Wednesday, February 9, 2011

You don't need clown school to learn how to juggle

This post is not about juggling objects. If you want to learn to do that, go here (and don't forget your dexterity!).

This post is about juggling projects. Namely work projects and outside projects. More and more, folks are turning to alternate business ventures or hobbies that may or may not make any money.  Etsy shops, freelance projects, start-ups, photography gigs.  They all take up lots of time, and with 40 hours (and sometimes then some) of regular work smack dab in the middle of the week, how do you keep them from interfering?

This topic hits really close to home, as I am a juggler myself (work and blog).  So these tips are from my experience.  I am a firm believer in keeping my work life and the rest of my life separate. This isn't to say that I'm impersonal and antisocial at work, but I dedicate a productive 40 or so hours a week to my day job so that I can have my nights and weekends to myself.

Whatever it is that you "produce" in your side venture can mainly be done outside of work hours. You can make your etsy wares on weekends, write blog posts the night before or even earlier in advance, or do your web design work from your couch during TV time. As I'm writing this, it's 7 p.m. Tuesday night and K is making dinner.

I'm talking about comment moderation (if you do that sort of thing), processing orders, troubleshooting, etc.  These things can't wait as long as emails but can wait until lunch or a break.  I respond to comments at night, sometimes the same night, sometimes the next.

With the prevalence of smart phones that keep your personal email at arm's reach, it's hard to avoid reading other emails during the day.  I keep all my notifications on my Droid silent and usually keep my phone face down so I can't see when a new email comes in. I check it when I'm at a natural break, and then do a quick triage to see if this needs to be answered now, lunch, or tonight.  Sure, any businesses you may be working with won't be there to get your email when you send it from home later on, but seeing your reply the next morning is still pretty good.  This, of course, depends on what exactly your side projects are.

If you do have to take in-person meetings, try to add it on to the end or the beginning of the day. For example, if you work 8-5, a 5:30 p.m. meeting may be within someone else's regular workday. Or if you work 9-6, an 8 a.m. meeting may be tough for you, but shouldn't put off your client too much.  Lunch is always a good option, too--if it's not something that you can eat while you're doing, you can always bring lunch or snacks to munch on when you're back at your desk.

Around the water cooler
Depending on what your side projects are, you may or may not have told your coworkers about them.  If you have, by all means chat about your projects with your work friends, but I would caution against talking about it too much, lest you give the wrong impression. My blog is public knowledge if you're looking for it, but the topic rarely comes up at work, except when we're talking about related things (social media, web traffic, etc.).  For me, it's become more of a tool for building skills that help me at work, so I can usually turn it around to more work-related topics.

Mental sanity
Sometimes it all just gets to be too much. Give yourself a break every once in a while if possible. Take a break before taking on another project from a client or compile an inventory of goods to sustain a week's worth of orders.  I've taken breaks for mental sanity, sickness, and just plain ol' vacation.  It's good for your soul.

So there you have it. A few of my tips. Another thing to be aware of is that companies often have policies on appropriate use of their property--their computers, their software, their Internet connection.  Be aware of what these policies might be at your work, and (if you like your job) take care not to cross the line. When it doubt, things can usually wait until you're off the clock.

How do you keep your work and other work separate?


  1. Thanx for all the today's busy world, there's hardly anyone who's not a hard-pressed multi-tasker. Your lovely tips are sure gonna help! :)

  2. When I started at my workplace, no one socialized outside of work. This was partly due to the fact that people were married or had children, older, and lived far away from work. However, fast forward five years later, many former employees have left, and many of the new employees are younger, not married/do not have children, live closer to work, and socialize somewhat more often after work. I'm the same age as these employees if not a little older but I still adhere to the mindset of when I first started here. I also agree that it's important to keep work and personal life separate but I do plan to stay in touch with certain folks whenever I move on to the next job.

  3. You have no idea how much I needed this :) These are by no means for everyone but I am following two tips from "The 4-hour work week" with success - 1) turned my Outlook new mail notification off a while ago - (the little ding and pop up window when new mail arrives). Imagine if you were home and had to check your mailbox every five minutes - would you ever get anything done? 2) try to get out of senseless meetings. Sometimes there is enough representation there already or the context is not important enough for it to interrupt other tasks.

  4. What an interesting post. I think we live in a culture that has a hard time doing one thing at a time. I know that I personally have very loose boundaries and often allow areas of my life to overlap. As a full time student with a full time job I try to make sure that the two do not collide, but it's hard. Especially because the job I have is more fluid in my contact with the families I serve- it's not unlikely to receive texts or phone calls from them "after-hours". I feel like wherever I am I am thinking of the place I am not- if I'm in class I am worried about work. If I'm at work, I think about my college classes. Do you have any thoughts on establishing firm boundaries without seeming like a jerk?

  5. @ polka princess - I hope they help!

    @ kathleen - I do socialize with my coworkers at work, from chit chatting in the breakroom to lunches out. And I have definitely kept in touch with former colleagues. I do try not to let it interfere with work, though. It actually sometimes helps.

    @ wade and associates - yes! that outlook pop up window is so annoying. I got rid of that, too. Meetings can definitely be a productivity killer sometimes.

    @ katherine - I do think it is dependent on profession--I know plenty of people who are free (or even encouraged) to blog or do other work at their full-time job. Your situation is tricky--especially with the fluid hours. Perhaps this is something you can discuss with your supervisor? (the after hours expectations and your coursework.) If your studies are related to your job, maybe they'll work with you to help you get more separation so you can concentrate on that when you're not at work?

  6. Angeline, this post could not have come at a more necessary time for me. I'm currently juggling work and several side projects that are all ramping up right now, and none of it can really be postponed. I wound up having a bit of a meltdown about how I can't possibly get it all done, and my big goal for the next few months is compartmentalizing so I am as productive as possible whenever I'm committing myself to one specific task. That means no blogging at work, no planning my community service group when I'm studying for the LSAT, no thinking about work when I'm helping with the alumni association and (perhaps most importantly) no thinking about any of it when I'm giving myself time off. Your tips are great and very encouraging!


  7. @ elizabeth - Glad this could help (and that I'm not the only one going crazy over here). Us busy gals gotta stick together and encourage each other along!


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