How to structure your work life for fun, profit and fulfillment

You can listen to an extended version of this post at this podcast episode.

I don’t have a full-time job at the moment. Friends are often asking me “What do you do for work? What does that look like for you?”. When you don’t work for someone else the line between work and your personal life starts to blur. Although I don’t work from exactly 9am to 5pm five days a week I still spend a lot of my time “working”.

Whenever people tell me that their work life feels unbalanced, whether it’s a lack of meaning, they aren’t earning enough money or they’re worried about the future this is the framework I encourage them to think about. There are three components that I believe everyone’s working life needs to have if they are to feel a greater sense of balance and satisfaction with their work:

1. Short-term income. You have to be able to generate money for the here and now. This probably doesn’t need much explanation. You need money to pay the bills, buy food, etc. Each and every one of us needs to make sure that we have money available now to fulfill our most basic needs for survival. Examples: a full-time job, freelance work, running a business that either pays a salary or provides some form of cashflow.

2. Long-term income. As well as needing to have money in the here and now you also want to feel reassured that you’ll be able to pay for things in the future. As a lot of people age their financial responsibilities drastically change: marriage, kids etc. But even if those things are not something you want from life it’s helpful to know that if you want to retire one day you won’t suddenly go broke. Examples: a higher-paying full-time job, specialised freelance work, running a business that either pays a large salary or provides decent cashflow, having a large amount of savings.

3. Meaning / Fulfillment / Passion. This is the important one which a lot of people miss. Often it takes the form of a passion project. You work on this not necessarily for the money but because you think that it makes a difference or brings some additional joy into your life. Some people are lucky enough to have a short-term or long-term income source which also provides meaning and fulfillment in their lives. For others they have a day job that pays the bills and then it leaves them free to spend their nights and weekends working on their own creative pursuits. Because they already have the short-term income component taken care of elsewhere they don’t have to compromise their creative integrity to earn money. Examples: a passion project, creative or artistic pursuits, mentoring others, volunteering, having a job or running a business with a purpose-driven mission.

Those three components are critical in my own working life if I want to enjoy the present, plan for the future and work on something that makes an impact. Although some people are fortunate enough to have two or more components satisfied by the one role or project, for me however, these three components are actually three separate things.

My short-term income comes from freelance web development. Although I find programming on my own projects sometimes fun I don’t necessarily love doing it for work. The tradeoff is very clear though: I do it when I need money because it’s the most effective way for me to earn short-term income.

Although I currently earn my money programming I’d like for my long-term income source to be a product-based business that isn’t directly tied to my time. Whenever I need to earn money programming I directly trade one hour of my time for a certain amount of cash. The amount I earn is capped by the amount of hours I have in a day. Whereas a product-based business doesn’t necessarily have a limit of how much you can sell because it isn’t always tied to my time. Right now I'm working with my co-founder to launch a supplement product to help travelers avoid jet lag. Watch this space.

The thing that gives me real passion and meaning in my life is my podcast. I’m excited to share the stories of other young people who are doing very different things with their life to what society says you should be doing. Right now the podcast doesn’t earn me a cent, in fact it costs me a bit of money to be running, but it’s by far where most of my time goes. I put more time into this podcast than anything else in my life because it’s work that doesn’t feel like "work" even though it requires a lot of effort. I’m constantly learning new things, having a lot of fun and finding the process of creating something for the world to consume to be very rewarding.

You might think that this framework only makes sense if you work for yourself but I've seen this framework apply to career-driven people as well. For a lot of people their full-time job is their source of short-term income and if you’re very career driven and willing to specialise long-term income might come from your full-time employment as well. There’s nothing wrong with that. I happen to know a lot of people who have full-time jobs they don’t necessarily love but they have an exciting project they work on in their spare time. Whether it's blogging, trying to get a business off the ground or mentoring others. They have the three components in place and feel a sense of balance and satisfaction from their working life. Although some of them would arguably consider their side-project not to be "work" I think it still helps them bring some much needed passion, meaning and fulfillment into their lives.

Take and think and see if this framework could work for you. Are one of these three components missing from your work life? Is there a project you could bring into your life that will help you fill that missing piece?