Doing More Than One Job

How to Juggle Multiple Roles at Work

How do you switch between roles?

© iStockphoto/anouchka

Have you ever considered accepting a second job? Or are you already doing more than one job? People take on extra roles for a variety of reasons. They might need to make more money.

Perhaps they want more fulfillment in their lives. Maybe they want to start a new business, or go back to school. They also might find themselves pushed into this lifestyle as companies strive for a more flexible workforce, or downsize to cut costs. 

There's little doubt that doing multiple jobs, or being in multiple roles, can be challenging. In this article, we'll explore the benefits and disadvantages of doing more than one job, and we'll discuss how to cope with the challenges.

Examples of Multiple Jobs

Managing two careers or roles doesn't have to mean working a day shift and a night shift – at least, not anymore. Here are a few scenarios:

Working part time

An accountant has two part-time accounting jobs with two small firms, neither of which has enough work to offer a full-time position.

Donating time

A marketing executive works four days a week for a large advertising firm, but works unpaid on Fridays for her favorite nonprofit to help with their fund-raising and marketing.

Wearing "two hats" in one place

A recent MBA graduate works for a medium-sized consulting firm. She spends half of her time as an internal HR manager, but the other half doing client work.

Gaining experience

An ambitious bank teller wants to earn a promotion within the next two years, but has no experience of managing people. He takes a Saturday job as manager of the coffee bar at his local sports center. He's able to get this job, because the center manager recognizes that taking charge of a couple of people serving coffee doesn't require years of experience, but it gives our bank teller a great opportunity to build his résumé.

This article is about people working two or more part-time jobs at separate times of day or of the week. We strongly disapprove of "daylighting", which is the practice of doing freelance work or working for another organization during the time you're being paid by your main employer. This is profoundly unethical, is potentially illegal, and is a breach of trust that could, quite legitimately, lead to dismissal.

Be careful not to slip into this, and be totally transparent, particularly if it’s part of your job to work from home.

Benefits and Disadvantages

In his 2001 book "The Elephant and the Flea," UK professor, speaker, and author Charles Handy calls doing multiple jobs "the portfolio life."

For Handy, managing several different roles is about seamlessly blending work and life together. A weekly schedule might be made up of a mix of activities, similar to someone's investment portfolio. Some activities would be for money, some for personal interest, and still others would be to give back to the community.

According to Handy, a portfolio lifestyle will become much more common in the future, as people seek a better work/life balance.

However, the realities of working multiple jobs can be complex. Let's look at the disadvantages first:

  • You need excellent time management skills, so that you do all jobs well.
  • Your performance in all of your roles could suffer if you end up working too many hours each week. You'll end up being too tired to give your best.
  • It may be difficult to get a day off from all roles at the same time.
  • Your employer may not permit you to have a second job, or to do freelance work in the same, or even an unrelated, field – particularly if you work at your main job full time.

So, what are the benefits of doing multiple jobs?

  • Firstly, and most obviously, you have the opportunity to increase your income.
  • If you have two separate jobs (like consulting, or multiple part-time jobs), then your income could be more secure than with just one job. If one company goes out of business, for example, you'll still have income from other work.
  • Working two jobs or managing two roles can be refreshing. You get to see new people, and cope with different responsibilities. This means that you'll be less likely to get bored, or overly irritated the little problems go along with everyday work in any workplace.
  • You might get to learn an entirely new set of skills, and you can extend your professional network – both of which could further your career at some point.
  • It's a great way of starting your own business. You can keep income coming in at the same time that you get your business up and running.
  • You might discover that your company loves the fact that you're in multiple roles. And they might be more than happy to offer a flexible schedule to help you accomplish your goals. Many companies do this – for instance, with Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

Making the Most of the Advantages

Doing two jobs can open up plenty of opportunities. And there are several ways to take advantage of them.

First, you might find that one of your roles will improve the other, either through skills learned, through networking, or just through a break from the routine. Managing multiple responsibilities like this can actually help you do both jobs better. So, keep your eyes open for this possibility.

Another advantage is that your clients in one role could easily become your clients in your other role. You might work in IT for a large company, and then get hired to do a related job in the other organization.

Coping With Challenges

How can you cope with the challenges that are sure to arise when you start working multiple jobs?

  • Try to choose a second job that really interests you. The more passionate you are about what you're doing, the easier your schedule will be.
  • If you're balancing multiple roles, it might be helpful to schedule your day in segments. This allows you to put 100% of your attention into each role for a specific amount of time. And scheduling your time this way can make you more productive.
  • Switching from one role or job to the next can be difficult, especially when the thought processes and tasks are very different. For instance, you may work in an engineering support role for part of the day and then have to dress up and meet with potential sales clients in the afternoon. These transitions can be easier if you take a break in between in a "neutral" zone, like a coffee shop, for half an hour.
  • Working two jobs means that you have less time than your peers to devote to each role. Therefore, staying competitive can be a real challenge. Analyze every hour of your day to see where you have free time to keep up with trends.

If you'd like more information on working multiple jobs, check out our Expert Interview One Person/Multiple Careers with Marci Alboher.

Tips for Working More Than One Job

  • Before you take a second job or begin freelancing during your spare time, make sure that it's within your contractual terms with your main employer, and that your boss is happy with it. It may not be allowed, even if it's volunteer work. Also, you'll need to be clear about intellectual property and confidentiality considerations before you start.
  • If you're thinking about getting another job in addition to the one you have, then consider setting up a "trial period" first. Consider working for free, or for a reduced rate, to get some experience – and see if you really like it, and if it fits your lifestyle.
  • Ensure that you still make time for yourself and your family, especially if you have to move physically between workplaces during the work day. You may end up having to leave for one office early and get back from the other office late in order to do the job. Doing this can easily lead to burnout  .
  • If you have two jobs in one organization, try to stick to a regular schedule. This will help you keep interruptions, phone calls, and meetings to times when you're "doing" the related role. And, if appropriate, set up separate signature files in your email account to indicate which "hat you're wearing" when you send each message.

Key Points

Doing two jobs can be incredibly challenging, but it can also open up many opportunities. It's important to have excellent time management skills, and be open with employers about what you're doing.

Techniques like carefully scheduling your day and taking a break during role transitions can help ease the stress of working multiple jobs. It's also really important to ensure that you have sufficient time for rest and family.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (8)
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Yvette

    I really enjoyed your posting and especially what you said about being strict with yourself and your clients. When I just started out on my own, I never declined to take a call from a client - whether it was after hours, weekends or public holidays. Of course, they became used to it that I was available almost 24 hours a day and some definitely took advantage of it. I've had to learn not to take business calls at certain times and in the process, I had to gently 're-train' my clients as well!! It's good if you can have that discipline right from the beginning to treasure your down time - even if you do have a new business that you're very keen to make a success of.

    Kind regards
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi YvetteR,
    You certainly have alot on the go between a permanent (which I'm assuming is full-time) job, a part-time job with your new self-employed venture and doing a Master's degree. Well, hat's off to you!

    It is indeed a 'state of mind' and you do indeed need to be disciplined with yourself. If you have the attitude of 'well, that's just what I have to do to achieve that end result' ... then you do it. Whereas if you approach it like a burden, than that it what it will be!

    I have always found that the more I have to do, the more I have to be organized and focused. Yet, when there seems to be 'too much on my plate' the balance tips and I struggle to focus. That's my signal to take a step back, take a breather by some time out and then refocus on what I need to do!

    Good luck and remember that we're here for support and encouragement!

  • yvetter wrote Over a month ago
    Excellent article. It can certainly be challenging to do more than one job (I'm currently in a permanent position but have also just become self-employed, in the hope that this takes off over the next couple of years, I'm also trying to finish a part-time Masters Degree!) I always set aside time for myself to unwind and use the weekends as effectively as possible - work on a Saturday and study on a Sunday. It's definitely a state of mind and a case of being strict with both yourself and your clients.

  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Bree

    When I took the leap I had a lot of doubt and fears, BUT I also had a contract with one company before I left my permanent employment. That contract carried me through the initial months and gave me time to gain more business and investigate different opportunities. I have to be honest - I would not have been able to take the leap without having had that one contract which guaranteed me an income for a period of a few months. I do have to admit that I was still scared out of my wits...but today I am glad that I was able to move on.

  • Bree wrote Over a month ago
    The thought of going doing more than one job certainly raises my fears and doubts about being able to do it, and being able to earn sufficient income. However, on the plus side, I definitely like the idea of the freedom and flexibility!

    Perhaps I should simply 'banish' those fears with my magic wand, focus on the positives and make it happen (as per Yolande's Thought about Doubts!).

    Any ideas how I could take that leap???

  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Hi all

    I also freelance for more than one company, do training in between and I also run my own consultancy between all of that. I seriously dislike routine and doing the same thing over and over again so it suits me to a tee. The downside is that I don't earn the same amount of money all the time - but at times that is a positive thing as well!! I like the variety of what I do; the freedom I have doesn't come with a price tag - not having to be anywhere specific at the same time each and every day of the week... ...that would kill me! However, as Midgie said when you have two or more deadlines at the same time - that is hectic - but it just takes better planning to cross that bridge.

    Kind regards
  • Fidget wrote Over a month ago
    I've been through phases in the past when I was working freelance on an ongoing basis for more than one client, which is like having more than one job, and one thing that helped me stay organised (which may have also helped me switch my identities) was to have a separate notebook (as in the paper thing) for each of my main clients, so I didn't have stuff from more than one all jumbled up together.

  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    This is a really great article which balances out the pros and cons of working for more than one employer. And worth the time to read it if you are considering it.

    For me, it adds variety to my day knowing that I have different 'job hats' to wear ... and the key for me is to have clear times where I dedicate my focus and attention on each job/role. It does help that I have flexibility with the roles I've undertaken so can move fluidly between them however I tend to stick to a regular routine for most of the time.

    However, there are downsides and challenges of having multiple job roles ... such as when deadlines/commitments come at the same time!

    This is somewhat similar to be a freelancer for writing or training or anything else whereby jobs come and go, and there might be a stead commitment with one employer. Juggling is not for everyone, yet it certainly has benefits.

    What are other people's experiences?

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