Managing a 9–5 and Side Hustle Just Got Harder

How to prevent burnout and loneliness when you’re living and working in the same space

Earlier this year, I wrote about managing my side hustle while working a full-time job. It had advice for goal setting, watching expectations, managing time, and using project management tools to be productive and avoid burnout. Back in January, when I posted the article, it was great advice that worked well.

Eight months later, and I’m managing the same 9–5 and side hustle from the same space I live. It’s harder to stay productive and maintain wellness. I don’t have a commute to break up my day, I look at the same four walls, and I’m alone 90% of the time.

I also decided to leave my 9–5 at the end of October (yes, I quit my job during the pandemic), so I’m spending even more time on my side hustle. I’m busting my tail to turn the side hustle into an online business, so I can become a digital nomad. Every day consists of non-stop work and writing from 8 am to 11 pm.

I’m sure many others are in the same headspace too. Companies and the government asked us to work from home and stay there as much as possible. Side-hustlers are not just living and working in the same space, we’re working two (or more) jobs at the same time. And that can take a toll.

It was hard at first. That first week I didn’t leave my bedroom or apartment. I was mentally and physically exhausted and knew that if we were in this for the long haul, I needed a change.

Over the last eight months, I made small tweaks to my environment and habits to be more productive and feel better. While the methods I used before are still useful, these are a few things I make sure to do in these strange COVID times:

Change the Scenery

Pre-pandemic, there was no limit to where I could work on my side hustle. Whether at the kitchen table, in a coffee shop, or at a co-working space, options abounded. Now, I have one of two choices: my bedroom where my 9–5 is set up, or the kitchen table.

After spending eight hours a day in the same spot, the first thing I do is transfer my personal computer to the kitchen table. Sure, the chair isn’t as ergonomic, and I don’t have a view out the window, but I have a change of environment, scenery, and sounds.

The change in my environment made a complete difference in my after-hours productivity. I can sit and write an entire article, whip out a training video, or edit a podcast episode without distraction. I accomplish far more now than I did in those first few weeks of lockdown, all because I moved to a different room.

Tip: Find a different chair or different workspace in your apartment or house. Even turning around to face another area of your space, or sprucing it up with some new decor can make a huge difference. Just don’t, whatever you do, work from your bed.

Use a Productivity Tool

As a customer service manager for a call center, I can’t always control my time during my 9–5. What I can control is how I use my time in my side hustle and while writing. I use two tools to stay productive and accomplish tasks

  • Productivity Planner by Intelligent Change
  • Pomodoro Method

The Productivity Planner uses the Pomodoro method, a time management method that uses a timer to break work into intervals, with short breaks in-between. In my planner, I set out the most important tasks for my day and then estimate the number of Pomodoros I want to complete. I set a timer on my computer (several apps will automate this process for you) and complete 25 minutes of focused work. I follow it by a 5-minute break to stand up, stretch, and get away from the computer for a few minutes.

Using these two tools keeps me focused on my task and forces me to give my eyes a break from the computer screen. I’m also more productive when using these tools because 1. I know what I need to complete that day and 2. I have focused time to do it.

Tip: You don’t need a fancy planner to use these methods. Simply write down 1–5 tasks you want to complete in a given day, estimate how many intervals you want to complete, and set a timer. You don’t have to do 25-minute sprints, and your breaks can be longer or shorter. Use the amount of time that’s right for you and your work style.

Find Time for Yourself

When I get into a productive mode, I’ll forget everything around me. Take today, for example — I sat in the same chair from 10 am to 4:30 pm, forgot to eat lunch, and had to remind myself to drink water. Put all that on repeat for the entirety of this pandemic, and it spells disaster (and a few not so friendly ocular migraines).

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have time planned each day for some type of self-care. I’ll put on a yoga video and do a session in the living room. With California’s regulations allowing for outdoor exercise, I schedule walk breaks around my neighborhood and listen to my favorite podcasts. Each night, I take about an hour to read a physical book, giving my eyes a break from computer screens, and my mind a break from work.

I notice a massive difference in how my mind and body feel after a week of consistent self-care time. I feel accomplished, healthy, and relaxed. After the weeks that I don’t take as much time for myself, I experience more fatigue, migraines, and burnout. Self-care is always important, but even more so when we aren’t in our regular routines.

Tip: Plan out time each day for yourself, whether it’s a workout or time to read a few chapters of a good book. Give yourself a break from work, screens, and the stress of the pandemic.

Connect with Friends and Family

I’m an introvert, and the stay at home order in California was my dream. Given the opportunity, I’ll put my head down and work. I ignore any messages and notifications that come my way, and find time passing me by. And there was no guilt about saying “no” to social events. No feeling like I had to attend something because I would be antisocial otherwise. There weren’t any interruptions, and I could power through projects without distraction.

Yet, I found myself craving company and conversation after a few weeks. Gone were the mid-afternoon chats about random topics. Lunches were silent and I couldn’t walk over to a co-worker’s desk to greet them. My world became silent and lonely, which began to impact my energy and productivity. I was completing my work, but at what cost?

I now make connecting with friends and family a priority, whether through a quick text, a phone call, or a Zoom chat. I engage co-workers in Slack chats or phone calls, and make sure to check-in with those I don’t work with on projects.

Those quick check-ins keep me less lonely and more connected with those I care about. In turn, I’m more motivated and energized throughout my day and evening.

Tip: Schedule a day and time to connect with people outside your immediate bubble. It can be as simple as a reminder to text someone or give them a call and doesn’t have to be an organized video chat.

Eat healthy

Eating the right foods is key to productivity, creativity, and staying energized. Over the last few years, I developed food sensitivities and cut gluten and dairy from my diet. I spend time each week in the kitchen meal prepping for days ahead, and rarely consume fast or processed food.

When the panic buying began in March, I thought would be okay and could find the foods I usually consume. True, there was a great deal of fresh produce, but I couldn’t locate any of the other staples of my diet: gluten-free pasta, tomato sauce, quinoa, rice, etc. I resorted to buying processed and gluten-filled foods. That’s when everything took a turn.

I felt sluggish, thirsty, unproductive, and unfocused. When things turned around at the grocery store, and I could cook healthy meals again, I realized how awful I felt during those first few weeks. My productivity and focus returned, and I had more energy to power through a full workday and evening of my side hustle.

Tip: Experiment with different foods to learn what gives you energy and focus, and what slows you down.

Take Breaks

I’m notorious for sitting in the same spot at home, especially if I enjoy the task or project. I’m also more mobile in an office environment. I get up for meetings, refill my water, chat with a co-worker, or review projects or issues on another computer. With our work from home situation, meetings are now via video chat, my water is 10 feet from my desk, and I can only call or message co-workers.

It only took one day for me to feel the change of my routine in my body. My back ached, my legs were tight, and my shoulders caved in from the slouching. I didn’t want to sit at my desk for another three to four hours to work on my side hustle.

The next day, I acquired a much more ergonomic chair from the office, set my Pomodoro timer to remind me to stand up and stretch every 25 minutes, and returned to my office schedule. Instead of relocating to another seated position during breaks and lunches, I started walking outside, no matter the rain or heat.

Those small changes made a big difference in my body, and how much longer I could sit to work on my side hustle. A few breaks a day enabled longer-lasting productivity and enthusiasm for managing my full-time job and my side hustle.

Tip: Set a timer for 25 minutes to a half-hour as a reminder to get up and stretch. The more movement you can incorporate into your day, the better you’ll feel, and the more productive you’ll be.

I’ll be honest, the change was hard at first. That first week of work from home and lockdown, I didn’t leave my room. I realized this wasn’t sustainable, and I needed to make small, incremental changes in my day to accomplish tasks in my full-time role and continue to build my business. Those changes, however small and insignificant, helped me be more productive and feel better both in mind and body.

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Solopreneur | Writer | I write about entrepreneurship, digital nomad life, books, and more | Get on the list:

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