Aug 31, 2022

How I manage my time with a full time job, freelance & side hustles

How I manage my time with a full time job, freelance & side hustles
Reading Time:
9 minutes

How it started

In 2019, I work as a Product Designer full time. Once I’ve gotten the hang of things, I had new goals. I wanted to earn more income, gain exposure and expand my knowledge outside of my job, so I took on freelance work.

2 years later, the pandemic happened. I started a YouTube channel and it blew up. 3 months after that, I created digital products to escape the rat race.

I was juggling a Full time job, freelance work, youtube, and creating digital products on the side, but I find myself with a problem: I don’t have enough time.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day.

Minus 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of working in your full time job, 3-6 hours to cook, eat, poop, run errands, do house chores, commute, spend time with friends and family…

That leaves me with less than 3 hours of free time in a day.

How could I possibly pull this off?

For the best experience, watch the 8 min video with headphones on :)

What I've learned so far

Step 1: Define your goals

All the productivity hacks in the world can’t help you if you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing.

In the beginning, I made a huge mistake. I thought that checking off todo lists and filling up my calendar with busywork is the way to go. I had burnout. Yes, I got 100 things done, but none of them brought me closer to my goals.

So don’t dive into your todo lists just yet. Ask yourself: What is important to you? What are the things that would bring you fulfilment and a sense of purpose?

On Notion, I wrote down my 3 short-term goals, then break it down into smaller, manageable tasks.

These goals are not meant to be set in stone, I can change them at any point in life as I grow and evolve. These goals are my compass to make sure I don’t get distracted by shiny objects that come my way. These goals should matter to you and you only. It should not be goals that are set because of other people’s expectations of you. I also made another mistake back then. I was greedy and put in more goals than I could handle - this made me really overwhelmed and in the end, I got nowhere. So please, don’t make the same mistake as I did.

So how do I find the time and energy to do all these things? I needed to create more time.

Step 2: Create More Time

The principle is simple: Eliminate to create more time (and energy).

Even if we have all the money in the world, we still cannot buy time and energy. The less time and energy you spend on things that don’t bring you closer to your goals, the sooner you reach your goals.

Here's what I did:

I said ‘no’ to things that are irrelevant to my goals

I did less of the activities that don’t contribute to my goals.

I stopped watching TV since high school. If you spend 2 hours a day watching TV, that’s 730 hours a year that could have been invested somewhere else.

As a freelancer, I no longer take on each and every project that comes my way.

I always remember to protect my time.

By learning how to say no, I created time for myself to work on side projects like this YouTube channel, and learning new skills.

I did more of the things that give me energy

I didn’t quit entertainment cold turkey.

Occasionally, I play games, watch Netflix (my latest favourite is The Sandman), go shopping.

I’m happiest when I spend time with family and friends.

Work-life balance is possible.

I cut down on activities that drain me

When I was a full time employee, I try to keep every meeting short and efficient, so I still have time to actually get work done and protect my energy.

As a freelancer, depending on the situation, I would set the client’s expectations. I will only be available for meetings on certain times in a week. I say no to unreasonable deadlines. I avoid clients who micromanage.

I disabled irrelevant phone notifications

Reduce interruptions so I can stay focused for longer period of time. Sometimes, you just need to sit down and get to work. As simple as that. Social media is designed to hook you, to keep you coming back and stay engaged. While ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ give you dopamine hits, it doesn’t help you to stay focused.

I unsubscribed to irrelevant emails

Every email is a to-do item that requires our attention. I only subscribe to a handful of newsletters.

I eliminated commute (by working from home)

If possible, negotiate with your employer or find a job that allows you to work from home.

The amount of time you can save by eliminating commute and eliminating decisions on what to wear is game-changing.

I stopped keeping up with messages

I don’t need to read every message in group chats or forums, to scroll through every social media feed. Because if something is important enough, it will come to me directly.

Step 3: Optimize

These are the time management techniques and mindset I applied every day:

I allow myself to procrastinate

This sounds like terrible advice, but hear me out. I’d like to quote Daniel Vassallo on this. It’s a signal that you should either eliminate, delegate or outsource the task.

In other words, I allow myself to procrastinate but I also make sure I reflect on WHY I procrastinate - and what I can do about it to make sure I’m motivated to do the things I’m supposed to do.

One thing I never procrastinate though, is to make sure I’m making progress towards my goals. That’s a non-negotiable.

I create repeatable systems for repeat work

When I get the same questions over and over again, I turn my replies into templates, or make a video like this one. Once I systematised my workflow, I could focus on creative work instead.

I never sacrifice sleep

A clear mind is essential. I sleep 8-10 hours a day, sometimes more. I wake up after 9am.

I practice asynchronous communication

Record Loom videos instead of calling a meeting.

I embrace silence

I wake up in silence, I work in silence. I prefer silence over music in the background because I find myself unable to focus with any noise at all.

When I need to learn something, I practice just-in-time learning

Just-in-time learning means I only learn enough to solve the problem I currently have. If I want to learn how to do something, I google it, instead of spending years to study the entire syllabus. Google is free, make use of it.

A mindset that helped me is: Done is better than perfect

Sometimes, perfectionism is the enemy of progress. If we spend time perfecting things and not focused on completing what we’re tasked to do, then we are most probably never going to get things done. For example, instead of revamping my entire website, I pace things out. I only focus on things that follow the Pareto Principle (which leads me to the next point).

To prioritise what I want to do first, I follow the Pareto Principle

80-20 rule, 20% of the things you do will account for 80% of your results. For example, I spend very little hours on freelance work compared to a full time job, but it accounts to 80% of my total income.

My calendar is also my to do list and reminder.

Apart from using my google calendar for meetings & personal appointments, my calendar is also my to do list and reminder. I block out time for projects with deadlines.

Setting a time limit on each task doesn’t work for me. I always underestimate how much time each task would take, and end up feeling guilty for not being able to do it all in a day. So, I learned from my mistakes - I try to have less than 4 time blocks per day. Every day, I refine my time blocks so I can track how much time I spend on each task. By doing so, over time, I get better at estimating how much time I need for each task.

I manage all my tasks, ideas, notes in Notion

This saves energy - it works like a storage of my brain so I don’t need to remember what I need to do.

Physical to do list on desk

When things get crazy and I find it hard to keep track of what I need to do, a good old todo list on my desk is the way to go. I only do this when I absolutely have to. Most of the time, I stick to Notion and my Google Calendar.

Set deadlines

I have a page on Notion to list down a maximum of 4 goals that I want to focus on, and set deadlines for each. The deadlines are merely a guidance.

Be goal oriented

To stay focused on one thing at a time, I find that it helps to keep going back to your goals.

If you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, motivation comes natural.

Differentiate between an opportunity and a distraction. Is it an opportunity or is it a distraction?

Batch similar tasks together

It takes time to get into the zone, so we need to protect our focus by reducing context switching.

For example, batch all your meetings together. Or keep mornings blocked for deep work only.

Step 4: Reflect, Iterate, Repeat

Someone asked, “How do you overcome low mental energy and anxiety for the feeling of having ‘no time’ to do everything?”

My take: If you find yourself in this spot, it’s probably a sign that you’re taking on too much. Go back to your goals and evaluate if you really need to achieve all of them right now. Consider reducing your goals, or find more ways to create time.

At the end of the day, my goal is not to do it all, but to get myself to a point where I can live comfortably while working less.  

Hope these strategies help you in some way! :)

If you find this helpful, I also share these tips on my newsletter and YouTube channel.

Rachel How
Hey, I'm Rachel How 👋
Designer & Solopreneur. I'm passionate about solopreneurship, diversifying our income, UI/UX design and productivity. Currently building my 8th income stream and sharing the lessons learnt along the way.

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