• Ryan Panzer

Writing as the ultimate side hustle

Last week, I was lucky enough to start an extended stretch of paid paternity leave, thanks to Zendesk's generous employee benefits. During this stretch, I hope to fit in some writing during my daughter's (infrequent) naptimes - because for me, writing is the ultimate side-hustle.


I've been intentionally focused on writing for the last four years, a span in which I started a blog about religion and politics, wrote a master's paper as part of a graduate school degree, started this website, and completed my first book (to be released September 1st!).


All of this has confirmed my assumption that there are very real psychological and even spiritual benefits to writing - but it's also shown me that writing can be a meaningful addition to just about any vocation.


These days, all organizations, and increasingly all vocations, are burdened with an excess of frenetic moments. While technologists once assumed that automation and artificial intelligence would afford more opportunities for leisure and reflection, we know now that the opposite has occurred. Never before has a culture spent so much time in the office, committed so many hours to workplace communications like email and Slack, and taken so little paid time off. In our vocations, we are busier than ever, so trapped in the pace of organizational growth that we have sparse time for the personal reflection that facilitates learning.


This addiction to freneticism (perhaps a dominant ideology of the 21st century) isn't confined to our hours on the clock. Increasingly, our life together is structured around 280 character communications, carefully-edited image feeds, and 24-hour news programs that define everything as "breaking news."


I once heard a speaker analogize the pace of life as a bustling party where all the attendees are crowded closely together on the floor. One's vantage point is restricted to the frantic movements of those around them in this great sea of bustling humanity.


But overlooking the party floor is an empty balcony with a limitless line of sight. By climbing on to the balcony, one could escape the noise and bustle and see the big picture. This speaker suggested that all learning in today's culture depends on our ability to cut our way through the clutter and the crowds in order to stand atop this balcony. Only by standing at this vista can we see fully see and appreciate the people, places, and systems at work in our culture. It is this vista that empowers one to grow, to lead, to transform.


The party floor of my life is especially crowded right now. Between work at a bustling tech company and parenting a lovely yet sleepless 3-month old, climbing up to that balcony has become more challenging - but also more important than ever.


That's why writing has become so meaningful to me. To reflect and to write is to access an express escalator to the proverbial balcony. When we write something meaningful (Tweets and emails don't count) with intention and focus, we transcend the barrage of push notifications, digital advertisements, and social media feeds. We create coherence out of chaos, insight out of sensory overload, signal out of noise.


Everytime I write, I picture myself at work in a side-hustle. A side-hustle is simply a vocation pursued in addition to one's full-time job. 43% of workers have some form of side-hustle, which are defined not by their consistency but their diversity. Some side-hustlers I know create freelance mobile apps, others install home security systems. Some roast artisan coffee, some provide personal training, others have ownership stakes in minor league sports teams. Some, but not all, side-hustles involve compensation, a nice bit of extra cash for that spring break road trip or March Madness bracket pool.


I might suggest that writing is the "ultimate side-hustle," in that it provides an opportunity to process, analyze, synthesize, and create - which is to say, it helps us to learn and to improve. And while it's true that amateur writing isn't lucrative, it does have one benefit that other side-hustles don't offer: it declutters.


Writing produces organization, it reduces the busyness of the mind. While other side-hustles might require additional time on email, additional hours dedicated to administrative minutiae, and additional energy lost to the same frantic chases that may characterize one's 9-5 job, writing doesn't require any of this. It's the only side-hustle that puts you atop the balcony, instead of blocking your path with more people and more noise.



With that in mind, here are a few tips for getting started with your writing "side-hustle":


  • Select a theme that you are relentlessly passionate about. As a talent development professional, I see the connection between career skill development and the writing process - which is why much of my writing focuses on leadership development, instructional design, church leadership, and coaching. But not everybody is a work nerd. Some want to be as far away from the office as possible after closing time. Whether you write beer reviews or book reviews, political commentary or sports analysis, write about something you love. It's only by doing this that you'll find yourself coming back to the writing process, time and time again.

  • Keep a backlog of topics. For me, the most difficult step of the writing process is deciding what to write about. I try to have 5-10 "backlogged" topics written on a list at any given time. That way, if I'm stuck with an hour to burn at an airport, or with 30 minutes to pass between meetings, I can access my list and start typing out ideas.

  • Carve out a consistent time. This is perhaps the most important. Writing, like exercise, mindfulness, and other healthy behaviors, is a habit, and habits are supported by scheduling. I use the last hour of Friday afternoons at the office. I find it's a cathartic way to end the week. With my Friday afternoon writing sessions, I can leave the office with some closure.

  • Use Evernote or Google Keep to jot down ideas as they arise. My phone is a repository of fragmentary writing ideas, of quotes I like, of stats I find compelling, of expressions and idioms that I want to build from. I think of my Google Keep account as a box of lego blocks. As I jot down ideas, I am adding new and colorful blocks to make the next project all the more fulfilling.

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@ryanpanzer

Leadership developer for digital culture. Writing a book with Fortress Press, coming in December 2020!

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