I’m not going to sugar-coat it. Making ideas happen is tough—that’s why it’s a hustle. Hustling involves time, effort and hard work, often done as a side project alongside your other commitments.

Even if you have a corker of a concept, it’s tough developing it and getting it into the world, and when it’s there, it might not find a market. If you’re hankering for startup success, you’re best placing your bets elsewhere as the odds are stacked against you—the sad fact is 90 per cent of startups will fail.    

The point of a happy hustle is not that it’s hard (there are enough startup books about that) but that trying to make ideas happen will give you great pleasure and fulfilment.

There are five principles that underpin a happy hustle:

1. Dream big but start small

Ambition is great—it gets us out of bed in the morning and striving for more. But without a plan, your dreams can come to nothing. You have to start. And by starting small you bypass the fear centres of the brain, lower the stakes, and are more likely to rack up the wins that will keep you motivated, positive and moving forward.

2. Don’t fall in love with your idea

Founder bias can blind you to feedback and keep you forging ahead with a failed plan when the evidence tells you to quit. Instead, fall in love with the problem your idea solves. Fall in love with the people who have the problem and the customers who use your solution—they will guide you to a better idea.

3. Ship before you’re ready

Forget perfectionism—you don’t have the time or money to keep tinkering. Make something and get it out to people quickly and often. Think of each version as an experiment to gather data to inform what you’re doing next. By having tight feedback loops you learn fast and improve your idea as it takes shape in the world.

4. Connect with others

Working in isolation is the worst thing you can do for your idea’s survival. So, find friends and peers who can support you, early users who can test and feedback, communities of people who are interested in what you do, and networks of people on a similar journey. Relationships will help you and your idea thrive.

5. Focus on the process not the outcome

Most ideas will fail, so don’t aim for a narrow end point of success. As you build and test your idea, learn from the experience, notice what you enjoy, reflect on what works and what you’d like to do more of, seek out engagement, and be motivated by what excites, challenges and stimulates you. And when things go wrong, you’ll have the resilience to keep going.

These approaches will help you overcome the barriers many of us face when starting something. They will help you start, build momentum and keep going. You just need to start.

So, what’s stopping you?

You might be thinking: it’s all well and good taking small steps and learning along the way, but how am I going to find the time?

You’re right, your life is full of important and urgent things to do. “Busy” doesn’t even describe the demands on your time and attention. To fit a side project into your schedule you must make the time. That isn’t easy. It involves saying “no” to nice offers, setting boundaries, and reprioritising what’s in your schedule so there’s space to make things happen.

Let’s dive in with a quick exercise. Think: how do you currently spend your time? Look back on the past week and consider what’s getting your attention or, even better, log your day-to-day activity as you do it to build up an accurate picture. Then, imagine you could re-live that week bearing in mind your current commitments. How would you reorganise your schedule? What different choices would you make with your time? Were there opportunities you missed to work on your idea? Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing.

With that knowledge in mind, let’s look ahead. Plan when you can make time. Grab your calendar or draw a weekly schedule like the one below:

  • Fill in days across the top and your normal waking hours down the side.
  • Block out all the times you are already committed to things like work, childcare, exercise.
  • What’s left? Are there any opportunities? If yes, book in some idea time.
  • Not found any time? Reschedule other tasks to free up time. What can you stop doing or delegate? Can you get up earlier, go to work later? This is tough, but you can do it.
  • Commit to your schedule. Book time for your idea like any other appointment and don’t get distracted.

The internet is full of self-proclaimed productivity gurus sharing their secret to making time; often it involves getting up at the crazy hour of 5am. Great for them, but it might not work for you, your family and your wellbeing.

No-one knows how long it will take you to make your idea happen—just as your idea is unique, so is your approach to creating it. The goal is to make progress regularly, so don’t worry about project planning just yet, and instead build momentum bit by bit.

I’ve found four distinct time patterns to how people move their passion projects and side hustles ahead.

  1. The daily doer has a regular routine, often working in the same time and place, to nudge forward their idea.
  2. The scheduler looks ahead a week or two and blocks time into their calendar. They take a realistic and practical approach to planning and getting things done.
  3. The spontaneous hustler grabs any opportunity as it appears, making the most of delayed trains, cancelled meetings and sleeping children.
  4. The binger’s life is chock-full, so instead of a daily or weekly hustle, they binge every month or so on uninterrupted deep work, a progress making day or days that are as productive as they are rare.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to making time; the important thing is just to do it. Don’t feel bad when you really don’t have the time, but make the most of when you do. You’ll surprise yourself by what you can achieve, even when you’re feeling tired and uninspired. While common sense suggests that you create best when you’re at your most alert and awake, researchers have found the opposite, saying that “tasks involving creativity might benefit from a nonoptimal time of day.” Perhaps those internet gurus were right about 5am after all?

Let’s get to it. It’s time to hustle.

Extracted, with permission, from How to have a happy hustle, by Bec Evans (Icon Books, 2019).

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