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Got a second job. Performance slipping. Now what?

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(Read caption) A woman opens a glass door with a "Now Hiring" sign on it as she enters a Staples store in New York, March 3, 2011. If you're working a second job and you find your performance slipping, you may have to choose between those jobs.

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Amy writes in:

I’ve been a paralegal with the same law firm for four years. I love the job and the work that I do. I feel like I’m genuinely helping people.

In October, my boyfriend and I sat down and looked at our finances as you suggested. We came to the conclusion that we needed more income, so I took on a second job in the evenings at a local Home Depot.

Since then, the extra income has been very useful, but now I just come home at night exhausted and I have to practically drag myself out of bed in the mornings. I don’t have any energy with my paralegal work and my boss has started to notice. We had a one-on-one meeting about it. He asked whether I was committed to the job. I told him that I didn’t have enough money to make ends meet and had to take on a second job.

I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid of losing the paralegal job, but I’m also afraid of losing the income we really need to get out of our financial hole.

Amy hits upon a major concern for anyone working multiple jobs. You only have so many hours in a day.

I’ll show you what my own schedule looked like when I was launching The Simple Dollar as a side business. This was a normal weekday.

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4:30 AM – Wake up
4:30 AM – 5:00 AM – Shower, hygiene, breakfast
5:00 AM – 6:30 AM – Writing
6:30 AM – 8:00 AM – Get kids up and ready for child care, take them there, commute to work
8:00 AM – 4:30 PM – Work
4:30 PM – 6:00 PM – Commute home, prepare supper
6:00 PM – 10:30 PM – Writing
11:00 PM – Sleep

Simply put, I was burning the candle at both ends and this caused several problems.

I had limited time for leisure activities and activities of self-improvement. There was no time for anything other than work and minimal family time.

My performance at both my regular job and my early writing suffered. It was difficult to write good articles. It was also difficult to take on challenging tasks at work. I could muddle through, but I’d have to be blind to not see that the situation was having a negative impact on my work.

I was exhausted and I got sick quite often. I used to fall ill almost every other week, making it even harder to catch up. Today, I haven’t had any sort of real illness in almost a year.

How did I resolve all of this? It was really a three-step plan.

First, I set a clear deadline for myself a few months down the road where I would choose one job or the other. When I realized that something had to give – as Amy has – I set a deadline for that final decision. For me, it was almost exactly three months down the road.

Why wait so long? This gave me time to reflect on my situation and make the correct decision. It also gave me time to get my financial house as ready as I could for losing a significant income stream.

Second, I lived incredibly lean during the period leading up to that deadline. I cooked everything at home. I made sack lunches. I didn’t do much of anything outside the apartment (of course, it’s not as if I had a lot of time for it anyway).

During that period, I beefed up my emergency fund with all of the money I saved through living lean. Thus, when I was ready to choose, I knew that I had some support against the loss of the income stream.

I would highly recommend that Amy follow this same path. Eventually, she will lose one job or the other, so she should take the choice into her own hands. She should set a deadline, live as lean as she can until then, and then make the choice.

Finally, when I did make my choice (which was writing), I redoubled my commitment to it. In Amy’s case, if she chooses the paralegal work, she should start off by meeting with her boss and simply stating the facts of it. She made a difficult financial choice to stick with this job. She should also look for a plan to maximize her chances to increase her income at the job that she chose.

Which job should one choose? For my situation, I chose the one that I felt would give me the best opportunity to spend time with my family. Both paths seemed to afford me the basic income I would need and both provided work that I found enjoyable. The difference really came down to how my family was affected.

For many people, however, and this includes Amy, the decision should come down to which job offers the best income potential if you commit yourself to that career path, unless that choice is deeply untenable for some other reason (an uncomfortable workplace, unethical work, etc.).

Working exceptional hours over a long period is untenable and negatively impacts your performance. Set a deadline for the hard choice you’ll have to make. Conserve your resources as you lead up to that deadline. Then, make the leap into whichever situation is the best for you.

Even if that path doesn’t lead you exactly where you hoped, you’ll at least be able to tackle that path with energy and a clear mind, which are the greatest tools you can bring to the table when it comes to your career.

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