Searching for work-life balance in the gig economy

- Entrepreneurial Skills

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by Patrick Verdonk

In February 2017 I got confirmation that I would leave the corporation I worked at after a bit more than 20 years. October 1, 2017 became my #whentojump moment. A leap into a world not completely defined by boundaries set by others like I had grown used to in my corporate career.

I’ve been playing with different scenarios for being independent or an entrepreneur for a long time, but, until last October, I never got any further than taking on a side hustle as community gardener here at Happy Melly.
When I started with that it took surprisingly little effort to fit it into my schedule and regular job. Little else was I expecting jumping out of my corporate bubble in October. Not often before I have been so wrong…

I decided to join Alquimia del Talento as a partner, a small consultancy company in Madrid focusing on creating better workplaces by developing people (and to not turn this post into a marketing campaign, I’ll leave it there). Alquimia is a young company, still in startup phase with all the struggles that come with that. Additionally, I had decided that Management 3.0, Lean Change Management, and Work Together Anywhere workshops fitted perfectly into our vision of creating better workspaces through people development. Needless to say that much time for my side gig at Happy Melly — which had grown over the months I prepared for my ‘exit’ — quickly diminished.

Wasn’t that a choice? Of course, I’ll be the first to admit that, though with the uncertainty of a startup and a family, having a bit of regular income isn’t something you easily say goodbye to (apart from not wanting to leave an awesome team of people to work with).
So now what?

Can we borrow a success formula?

Blue Monday Formlua

I haven’t found a formula yet, though, with today being Blue Monday, I was surprised that the day is actually “calculated” (though not very scientifically). There doesn’t seem to be much of a relief in the “tips to beat Blue Monday” section either. Most articles, for example, give “go exercise” as the number one tip to start beating your Blue Monday… now imagine your New Year’s resolution was to “start exercising 30 minutes a day” and you are having a Blue Monday because you terribly failed at that…

It is like somebody telling you to find work-life balance in the gig economy by simply taking on another gig… OK, that may result in a divorce and thus more free time, but honestly that feels like taking the ‘life’ out of the balance altogether. Not the kind of solution I’m trying to find, I have a lovely wife and two great kids!

If no magic formula, then what?

Start searching for tips on the Web… When I finished reading through How to balance your side gig with a full time job on The Penny Hoarder, How To Balance Your Full-Time Job & Part-Time Side Gig on Glassdoor and 4 Tips for Balancing a Full Time Job and a Side Gig on Huffington Post, it felt like they all provide similar though slightly different tips to re-find work-life balance in situations like mine. To summarize all four of us:

  1. Wake up earlier.
  2. Focus and prioritize, know what you can handle, set a schedule, get organized, create a content calendar for your website.
  3. Use your limited time to your advantage, set aside time, unplug at least once a week.
  4. Leverage your day job to get better at your side hustle.
  5. Utilize your mobile device.
  6. Request a condensed schedule.
  7. Unplug at least once a week.

Some of them seem like kicking in an open door, and a few make me wonder how that’s going to help me find work-life balance, and that’s what I need help with this week.

And I have to note that the articles I read mostly seem to assume that side hustle means you’re involved in something related to writing or at least a thing you can clearly do from anywhere…

Gig-Life Balance Tip #1: Wake up earlier.

I know, I know. You can’t wake up earlier. You like to work at night.

Still, I started to get up at 6:30am and have pushed my time to 6am now.

Doesn’t seem like a whole lot of difference with my old habit of getting up at 7am, but still it’s buying me a much-needed hour a day.

However, it is clear, uninterrupted time to get work done.

Gig-Life Balance Tip #2: Focus and Prioritize.

Now that’s an open door right? Great tip, the question is how do you do that? How do you figure out what you can handle? Where do you find the time to do these things, waking up earlier?

Gig-Life Balance Tip #3: Set aside time.

One thing I quickly realized after I started my side hustle in December 2015 is I actually was more productive while working a full-time job.

Why is that? A little thing called Parkinson’s Law. This is the idea that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

If I have one hour to complete a project, I’ll get it done within the hour. If I have eight hours to complete a project, you can bet I’m going to take the maximum amount of time available to complete it. It’s just how our brains work.

Though that didn’t take a full-time job at a startup into account…

Gig-Life Balance Tip#4: Leverage your day job.

I learned from my research a great tip that if you’re maintaining a full-time job while working a side hustle, you should take the skills and lessons you learned at one to another. My situation seems however more the reverse of that: I am bringing skills I learned at my gig into my daily work. Guess that started because I believe the things I learned being part of Happy Melly can and should be spread much wider.

Gig-Life Balance Tip #5: Use that mobile.

Proving my point before. Much of my Happy Melly work I do with my mobile. It allows me to check in during coffee breaks, lunch times, and while commuting. It’s all about using all the time you have.

Gig-Life Balance Tip #6: Request a condensed schedule.

Though I get the point, this has never been my problem. I have kids that need attention. My wife works full time as well, so there’s a shared responsibility for the children. No condensed schedule will help with that to balance a full-time job and gig in the mix. Remember it is about balancing the two jobs with family life and other private activities, not only about how to have two jobs at the same time… (that would not be a challenge…)

Gig-Life Balance Tip #7: Unplug at least once a week.

This is very important, particularly when it comes to avoiding burnout. This “free” day is important to rest and recharge, mentally and emotionally.

Nevertheless, I find it at the same time the hardest thing to do. Working more than 50 hours a week between my job and side gig, being able to work anywhere makes designating at least one day to completely unplug very hard… or at least it feels like that.

For example: It seems like every time I decide that Sunday is going to be my unplug-day, and therefore some work must be finished on Saturday, my kids decide that I’m not going to finish that on Saturday… and thus bye-bye Unplug Sunday…

Image: Christophe Hautier (Unsplash)

2 thoughts on "Searching for work-life balance in the gig economy"

  • Sam Mednick says:

    one thing that I try and do every so often is ‘cut the fat’. I don’t see it explicitly in your blog, it might be there though. Basically, go through your life and really cut out the things that aren’t necessary, aren’t adding value. It’s often the little things that take up a lot of time and by cutting them out it really frees up not only actual time and space but mental energy too. I’d really comb through your day of everything that you do and see what you can either completely get rid of or delegate. I just go through my daily schedule and weekly and really sit down and take inventory of everything I do and ask if it’s bringing me value and also is the time I’m putting in more than what I’m getting out of it. There’s also something they taught us in coaching school called “tolerations” which means…what in your life are you TOLERATING. Not enjoying or gaining from. The idea is to hat 0 tolerations in life. Obviously that’s hard but you want to try and rid yourself of things you’re simply tolerating but don’t like. So that’s something you can ask yourself about as well and be VERY HONEST about it. it can be people, activities anything

  • IsaMichiels says:

    Nowadays I believe that quite everybody have problems about how to balance work and private life (family and friends also!).
    One tip I’d like to share is “Stop making excuses”. Sometimes we have excuses to have no time for something, but I believe when we really want something, we arrange time for it.
    Changes are in our hands and to make them happened too. If your now thinking “Ok, you say it but you don’t have my life” or “Ok, it is easy to say it but for me it is not possible” or something like this, your are already making an excuse!
    and yes, it will not work for you! 🙂 I say it because some years ago I was giving excuses too and step by step I tried to change it and abolish them from my life! Now I have much more balance between work, family, friends and sports too!

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