A side hustle isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of will. It takes hard work and diligence to keep showing up and putting in the hours to earn that extra income.
But when you’re working a side gig on top of a day job, burnout is almost inevitable. If you know how to work smarter — not harder — you can watch for sign of burnout and avoid hitting a wall of emotional exhaustion.
We asked entrepreneurs and side hustlers about the smartest strategies they use to combat and prevent side job burnout. Here’s their advice to you.
1. Passion prevents burnout
Choose a side hustle that aligns with your passions and talents. “Like any other career or job, avoiding fatigue while side hustling necessitates a certain passion for what you’re doing,” says Sarah Al-Khayyal, whose side gigs include fashion blogging and running an Etsy shop.
Chasing after odd jobs or performing menial tasks will quickly lead to burnout, Al-Khayyal says. “You’re better off investing in projects that you actually enjoy, which will not only be a more sustainable commitment but also likely more profitable.”
2. Avoid overlap between jobs
On top of being enjoyable, a sustainable side hustle should have little overlap with your main gig. Look for something that uses different types of skills, energy, and brainpower than your day job.
“Choose something that’s different and exciting enough to keep life interesting,” says Mike McRitchie, a career and small business strategist. “That helps reduce both boredom and burnout.”
If you have a sedentary desk job by day, maybe a physically active side gig like personal training is for you. For a day job that requires you to work in solitude, you might enjoy a more social side hustle like bartending or driving for a ridesharing service.
3. Choose a scalable business model
“As there are only 24 hours in a day, a flat ‘time equals money’ equation will soon yield a maximum income,” says Evan Harris, co-founder of real estate finance company SD Equity Partners.
He adds, “The scalability test is essentially this: Can you figure out a way to use your increased time spent in a way that yields a higher rate of return per hour worked?”
For instance, selling digital products requires much less work and overhead than handcrafted goods, Al-Khayyal points out.
“[Digital items] primarily require inputs on the front end before becoming evergreen products that can continue to make you money for months (or years) to come after you launch it,” she says.
4. Start small and ramp up slowly
When you’re excited about a new side gig, you’ll want to dump all your time, money, and energy into the project. But beware of this initial enthusiasm: “You are sure to either burnout or waste money,” says Dawn Roberts, a business consultant and owner of Dawn Roberts Consulting.
To avoid flaming out before you really get going, start small and use the early stages to test different ideas.
“Start only with the essentials, especially if it costs money,” Roberts suggests. “Build one block at a time, spending enough time on each block so that it is effective, not hurrying through each step to just get going.”
5. Keep side hustle commitments manageable
When you’re your own boss, the work never ends. There will always be some task to work on for your side hustle — but you can’t let it take over your life.
“I’ve made the mistake repeatedly of trying to dedicate three hours a day to side hustles, but it ends up being too much with my standard working hours,” says Joe Robison, an SEO consultant and founder of Green Flag Digital.
Instead, “Set aside something small, like 20 minutes a day or 3 hours on a Saturday,” Robison suggests. Even with a time limit, “You’ll often find yourself going beyond this time once you start doing the work.”
6. Enlist a business partner
Going it alone has its perks, but working with someone else can be invaluable.
“Bring in a friend on the project and alternate responsibilities,” Harris advises. Working with a partner provides a second mind to strategize and find solutions, holds you accountable, and allows you to switch off on tedious tasks.
Choose a side hustle partner who is qualified, hard-working, and trustworthy. “Expanding with a friend or partner is much better than finding a random person to trust your side hustle with!” Harris adds.
7. Build a support network
Expanding your network and connecting with other side hustlers can provide stress-busting social support. “Join a group of others who are pursuing their own side hustles,” Robison says.
You can find these folks in an industry forum, mastermind group, MeetUp event, or through another side-hustling friend. “By keeping the conversation flowing with like-minded individuals, you can keep motivated and punch through the tough periods,” Robison adds.
8. Watch for signs of job burnout
With a side hustle, you are your most important asset. Make sure you’re checking in with yourself and catching signs of burnout early.
“One of the biggest signs of side hustle fatigue is an apathetic attitude to your work,” Harris says. If you feel worn down, tired, frantic, or like you’re always scrambling, those are other common warning signs of burnout.
9. Take time to rest and recharge
“Nothing leads to burnout faster than an endless treadmill of work on a regular schedule,” says Lyn Alden, founder of Lyn Alden Investment Strategy. “It ends up always feeling like you have something to do, and that you always have an imminent deadline, whether it’s external or self-imposed.”
To avoid this, alternate times of intense work with rest and relaxation, and consistently make time for self-care. “Don’t neglect recharging yourself with rest and fun, as this is important to keeping your creativity running high!” Roberts adds.
10. Prioritize with the 80/20 rule
Another important principle is doing the most important things first. “You won’t have much time to spare, so you need to use it all very wisely,” Roberts says. “Keep running priority lists for your side hustle, and do the highest-value activities primarily, leaving the lower-value ones for later.”
Al-Khayyal says she uses the 80/20 principle, which “suggests that 80% of your results come from 20% of your work.”
Once you’ve identified which tasks are most profitable, “concentrate your time and energy on those specific things,” she suggests. “Shed the unnecessary layers and make sure that everything you’re doing serves a purpose.”
11. Automate and outsource what you can
“Entrepreneurs tend to have this superhero complex where they try to do everything themselves (myself included), and it actually causes you to be the bottleneck of your side hustle,” says Sterling Graham, owner of men’s health blog Chains to Gains.
“Find a part of your side hustle that you find the most time-consuming [or] that you actually dislike doing, and see about outsourcing this one specific thing,” he suggests.
If it’s not something you can outsource, look for other solutions. “Develop tools or systems to eliminate routine parts of the job,” Alden suggests.
For instance, she created templates for important graphs, so that she can simply plug in new data to get a new result. If there are tools that would automate or simplify a task, consider investing in them.
12. Know when to cut your losses
When you get side job burnout, it might be time to consider this a sign of bigger problems.
“Due to the ‘quitters never win’ mentality in society, most side hustlers spend too long on one project that is not working,” says Jason Lavis, managing director of online marketing agency Out of the Box Innovations.
“Sometimes the venture becomes a depressing test of rejection endurance. Later on, it becomes obvious that the project was never going to work anyway,” he adds.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you quite outright, but you should stay aware of your efforts and results and recognize when to switch gears. “It is better to see side hustles as a series of experiments, with fixed budgets, time periods, and exit points,” Lavis says.
Are you interested in starting a new side hustle? Get ideas for flexible side jobs here.
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