Starting a Successful Side-Hustle: Learnings from Ali’s Skillshare Course


Hope you are doing well. Recently, I took Ali Abdaal’s Skillshare course on starting a side project. I enjoyed the course and wanted to share what I had learnt over the short course. I could access this course from the free 1-week trial so please do check it out. I know I have been harping about Ali, but I have massive respect for some one who has built a successful YouTube channel and a blog while being a doctor with the NHS. I had written about him on my newsletter earlier. Here is what I learnt from the course:

Why create a side project?

  • Side projects are really fun to work on. They unlock an innate part of ourselves, they teach us a lot and give us purposefulness and autonomy.
  • Side projects can generate money. When you have only one income stream, its breakdown can cause financial ruin. Having multiple streams gives you flexibility and comfort in life. Besides, being paid for having fun gives us validation as someone paying for it means it has value.
  • You could have real impact on the world. Unlike your day job where you are pushing numbers or words on a screen, your side hustle could be your photographs or paintings put out into the real world, causing emotions in people or giving them something to think about. Not only are you diversifying your streams of income, you are diversifying your streams of meaning in life as well.

What should I create?

It is easy to create a side hustle. It could be a blog, a Youtube channel, a podcast, or something else. You could think about using Gary Vee’s idea of monetising your passion. If you could have fun and get paid for it, what better?

Ali suggests the following framework to decide what to create:

  • What am I good at or what would other people say I am good at?
  • What do I enjoy?
  • What industries or audiences or groups am I familiar with?
  • What do I wish I had known 3, 5, or 10 years ago that I could teach someone today?
  • How could I combine some of these points to create a niche?

How to make time in our busy lives?

There is nothing in the world for which you don’t have time, except if you are working multiple jobs, have health issues, or are taking care of your family. Not having time for something usually means that it is not a priority. If someone would pay you a million dollars to do something, would you still not have the time to do it?

An easy way to create time would be to block time intervals to do your side project or to use your downtime productively. For example, for most of our side projects, even 15-20 minute time slots could be used. He calls this productive downtime.

How do I get motivated?

First, motivation is something we need only when we do things we don’t enjoy. If we monetise our passion or our side project is something we have fun doing, this problem will hopefully not arise.

Second, lack of motivation is a problem when an activity is unpleasant in the short term but has benefits in the long term. We can address this by shortening the feedback loop. A longer loop is what takes away from motivation to lose weight, as it takes a couple of months of work to see results. Even if artificially, we should try and shorten the feedback loop.

The power of identity change

Our identity drives our behaviour more than we admit to ourselves. Calling ourselves a junior X or aspirational X where X is the profession of our side project really changes how we look at ourselves and our work. It is important to give ourselves the permission to adopt the identity.

How to be more efficient with our time?

  • Parkinson’s Law – our work expands to fill the time we allot to it. How was it that you could finish your college assignments in an hour’s time before the deadline but it took you over a semester of allotted time to actually do it.
  • Pareto Principle – 80% of output comes from 20% of input or work done. To be able to pay guitar at the basic level and play 80% of songs, you need to know only basic chords, or 20% of playing a guitar.

Quantity matters over quality

When starting out, choose quantity over quality. Creating more work, getting feedback, seeing how to improve is better than trying to come up with one ‘great’ piece. While we may have heard of the 10000 Hour Rule in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, an important part of that idea is deliberate practice and repeated iterations. To do this, it is more important to have 10 pieces you worked on, took feedback, and improved than trying to create one ‘great’ piece of work.

Moreover, we are terrible judges of the quality of our work and we stop ourselves from putting our work out in public because we underrate it excessively.

How to stay consistent?

Making a public commitment serves a forcing function and will help us stick to our side gig consistently.

How to deal with failure?

  • Think of failure as a learning opportunity.
  • Operate slightly outside your comfort zone. You can never become a good guitarist by playing songs you already know.
  • Do not worry about your friends and family pulling you down. Straying from the norm has short term pain, but in the long term, you have fun and work on something by yourself.

How to never run out of ideas?

  • You want to create a system that will never run out of ideas. You want to be able to ‘Quick Capture’. Any time you have an idea, you want to be able to capture it.
  • Friction is a powerful deterrent, so you want to reduce it. An easy way could be to either use Notion or some note taking app or jot down ideas on a WhatsApp group where you are the only member.
  • As David Allen said, your brain is great for generating ideas, not for storing them.

The power of parallel processing

Working on a single project at a time is boring and stops you from broadening your thought. However, working on different projects which are at various stages of production keeps you occupied, gives you variety, and helps you generate ideas.

Refining your ideas with templates

Templates are frameworks or guidelines you want to use to make your life easier. It could be as easy as creating a checklist of things to do or as deep as knowing and doing all similar pieces the same way. For example, Ali bases his videos on this story template derived from what Joseph Campbell calls the hero’s journey:

  • Who is the character?
  • What do they want?
  • Why can’t they get what they want?
  • What are the stakes? What happens if they don’t get what they want?
  • Who or what helps them?
  • How do they get what they want?
  • How are they transformed by this experience?

While you do not have to be a slave to the template, using one will force you to think a certain way and you won’t have to start from scratch every single time.

The power of productive downtime

Over the course of a day, there are multiple chunks of time where you are not really working and could put to better use. For example, when you are between meetings, awaiting an e-mail from your boss or waiting for your geyser to heat up water, you could spend 10-20 minutes on your side projects.

The power of productive procrastination

When we procrastinate, it is often to delay doing X, which is our main job, but we end up wasting it scrolling Instagram, watching YouTube shorts or piling up goodies in our Amazon cart. However, having a fun side gig lets you use your procrastinated time on something fun and useful instead. Not having a side gig means we either try to not procrastinate, which is impossible, or losing valuable time.

Hope you enjoyed reading this. Looking forward to writing to you soon.

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