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Should You Invest One Spare Hour on Your Profession or Side Business?

Early in my career, the title of this post would have been a moot point because it was all about beating the other rats in the rat race.

In order to do so, I had to learn as much as I could, apply all of it, outperform the rats and become the Super Rat (with a cape) that everyone recognized and wanted on their projects.

As the young career progressed, I started to realize that the confines of work in itself had an inherent limitation to how much I could learn, how fast I could move up and how much I can make.

Repeating my job several times over from project to project, even in several different variations, made me quicker, more efficient and more skilled at my specific trade, but didn’t necessarily make me a more diverse and rounded business person.  I can imagine this is true for many companies, positions and professions.

I wanted to grow in various ways in my profession, both financially and as a well diverse and rounded business professional. The more I ran in the rat race, the more I realized that I could only accomplish my objectives if I kept running with blindfolds on for another 30 or so years.  I don’t think I was born to do that.

Simply speaking, I realized that I had to find other ways to learn and acquire skills outside my company, position and profession.  Sure I could have done it staying within the comfort and confines of four walls, but I wasn’t willing to put in a lifetime of work to get to a destination I believed I could get to much faster doing something else.

Many professionals jump from one company to another not necessarily because of better compensation, but rather because of more satisfaction, change of environment and an opportunity to grow as a professional.  Several educational studies come out year over year that indicate that the learning growth curve tends to plateau after six months in any new company.

Sure you can move to another function, but how many functions do you have to move through to learn the company?  There is absolutely nothing wrong in doing that and many drink that cup of tea.  I just don’t think it is for me. There is something about the very slow, gradual / incremental process that always bothered me.  I am sure I am not the only one in this boat either.  For those that are in it with me, the question is should you jump ship?

Did I Jump Ship?

For those that would answer yes, all the best to you.  You are a stronger individual than I. No I did not jump ship. Instead, I sought to fill in the void by pursuing other interests in my own time such as evenings and weekends. I started a business on the side while I was employed.

At the time I thought this was the perfect answer for the predicament I was in. I was making very good money, had comfort, certainty of cash flow and all kinds of other tangible and intangible benefits going for me because of my profession, but had a void and some level of dissatisfaction that was filled in and relieved by my side gig.

Sure enough, I was happier and doing well in both business and profession. I was learning new skills, industries and businesses on my own time and knew that I controlled the fruits my labor could bear for my business, as opposed to my profession where my growth was limited because of several factors such as tenure, capacity, the wills of the higher ups, external market forces, ghosts, you name it.

With my business, I was in full and total control. I called my shots, I controlled my speed and dictated my own success. One business grew into two, two into three, each of the three grew bigger, and so forth.  I had to give up my demanding profession to move to a less demanding one, to an even less demanding one, and so forth.  Life evolved in a very much controlled manner and I dictated each of the steps along the way.

Time Allotment Predicament

One predicament that I constantly found myself facing was that of time allotment, or the most effective use of time for me.  We all have one thing in common, and that is 24 hours in a day. We all have to eat, sleep and answer periodic calls of nature.  We also have to work for a living, thus limiting our free time outside of work and the necessities to pursue “other stuff”.

Other stuff includes time with friends, family, ourselves (going to the gym, relaxing in a sauna, getting a manicure done, etc), our hobbies and interests. The more diverse your interest, the more difficult the predicament becomes.  Where do you allocate that extra hour to?

For simplicity sakes, let’s just assume your life is so perfect and that you are the master of all masters when it comes to prioritization and time allocation. Let’s say you have the time to work in your profession and do everything else that is important to you during evenings and weekends, and after doing everything you have just one spare hour of time left on your plate.

Let’s also assume that you have a side business that you are passionate about, and that you have put in some time into your side business as well as part of the “other stuff” bucket above.  How do you spend that extra spare hour you’ve got left?

Do you spend that spare hour on learning new skills to grow as a professional? Do you spend that hour doing more of any of the non-work and side business related activities such as those mentioned above? Or do you spend that extra hour working on your side business?

The predicament becomes even tougher when you don’t have to work and suddenly have unexpected free time, or several spare hours on your plate.  Let me give a specific example.

Let’s say it snows heavily overnight and you had a snow day due to roads being bad. You are stuck at home and can’t go to work. You have a job that pays regardless, and one which you cannot conduct from home. Basically, you get the day off, you get paid for it, and you have all kinds of free time.

What do you do? Do you try to get some work done from home? If you did you would be ahead of the game. But does this mean that you will be rewarded on the back-end such as being able to leave early on Friday?  Or will you leave office the same time on Friday as everyone else regardless of whether they worked from home?

Do you get online and take free online courses or read on your profession to acquire new knowledge and skills and develop yourself professionally?  Or do you sit on the couch with a cup of coffee and relax while watching the weather channel?  Or do you get excited, fire up your home computer and work on your side business all day into late evening?

Advocates of Learning to Grow in the Profession

I am sure many are with me on this one as well. The Devil’s advocate in me makes a good case for spending that spare hour on growing as a professional rather than investing it on a side business.

It’s a tough trade-off. You may have to ditch your side business, but those that put more importance and emphasis on their primary bread and butter career may go this route. Why? Because one can argue that you are limiting your learning capacity as an employee the further you move up the chain.

You certainly learn more about your function, the company and the industry, but how much technical knowledge are you gaining when you get up there? I don’t know the answer to this because I wasn’t in a situation to know.  But if I was to guess, I’d guess that after a point, it becomes more about managing others and building institutional knowledge rather than acquiring new / technical skills yourself and growing as a professional or expert.

Although you become valuable to your employer, is your value or skill set marketable or transferrable?  If it is, can it easily be conveyed so that you are hired for that next job?  How do you contribute and how do you convey the value? What measurable are you going to use?

Often times, one gets busier as they are promoted within a company. They are paid more to put in more hours and take up more stress.  A bulk of this time goes into Management and putting off fires day in day out. Not to mention the income ceiling and the ever slowing incremental growth curve the higher up you go.  Remember, we all have the same amount of time.  So when does one actually learn new things?

How do you retain your sharpness, keep up with the new and good stuff, reload your technical arsenal and remain on the edge of cutting edge?  Is your employer going to bring in a younger gun who has more technical skill, is more technology savvy and “in” with the new stuff? I don’t know.

Concluding Thoughts

Although the example of a snow day was provided, you can apply the same scenario to sick days.  Say you take a full sick day but your dentist appointment only lasts 3 hours including commute. What do you do with the rest of the day?

What I am trying to convey here is that there are many inherent limitations to our jobs, careers and professions. There are many externalities that are way beyond our control. This post assumes that the “subject” in this situation has already realized a lot of that and thus has started a side business to get ahead in life.  The question now becomes, where should extra time be focused on?

If your answer is your side business, don’t you think this is cheating or short changing your employer? I know it can be tempting, but what is the right course of action here? On one hand, you have a brick wall or ceiling of limitations. On the other, you have nothing but empty ground to conquer.

At the end of the day, it is you who best knows the boundaries of your company and profession, what you can or cannot do within, how far you can go, what would it take and how long it would take.  Given your knowledge and understanding of your own situation, complimented by the fact that learning curves and professional growth come with inherent limitations, which course of action do you take?

Would you rather invest an hour of free time into your profession or side business? Why or why not?  What are some other factors to consider that haven’t been discussed in this post?

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7 Responses to “Should You Invest One Spare Hour on Your Profession or Side Business?”

  1. I would definitely spend an extra hour on my side business because the result is exponential ;-).

    my post this morning relate the equation between working at your day job as compared to working for your side business.

    • Sunil says:

      Good point on linear vs exponential growth. Many however fail to see the big picture and prefer immediate gain ($X for working Y hours) vs. the uncertain promise of the future (online income).

  2. Temi says:

    Definitely the side business if that gets you closer to your goal of independence and flexibility. If you’re still conflicted between the business and the job, then focus on the job until you can fully commit to the idea that your business can move your life forward.

    • Sunil says:

      Welcome Temi. Great advice – absolutely loved it. If there is even a remote conflict, then focus on your bread and butter until fully convinced that the other alternative is the way forward.

  3. Ivin says:

    Hello Sunil. I was fortunate enough to have 5 hours free at work because my tasks and responsibilities took me only four hours to complete. I developed a system that allowed me to do that. Having had that time for myself I was able to build my online business to a place where I was ‘fine’ when they retrenched me last month. Very fortunate.

    • Sunil says:

      Congratulations on having successfully built a safety net. You don’t have to answer this, I am curious how your employer felt about you able to complete work in half day and working on your business the other half while on “their time”? If they didn’t know, how did you feel as you were going through the process?

  4. At this point in my life, I’ve come to realize that I’ve been spending a little more time on my side endeavors than I should, thereby not working as hard as I could at my day job.

    It’s important to finish the year strong, b/c nobody knows what you did in the first half. A lot of money is at stake!

    Best, Sam

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