Maximizing Margins: How I Optimize Time Outside of Work

 

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For anyone with a 9 – 5 job, you know that a huge chunk of your time from Monday to Friday is consumed by getting ready for work, commuting to work, actually being at work, commuting back home, and winding down from work. It can actually be quite exhausting sticking to this schedule week in and week out. 

So when you read a blog post or watch a video of someone encouraging you to use that time outside of your day job to grind on your passion project you might think to yourself but I have no time, I’m so tired after work, all I want to do in the evenings is watch Netflix and all I want to do on the weekends is lounge around the house and relax.

I hear you.

A 9 – 5 job consumes way more time and energy than just 40 hours per week. But I think it’s possible to optimize your time outside of your day job and actually make meaningful progress on a side-business. The secret lies in aligning your energy with your time outside of work.

The Margins

I like to think of the time outside of my 9 – 5 job as a data analyst as the margins. This includes the mornings before work, the evenings after work, and the weekends:

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During my 9 – 5 I don’t have complete control over what I decide to work on or how I spend my time, but I have 100% ownership over how I spend my time in the margins.

The margins are where I find time to workout, make progress on my blog, and read books. 

The margins are also where I find time to relax, hang out with family and friends, and decompress from working.

Maximizing the Margins

The trick to maximizing your margins (i.e. spending this time outside of work in the most optimal way possible) is to figure out when you have high and low energy.

For me, I have high energy in the mornings. After I wake up and take a cold shower, drink two glasses of water, and brew a cup of coffee I am hyped and ready to work. I spend this high energy and focus writing blog posts. This is when the ideas are flowing, there are no distractions from the outside world, and my ability to create content is at a maximum.

I use my morning margins to be productive because that’s when my energy is highest.

Once I head off to work, spend my day at the office, and leave between 4 and 5, my brain is fried. I have no ability to think analytically or any desire to work on my blog or be productive. That’s why I spend this time going to the gym, then coming home and relaxing for the evening. I’ll eat dinner, hang out with my roommate, and watch some Netflix or random YouTube videos.

I use my evening margins to decompress from the day because that’s when my energy is lowest.

This brings up an important point: Attempting to be productive during every free minute of my margins only makes me stressed, tired, and cranky. I used to attempt to write a blog post in the morning and in the evening, but my evening writing never produced good work. I learned that by setting side time in the evenings to relax I was able to give my brain a chance to rest and recharge.

It’s important to designate specific margins as productive time and other margins as relaxation time. 

By doing so, you allow yourself to maximize your margins. Your relaxation time allows you to regain energy that can be used once your productive time rolls around again.

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You can’t spend every waking minute grinding at the margins. It’s not productive or efficient. You’ll burnout. When you have high energy, be productive. When you have low energy, relax. 

I use this same strategy for my weekend margins. I get up early on weekend mornings (5 – 6AM) and head to the nearby Starbucks to crank out some blog posts. Again, I have high energy on weekend mornings so I use it to be productive.

I hang out there for 3 – 4 hours, use up all my intensive creative energy, then spend the rest of the day hanging out with friends, working out, reading, or just hanging around the apartment. I don’t attempt to spend the entire day grinding because once my creative energy is drained, I’m no longer productive.

Be Aware of Your Own Energy

I’m an anomaly. Not many people have high energy in the early mornings, and that’s fine. Be aware of when your energy is highest during your time outside of work and use that specific time to grind on your side-hustle, whatever that may be. 

It helps if you can develop a consistent pattern. Try to be productive during the same block of time each day and likewise allow yourself to relax at the same time each day. Find out when you have high energy, and use it productively. Identify when you have low energy, and allow yourself to relax. This is how to maximize the margins outside of your day job.


My favorite free financial tool I use is Personal Capital. I use it to track my net worth, manage my spending, and keep an eye on my monthly cash flow. It only takes a few minutes to set up and it makes tracking your finances simple and easy. I recommend trying it out.

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2 Replies to “Maximizing Margins: How I Optimize Time Outside of Work”

  1. Thanks for your insight into this idea, Zach! I am also currently grinding away at a 9-5, but really treasure my early mornings of solitude during the week. I like how you emphasize the importance of knowing oneself’s energy level through the day. Knowing oneself seems to be a common theme throughout your posts!

    1. Early mornings are easily my favorite part of each day too. If I can conquer the morning I feel like the entire day is a success. And I’m glad you’re noticing that common theme throughout my writing, it’s something I really believe in. Knowing yourself and knowing what you want out of life are the foundation for personal finance. Knowing what you want is like a compass that tells you what direction to go and how to use your money to get what you want.

      Thanks for commenting and be sure to stay in touch 🙂

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