First of all, I would like to express my gratitude for the huge value that you deliver through your blog and your newsletter. I often use your advices, striving to become better and more self-disciplined.
I am a junior engineer working within the automotive industry. This is a demanding job and I work at least 45 hours a week. As I want to become independant (i.e. being able to work on my own projects from any place in the world) as soon as possible, I am starting to create my first business (I'm currently researching a niche market).
I have GTD'ed my schedule and eliminated most of worthless activities such as video games, TV shows and compulsive internet browsing.
But still, I am finding it really hard to secure at least two hours a day to work on my project since apart from my day job, it takes me a lot of time to exercice on a daily basis, socialize, read a bit, sleep 7h30 per night and deal with the daily chores...
So my question:
- Would you have some ideas that I could implement right now to improve my character and habits in that direction?
I love what you're doing man - excellent stuff. Seems to me like you've gotten a lot of the hard stuff out of the way. Breaking addictions and getting generally organized might even be harder than the actual production - so you're doing great stuff already.
Recommended habits going forwards:
Wake up at 4:30AM, work for 2-3 hours before work, go to bed really early. If possible. This is somewhat hard to do, but it means you'll be not tired when working on your own stuff. If you can do this on weekdays, and put in 3-4 hours on Saturday and Sunday, then you can easily get in 15-20 hours per week on your side project, which is enough. Totally doable.
Cut your expenses as low as they can without screwing up your productive ability and bank as much cash as you can. Pay off debt first, then bank cash. This means you'll be able to break free sooner from full time work... for instance, if one of your projects starts making $500/month, that might not be enough to quit your job. But $500 plus $5000 in the bank might give you 6-12 months after quitting to grow your business... the savings makes a big difference. Lowering expenses benefits you twice - you bank more cash, and you need less cash to keep going. This is very easy if you're single, trickier if you have a family but still doable.
You only get 24 hours per day, so by definition, if you're doing your side projects, you're not doing something else. I won't call it a "sacrifice" - it's not, really, because it leads to the best life overall - but spending time on side projects will mean less time into other things. That's just the nature of it, and you need to accept that. If you acknowledge it up front, you probably feel less resentful that you don't get as much time with your friends, or time on the beach, or whatever. Of course, if you make one of your projects a success, then you get tons more time and freedom later and it's well worth it... just acknowledge up-front that you're making the trade. Sooner or later you'll feel frustrated "why do I work so much while everyone else is screwing off and having fun?" - and you'll already have your answer. "Because I'm building, and it's going to be worth it." Acknowledging upfront helps.
Great email, thanks for reading and thanks for dropping me a line. If anyone here has experiences with working full time and getting a side project off the ground, let's hear them in the comments.
Hey M, Sebastian,
I'm in the same boat, I spent part of last year setting up my startup while working full time, but recently switched to consulting. Consulting has its advantages, first and foremost you can pick clients that are in the same problem space and second you get to work from home every now and then which can help saving time. That said while it has advantages it can also be a lot more draining than a full time jobs, think for example of all the time you need to spend networking to get work.
On top of all the great recommendations that have been offered so far I'd like to add "learn to let go". As an engineer I found that as a category we crave details and to know everything is humanly possible about the subject we're working on. This just isn't gonna fly if you want to start a business and have 2hrs/day. And based on what you wrote it sounds like you've already optimized your routine to a point where there isn't much more to squeeze. This was my situation 8 months ago and if I understood you right, you are asking the same thing I was: how can I get more time to work on this? In my experience that was the wrong question to ask and things started to get better for me when I began to ask: am I making the most of the time I get?. When I went to answer that question what I found is that my desire for details meant spending weeks on a single aspect of the problem making overall very little progress. This resulted in a big poster hanging by my desk that reads: does this move my business forward? Now every time I begin working on something I ask myself some variation of that question. Do I need this piece of knowledge now? Do I need to work this out now? In the first 2 months it was as amazing as hard to let go of the many things I had put on my todo list that actually I didn't need to do for the time being.
That said, one thing you might try is to sleep less, of course within reason, nobody works well when tired. I'm a big fan of sleep hacks and I've had a reasonable amount of success with a bunch of them. As others suggested waking up early and taking the first part of the day for yourself is a great way of putting more energies into your project. I used to sleep between 7 and 8 hrs/night and I'm now down to 5.30 and feel even better than I used to. The key is in the quality of your sleep and to ease gradually into that regime. I believe you can get an extra hr back out of it. Feel free to get in touch if you wanna chat about that.
Hope this helps,
@Dan: I've tried your advice about going for a quick run right when you get home: that really relieves from the day stress and kind of "reset" your physical/mental energy level.
And do you also incorporate meat on your food regimen?
@Frank: The thing is, I used to be some kind of hardcore player. I loved playing Starcraft or Counterstrike for hours and hours... So even if playing is really fun to me, I feel that I'm not gonna be able to contain the time I spend playing to an acceptable level... So just like TV, I took the easy solution and completely gave up on that (well, except when I'm dragged to an arcade room). It is a bit painful sometimes (especially when my colleagues are talking to me about their epic StarCraft games and trying to make me install the game), but so rewarding since I've got so much more time now!
@Steven: Good point, but yeah, it does not apply to a calculation engineer unless you want to start an engineering consulting business (or create your own structural analysis code...). To succeed, I think you need 20+ years of experience in the field and an insane passion for the technical stuff. That is not my case...
Great post Sebastian. I'm going through this now and it is a grueling slog at times. Probably the hardest part is admitting to yourself you can't do everything: some realize this while starting a side business, others after getting promoted to a management position, and others when they have their first child.
One solution is to align your side business with your regular job: for example, if your side project requires a lot of copywriting, find a way to make this part of your responsibilities at your day job. This allows you to use the training from your job to help your project, and the practice from your project to help your job. Not sure if this applies to an engineer but it seems to work with marketing positions.
Very good advice and pretty much on target with what I'm currently trying to do. I'd like to argue that video game playing or TV watching isn't "worthless" if it's something that relaxes you in such a way that you're able to be more productive after say, 30 minutes of headshots in Call of Duty. Sometimes that downtime is needed. Everything in moderation. I tend to play goal-based games as it is (RPGs) because I find GTD principles can be applied to those, and if you feel like you're achieving goals while relaxing, it becomes even more rewarding. Crazy, I know, but true.
I love this advice Sebastian. This is why I read your blog. I was in a similar position, although my day job was demanding, I was able to spend 1-2 hours a day working on my side project while at work using a variety of slightly evil techniques. I had a 2 hour commute, so I would listen to business podcasts on SEO and stuff like that while driving. When I got home I'd do a very quick run, like 10-15 minutes max to jump start my system, then I'd eat really healthy while I hustled. Fruit, veggies, hard boiled eggs, and canned tuna. At the time I didn't have a laundry machine so I started paying to get it done. Finally, I made it clear to my friends that I wasn't going to hang out, like ever. This was hard to do, in my case it was made easier by the fact that I was starting a business with one of my best friends (very tricky thing to do).
Sebastian's advice to attack debt and bank cash is spot on. I did the exact same.
This was 3 years ago. Last month my business brought in 90K.
Good luck man....
Wait. Maybe not. Let's think this through.
I just got an email from a reader. It's a variety I get a lot. It goes like this:
"I'm doing X-practical-thing, but I'm passionate about Y. I don't like that X takes up so much of my time. But... it's practical. WTF?"
It could be "college," but it could also be a stable salaried job or whatever. Actually, this particular email wasn't about college, it was about a really well compensated salaried job that wasn't the person's passion.
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When I turned 30 and I had a minor freak out… I thought, "I'll be 40 in not long, and then 50… there's things I want to do in my life, and they're not happening at this pace."
Before that, I had a general idea of things I wanted to do and have in my life, but I went about in an unstructured way. It was good in a lot of ways. It made be a broad process, but not much depth.