partners – see #1 above).
- Have a schedule and stick to it: I honestly stick to the same schedule nearly every week (unless we are on vacation). There really isn’t a question as to whether I will be working that night – I probably will be. Some nights I only work for an hour or two. Some nights I work for 4-5 hours. But I do some sort of work every day. But I also make sure I carve out specific time to hang out with my husband and I communicate that to him so he knows what the plan is for the week.
- Try to combine your passions as best you can: I LOVE those photo shoot days when my husband and the girls are literally hanging out in the kitchen with me (well night not right in the kitchen), but they are right around me doing other things – my husband helps with taste-testing and pour shots (and dishes) and the girls can see what I am doing and do their own little photo shoots. Those moments when I can kind of combine family time and blog time – those are my absolute favorite. My mom-guilt is at a minimum and I am probably at my absolute happiest. All my loves in one room – my girls, my husband and my own business. And my husband knows this is my favorite and, sweetheart that he is, he tries to make this happen as often as he can. But is one way I have found that I can get in extra work on the blog – by combining my family time AND blog time when I can.
- Be honest about the reality of your situation: Here are my realities: A) my kids are 4.5 and 7.5 which means they are not as dependent upon me as they once were. More often than not, they are running around outside and busy with friends or playing with each other. This allows me to work on my blog on the weekend even when they are not napping (not that they nap that much anymore, especially my 7.5 year old) without feeling guilty. Once this baby comes, I will have to re-evaluate and find a “new-normal” – who knows what that will look like. B) My job is flexible, I get to go home for lunch and I now work 4 days a week. If I had to commute every day, didn’t go home for lunch and worked 5 days a week the amount of time I put into my blog would most likely look very different. Bottom line is I wouldn’t be able to put in the amount of time I do now. Be realistic about this or you will set yourself up for failure.
- It’s Temporary: That’s the goal, right?! That this “side hustle” will one day be my career. So knowing that this will not always be my schedule keeps me going. If knew I had to keep up this pace for the next 10 years….. we would have some re-evaluating to do. Know your end-game and keep that at the forefront of everything you do. (If this were just a hobby I would be putting a lot less time in it)
- Stay Organized: I have lists and lists of things I need to do, recipes to make, recipes to shoot, posts to write …. every week I have a new to-do list. Every day I have a new to-do list. I sometimes make a to-do list of what I want to accomplish over my lunch hour. It keeps me focused and on-task.
- Try to compartmentalize: This one is challenging. But when you are at your “real job” you need to really be there. And when you are at home – be present there. When it is time to work on your blog – focus on that. So, when I am at work, I really focus on that and try to be as efficient as possible. When I go home form work, I might check in on social media for 5 minutes or so, but then I just focus on my husband and my girls between 5:30-8:30. That is our time during the week. If I want to get a workout it, it usually involves going for a walk WITH my girls. Once they go to bed, I check in with my husband – hang out with him for a bit and then I check in on social media again. Then, when it is time to work, I put my phone across the room and just focus on emails, editing and writing posts. If I have my phone by me I will inevitably check it now and again and it will decrease my productivity. I only have so much time and I know I need as much sleep as possible – so I need to get things DONE.
- Start small and grow with your business: When I started my blog it was such a small part of my life. As it was grown and I have seen that I have a talent for this, that I love this and that it has staying power with me, I have invested more and more time into it. I think this is a smart way to test out your side hustle. Does it grow naturally, do you have to force yourself to do it, does it explode and take off? I needed time to see how this played out. As someone who has started other “side hustles” in the past that DID fizzle out, I knew I had to prove to myself that this was “for real.” So I started small and put work into it every day. And as I saw it grow and as I saw my passion grow, I made more and more time for it. I invested more and more of myself into it and made more room for it in my life. I think this was also important for my husband as well – I don’t know how excited he would have been when I first started if I proposed that I drop down to 4 days a week at work. But after showing him that I was incredibly serious about this blog, that it wasn’t going anywhere, and that it was continually growing … well then it was easier for him to be supportive about me dropping down to 4 days a week to make more time for this side hustle of mine. It takes time.
- Some thing are going to have to give: It is impossible to do everything. It just is. Somethings will have to fall by the wayside. For me, sleep is one of those. I am naturally a night-owl so staying up late usually isn’t too hard, and it is something I do most nights. Being pregnant currently I can’t really stay up past 11:00, but last year I was up past midnight too many nights to count. Is that healthy, not really. But for me it was the only time I could have an extended period of time to myself to work on things. Cleaning – sometimes my house looks like a disaster zone and I have to be okay with that (at times). Socializing – while I love throwing a good dinner party and having people over, it just isn’t something I have done a lot in the past 2 years. We will get back there some day, but for now my priorities are just in a different place. Right now, if I am not with my kids or my husband … I am most likely working on my blog.
I know how hard it can be, how draining it can be and how straining it can be on your personal relationships to start and grow a side hustle. I know how hard it is to be searching for …. something. I know how hard it is to question the career-decisions you have already made and (sometimes) wishing you could go back and make some different choices. All I can say I know how you feel. And after A LOT of reflection, I have come to terms with my past career decisions. I am where I am for a reason. Who knows where I will ultimately end up, but I am thankful for where I am and where I am going. And I am freakin proud of myself for how far I have come.
If you are still searching for that “something” I would highly recommend reading both:
You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero and
The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte.
Both are amazing books about self-exploration and finding your passion. I have read both and LOVED them.
If you are interested in starting your own blog – check out my post on how to get start your own beautiful food blog!
If you are in the thick of it and know what your passion is and you are working day in and day out to make that dream of yours come true, whatever it is, I applaud you and am working right along side of you. Get yourself a little farther each day, you WILL see progress (if it is your true passion).
Having a side hustle isn’t for sissies. It takes a lot of self-discipline, an amazing support system and a ton of work. But it is so worth it because it is so incredibly amazing to see that work and sacrifice pay off! Keep at it you guys! And let me know if you have any questions!
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