In an ideal world, we'd all get unlimited free time and resources to pursue our dreams and passions, but here on planet Earth the reality is that most would-be entrepreneurs or career changers face a tough in-between period where they must hold down their old gig and chase their new dream simultaneously.
That's obviously exhausting, but it's also entirely doable, according to an illuminating thread on question-and-answer site Quora. In response to the question "How can you increase your productivity on side projects at the end of the day when you're tired from work/college?", entrepreneurs and hobbyists with serious side hustles offered all sorts of valuable advice on how to make your passion project take off, even if you're still chained to your day job.
Here are some of their best suggestions:
1. Leverage routine.
This is a huge one, according to many posters. A side hustle takes energy, so you have to find ways to free mental and physical bandwidth by making other areas of your life less taxing.
"You have to put your main life on autopilot to the extent possible," advises Venkatesh Rao, a management consultant who has kept a blog and written a book in his spare time. "This does not mean slacking off. It means reducing meta-thinking at your day job as near to zero as you can. This does not mean you become a dumb cog, though. It mostly means picking allies carefully, cutting off time wasters, developing extraordinarily strong noise filters, not picking pointless fights, and going for quick, decisive wins when you do fight."
Conserving energy does not include skimping on exercise, several posters add. Taking the time to keep fit will reward you with greater resources for your efforts in the long run. "It's hard after a day of work to come home and exercise, but it's truly the best way to get your brain going and recharge. Studies have proven that being active increases productivity," says Jen Canfield, community manager at Voxer, in one representative response.
3. Keep switching costs to a minimum
Kah Keng Tay, a Quora engineering manager, stresses reducing the cost of switching between tasks. Make it as easy as possible to move from your day job to your after-hours project. "I leave all my editors, browser windows, etc. exactly the way they are, so I can pick up and resume where I left off," he says, for example.
Another idea? Mentally prepare yourself to dive into your passion project while you're on the way home from your regular work. "I've found that it takes time to get [your ideas and thoughts] back into the forefront of your thinking and creative process, but it's a waste if that time could be spent actually working on your project," he writes. "Instead, I'll spend my commute...mentally getting ready a list of things I'd be able to do right away once I get home."
4. Maximize mornings.
Your first impulse when starting a side project might be to tackle it after you finish your work in the evening. A better bet might be to try and set that alarm earlier, suggest several responders. "The best advice I've heard about how to do this is to do this in the mornings. Sleep early, get up early, and the best part of your day will be spent working on what's most important to you," says Vivek Ponnaiyan, founder of FitMountain.com. "I tried the end-of-the-day route, and it never worked out for me."
5. Find synergy.
Forget work-life balance, or even a work-life blend. What you need, if you truly want your side project to take off, is a situation where you day job and your after-hours passion are actually an asset to each other. "You want your side project and main work to feed off each other, so that people actually see your side project as an asset. This is what gets you from good to great," says Rao, whose side hustles have presumably been a boon to his consulting practice.
6. Choose wisely.
"Only do side projects you are absolutely crazy about," insists Chris Loughnane, senior mechanical engineer at Quanttus. He's not the only one who is clear and forceful in saying that the only side hustle worth doing is one you're truly passionate about. "I think Chris Loughnane absolutely nailed it," agrees John B. Petersen III, head of product at Firehawk Creative. "The best way to be motivated to work on your side project is to be doing something you can't stop thinking about."
7. Beware lulls.
You might think that taking short breaks from your side project is an effective way to recharge, but according to Paul Mulwitz, an electrical engineer who is building an airplane on the side, it's actually a dangerous way to lose your momentum. "The key to finishing such a big project is to do something on it every day. It doesn't matter if you spend just a couple of minutes or hours, so long as you don't have long periods of ignoring it," he writes.
8. Build in wins.
If you're only looking towards a distant, final goal it can be easy to lose motivation. Instead, make sure you give yourself interim goals, so that you can celebrate smaller successes along the way. Kang Tay calls this "having near-term milestones." He explains: "These are helpful to stay motivated and give you some pressure to keep on track with your goals."
Erica Friedman, founder of Yuricon & ALC Publishing, phrases this a little differently. "I work on the 'get one thing done' method. It's perfectly fine if I only get one small thing done--it's done," she writes.
9. Create a cheering section.
Another way to pursue the same principle is to build a community of like-minded folks to cheer you on as you slog through a long side project. "Create feedback loops involving other people. Blogging naturally contains this," notes Rao. This is "harder to do with a book," he concedes, "but you can engineer things. In this case, I started a writing group. Not for critiquing...but for simple writing company." A similar sort of peer support network could work no matter what sort of side hustle you're working on.
10. Location matters.
It seems simple, but several folks stress the benefits of physically getting away from your home and work and finding another location for your side project. "Go to your third place," former Googler and current CTO of a stealth startup Jeff Nelson instructs would-be side project ninjas. "Whether it's a Starbucks, bookstore, or library, hopefully you have one place you can go where you know you won't face the interruptions of home or work."
Successful side hustlers: Are there any tips you'd add to the list?