With inflation hitting a 40-year high, many of us might be taking on more side gigs to offset everything costing more. While taking on jobs on top of your 9-to-5 can help cover the bills, you're also more prone to burnout. I am fully aware of this, as I side hustled for about 10 years while toiling away at 40-hour-plus workweeks.
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At the time, I was earning about $33,000 at my day job and was living on my own in the pricey city of Los Angeles. I was 24, and got my own studio apartment, where the rent was $675. My monthly take-home income was $1,800.While my savings account did thank me for the extra money I raked in from various side hustles, there were days when I got home at 1 in the morning, only to do it all over again the next day. This was not sustainable.
Over time, I figured out a few hacks that helped curb burnout from working extra jobs and kept me in sound mental health. Here's what worked for me:
1.I looked for side hustles that broke up my daily routine and gave me a welcome break from my day job.
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For the most part, my day jobs in my 20s and early 30s were office jobs. I was stuck in front of a computer, or talking to folks on the phone, for most of the day. To break out of my routine — and get some steps in — I test proctored at a local university for $15 an hour, which meant a ton of walking around campus. I also petsat for friends and family while they were out of town. The plus? These side gigs were more physical than what my daytime office job required.
2.I took up simple gigs that were low on the brain drain, and helped me mentally reset for my 9-to-5 the next day.
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One of my favorite jobs is working as a barista at a coffee shop to this day. Not only did I get to meet new people, but it was a job that once I clocked out of, I didn't have to give any more thought. And so when it came to side hustling, when I first started, I looked for relatively easy gigs that didn't require too much thinking.I asked my friends if they needed help with petsitting, and I signed up to participate in a local university's behavioral lab experiment. These experiments required being on-site for a few hours, and I averaged anywhere from $50 to $80 a session. That way, I could be mentally rested and not be a complete zombie at work the next morning.
3.I sometimes took on work because it seemed fun.
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On occasion, I picked up one-off jobs for their pure novelty — as a background actor through the website Standing Room Only for a mock Japanese talk show that paid $80 for a day's work, distributing flyers for a dessert festival, which paid $50 for two hours and passes to the festival, and as a Rent-a-Friend, which paid $120 for three hours, plus a free meal and movie. There were other easy gigs I applied for and didn't always qualify for, such as getting paid to share my political viewpoints for a focus group, or to taste test gum. I would, on occasion, scour Craigslist ads for studies and research groups I might qualify for.
4.I stacked the side hustles, which helped me earn more than I normally would if I only did one side hustle at a time.
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Stacking side hustles simply means doing two side hustles at once. In turn, you'd be able to rake in more dough from multiple gigs. How? Well, in some instances, you can pair a sedentary activity, such as working in front of a computer, with a physical one. Or a gig where you're basically required to be present and make sure nothing goes wrong with a task you can do at the same time.An example of this would be when I test proctored at the university. Besides picking up and dropping off exams, I had to sit in a room during testing. Sometimes I would bring some freelance writing or proofreading work do. And when I petsat at someone's home, I could also do a bit of freelance writing and copyediting.
5.I worked in "side hustle spurts" throughout the year, so I switched off from being in side hustle mode to regular mode.
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For the most part, I was not in hustle mode day in and day out. That would've probably been a bit overkill. Instead, there were times of the year when I was in "side hustle peak" mode. For instance, test proctoring was only during midterms and finals, and I only test proctored on top of working 40-hour weeks a few times a year.
Other side hustles, such as petsitting and housesitting, were seasonal. I usually did those during the holidays and winter months, when demand was higher.
6.I looked for side gigs that were flexible.
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Most of these side hustles were at will, meaning I could pick up hours when I was able to. That way, I didn't feel stressed out about needing to meet any requirements on top of showing up for work every day. While I had to show up to do the job, these low-stress, minimal obligation gigs did not add to my cognitive load.
7.I let myself take breaks from side hustling when I needed to.
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When my day job got busy or particularly stressful, and it would be too much of a squeeze to take on extra work, I let myself take a break. Sure, I knew I would miss that additional income. But I didn't want to go overboard, only to be physically exhausted, or suffer a mental health setback down the line. While that money would've been nice, for the most part I picked stress-free work to supplement my income.
8.I tried to get freelance work that was related to what I was learning outside of my day job.
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For the most part, I didn't do as much editorial work as I wanted to at my 9-to-5. And while I asked my boss during my annual review for more chances to flex my writing chops, those opportunities never came.The good part of my day job at the time was that my boss was open to subsidizing courses in graphic design and copyediting. I used some of what I learned to land freelance gigs, such as copyediting art magazines, proofreading romance novels, and writing product copy for a website that sold wigs.
9.I made sure I had plenty of time to complete my freelance work.
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My side hustles were made of two main camps: stuff that was easy and gave me a break from my work, and side gigs that helped me transition to freelancing full time. I mostly did easy gigs when I first started side hustling, and later took on stuff that helped me transition to freelancing full time.
With the freelance stuff, I only took on gigs that offered me ample time to finish. While I did have to work late some nights, I made sure not to burn the midnight oil too often. Otherwise, I'd be sleep-deprived, cranky, and unprepared to face whatever challenges came the next day.
That way, I could juggle both those projects and my regular work. This took me a little bit of time to figure out exactly how long I needed to complete a project. To this day it's never a perfect science, but I have a better idea of how much time and energy certain types of assignments take, and aim to add a bit of cushion to the deadline.
10.As my side hustle turned into my main livelihood, I don't take on as much extra work as I used to.
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These days I keep busy with my freelance work, side projects, such as money coaching and helping my partner with his immersive art gallery in Los Angeles, Cakeland. So it feels like my side hustles could turn into bigger streams of income down the line.
That being said, before the pandemic, besides writing, I facilitated personal finance workshops and worked health fairs through an agency that worked with benefits companies. These weren't high-paying, but they gave me experience hours I needed for my financial coaching certification, put a bit of extra money in my pocket, and at times, gave me a reason to travel.I've also taken on gigs that help develop coursework for colleagues. The thing is, when you freelance, your work is a bunch of side hustles. Just certain gigs make up more of your income. So there's definitely a shift on how you look at how side gigs play into your work life.
11.I still made time to socialize.
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To keep things balanced, I made a point to squeeze in time with my friends while side hustling. That way, I didn't get too run down by working a lot. Sure, there were times when I had to just get through a busy week, but I aimed to reward myself to dinner with a friend or just stay home and chill.
12.I was intentional with what I did with the extra money I earned, which helped me stay motivated.
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I certainly had days when I wanted to go home and nap, versus working another gig after work. What really helped me stay focused was that I put the extra money I earned from side hustling into specific money goals — into my savings, making double payments on my student loan debt, saving for short vacations, getting SCUBA certified, and for larger purchases, like a new sofa or laptop.
As I mentioned, I wasn't hustling all the time, and in a given year raked in an extra $2,000 to $5,000. At the time, it was money that went to good use, and the sacrifices I made in my time were worth it.
Are you taking on side work on top of your day job? What are you doing to avoid burnout? Sound off in the comments!
And for more stories about work and money, check out the rest of our personal finance posts.