How to Play the Corporate Game and Launch a Business Simultaneously

How to Play the Corporate Game and Launch a Business Simultaneously

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Jennifer Blanchard from Inky Bites.

(WARNING: The blog post you’re about to read is borderline unethical. Sort of. It depends on your view of ethics when it comes to working a job that makes you feel dead inside. Reader discretion is advised.)

“Full-time” in the work world is defined as working 40 hours or more. Too bad most full-time jobs don’t actually take 40 hours to complete. This is especially true when you work in an office environment.

Think about how many times you’ve completed your work for the day, but had to sit in your cube twiddling your thumbs because you still had three required hours left in your work day.

There you sit, wasting away, when you could be doing something productive to move along your side business so that eventually you can quit this unfulfilling job and finally do something that matters.

But it would be wrong to work on side business stuff when you’re at your day job, wouldn’t it?

That’s up to you to decide.

Why You Should Consider Working on Your Passion Business While at Your Day Job

When you work in an office environment, how well you do your job is based largely on “presenteeism,” or what’s also known as coming in early, staying late, always being at your desk, always looking busy.

And the most annoying part is that you’re required to work 8-5, which eats up all of your best hours for the day. When you get home at 6 p.m. after a long commute and a stressful day at the office, you’re not exactly in the mood to put in effort on your business, are you?

Problem is, if you don’t, you’ll never get out of that shitty day job and finally do something meaningful with your career. So you force yourself to work on your business here and there throughout the week.

But it bums you out that you write better in the morning and yet you’re forcing yourself to do it at 10 p.m. It bums you out even more that you’re still working a job that makes you feel empty. Sure, you could find another job, but eventually you’d feel the same way again.

It’s time for you to escape from the workforce to do the work you love. But it takes a lot more than a desire to get paid to be you to actually launch a business and quit your day job. It takes guts. It takes the willingness to risk everything.

It takes creativity with your time.

Planning An Escape Route

Once I’d had enough with working a job that didn’t fulfill me, I tuned it out. I became a “corporate robot”; I came in, did the job I was paid to do, sat there for 8 hours and went home.

Then, when I got home at night I’d spend two to three hours working on my side business, blogging, building connections, writing, planning and dreaming. But it just wasn’t enough.

So one morning I’m sitting in my cube, finishing up my work for the week, when I realize it’s only Wednesday and I still have two more days of work. An idea hits me.

Why not take this extra time and, rather than wasting it on Facebook or reading celebrity gossip, instead work on my business? If I did this every time I completed my work for the week, I could move up my “quit my day job” timeline by a couple years.

And I mean, it’s not like I was doing a bad job or anything. I was legitimately doing all that I was asked to do and being successful at it. So I figured the leftover time was mine.

I launched my first blog in the comfort of my living room, but I grew it from zero visits a month to more than 5,000 visits a month in one year by writing and publishing three blog posts a week while I was at my day job.

This proves two points:

  1. Work isn’t about 40 hours a week/8 hours a day, it’s about the results you produce. I was legitimately doing an awesome job at my day job and also successfully running a growing side business.
  2. Creativity will get you everywhere. Being creative with my time allowed me to be successful at both my day job and my side business.

Thanks to some clever (albeit semi-unethical) time creativity, I finally quit my day job and am now working for myself. (Oh, and Trailblazer had a lot to do with it, too.)

If you’re like I was and are still stuck in a day job that doesn’t fulfill you, here are some tips to help you use your time better, as well as some tips for how to work on your business while you’re at the office.

The faster you can build your side business up, the faster it can become your full-time business.

And the faster you can quit your day job.

The Game Plan

The corporate world is a game of perception. Look busy. Come in early, stay late. Dress appropriately.

As long as you work your “required” 40 hours a week, you’re good. Some people will spend their lives doing this, but not you. You want to escape.

Here’s how you can use this perception to your advantage to work on your side business while you also work your day job. You just need to take the following steps:

1. Figure out how much time you need to get your work done and still do a good job.

Like I said above, work should be about the results you produce and not about face time at the office. But since that’s not the case in most workplaces, you have to get creative with your time.

First off, figure out how much time you actually need in a week to do your job well. Use a timer to see how long it takes you to get all your work done.

Once you’ve done this for a few weeks, you’ll know exactly how many hours you need to complete work for your day job, and how many hours you have to spare. (These are the hours you would usually use surfing the web or playing around on your iPhone.)

2. Decide which days of the week will be designated “day job” days and which days you’ll use to work on your business.

Or, you can do what I did and split your work days. For me, mornings were always dedicated to side business-related tasks and activities, and afternoons were for doing the work I was being paid to sit there and do.

If, for example, your time experiment from step one finds you with five hours of available time, you can split it out and do one hour of work on your business each day. You can also save them up and do all five hours on, say, Friday afternoon when the bosses have snuck out for the weekend, but everyone else has to be there ‘til 5 p.m.

3. Use the super-secret work tips in the section below to figure out the best way to accomplish the work you need to do for your business.

If you want to make this work, you will have to balance playing the game with sneaking in some time for your business. These tips below will help you do that.

13 Super-Secret Work Tips

The following tips will give you some ideas on how to work on your business while appearing to be doing your day job work (because remember, perception is what matters).

I will preface this by saying some of these tips could possibly get you fired or at least reprimanded if you get caught. It’s up to you to draw the line and decide which of these tips you can handle while maintaining your workload.

Tip #1: Always have something work-related open on your desktop at all times.

This makes it easy to pull up your work documents when you have to appear to be working.

Tip #2: Always look like you’re working.

Even if you’re working on a blog post for your new blog, you want to seem like you’re working hard at your day job. If you need a break, don’t take it at your desk. Get up and walk away.

Tip #3: Do any writing for your side-business within your day job work documents.

This way if your boss comes by your desk, it legitimately looks like you are doing the work you’re supposed to be doing. This was my process:

  • Open a day job document (for example, copy I was writing for the new company website)
  • Click my cursor somewhere in the middle of a paragraph of web copy
  • Start writing what I needed to write for my side business (blog posts, email newsletters, copy, whatever)

When I was finished, I’d copy/cut the text out and paste it into another Word doc. Then I’d save it on my Dropbox or I’d email it to myself.

Tip #4: Try not to close your web browser window or documents when you see your boss coming over.

Closing down screens when your boss comes by will make it look like you’re doing something you shouldn’t be.

If anything, just open something else up from your minimized bar with actual work on it. That way it just looks like you’re working between two documents versus trying to hide something.

Tip #5: Keep all your day job work spread out on the desk around you.

This will ensure you always have something to grab for and pretend to be doing when someone stops by your cube to talk, ask you a dumb question or just waste your time in general.

Tip #6: Play the game well in meetings.

When you’re in work meetings, be sure to offer up ideas and suggestions, and be engaged in what’s being discussed so it looks like you really care.

Part of succeeding at this game is to always be professional and always look like you really care about your job.

Tip #7: Use your lunch breaks.

Pack your food and use your lunch break to work on your business. It’s a great time because no one will be paying attention to what you’re doing, since they’re on lunch too.

And if someone does say something to you, you just point out that you’re on your lunch break.

Tip #8: Know your boss’s schedule.

Keep track of when your boss(es) will be out of the office/out of town on business or pleasure. These are the best times to step up work on your business because no one will be around to watch over your shoulder.

Tip #9: Use a half-screen browser window for side business stuff.

Always use two browser windows: keep one window day job work-related and the other one side-business related. But keep the side business window half the size of the other so you can center it in front of you on your desktop screen so no one behind you can see it.

Tip #10: Get a small rear-view mirror and install it on your monitor.

If anyone asks, tell them you get startled easily so you like to see when someone is coming up behind you. You can find little sticky-back mirrors at any auto parts store.

Tip #11: Shift your work hours.

If you can, work a schedule that allows you to be at the office early, when no one is there yet. This gives you optimal business work time. Best of all, no one will be around to bother you and everyone will think you’re a hard worker because you come in early.

If you can’t shift your work hours, you can always work overtime (if you’re a salaried employee). Come in early or stay late and use that time to work on your business.

Tip #12: Dress to impress.

Stick to the company dress code. Follow it perfectly. Never give yourself a reason to stand out in a negative way.

Tip #13: Conference rooms are your friend.

Whenever you can, slip away to a conference room to get your work done. This makes it easier to work on business-related stuff without anyone seeing you. If anyone asks, you can say you get too distracted to work because of the noise around your cubicle.

One Final Rule

My number one rule for playing the corporate game and launching a business is always this:

Do what’s expected of you, plus a tad more, and you’re good.

Q: What tips do you have for working on your business while at your day job?

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Special note from Jonathan: Jennifer Blanchard is one of our star members in Trailblazer. You can find her at InkyBites, where she helps creative entrepreneurs nourish the core source of their creativity—themselves—so they can become unstoppable creative beings. I highly suggest that you go here right now and subscribe to her blog. You won’t regret it.

photo courtesy of Sam W.

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Linda Esposito September 20, 2012 at 10:12 am

Controversial topic, yes, but the message was respectfully anti-corporate.

I’m still laughing at #10–that is so cute. I thought I’d heard of every trick in the get-me-outta-the9-5-grind, but the rear view mirror takes the corporate cake.

I have two tips to add:

1. Rock the social skills, and remember trivial details about your co-workers and boss’ lives. People eat that up, and
2. Bring pastries or other comfort food.

Not that I speak from experience, or anything :).

Congrats on leaving your shitty day job, Jennifer.

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jennifer blanchard September 21, 2012 at 5:57 am

Linda–everyone I used to work with always loved that I had a rearview mirror! I got the idea from this old guy I once worked with who said he used it to make sure the boss wasn’t coming. But I just told people I got startled easily :-)

Bruno Coelho September 20, 2012 at 10:54 am

This was EXACTLY what I was looking for NOW!

I’m also on a job escape plan trying to achieve 3 things at the same time: 1) do a good job at my day-job; 2) Finish my Master Thesis in Management (this year); 3) Launch The Rabbit Way.

All this while making time to be with those I love (my wife and the rest of the family)…

Lately, things are getting tougher. There are no down times on the projects that I’m involved with so… it’s getting harder and harder to do what Harvey Mackay’s best seller book described as “swim with the sharks without being eaten alive”.

I’ve always been walking at least two paths since I was finishing my Degree on Computer Engineering. I started working while I was studying. When I finished that degree, a couple of years later I entered the Master Degree in Management.

Along the way I lost some “lives” (like on a game) and I’m making sure I don’t lose my last one… According to my plan (and Trailblazer): I’m only expecting to start earning money with my business, next year (first half of the year)… so I have to hold on a little longer.

Any advice on how to recover from some tough projects and keep blazing the path to getting paid to be who I am, is greatly appreciated!

Thank you!
Bruno Coelho

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jennifer blanchard September 21, 2012 at 5:59 am

My advice on recovering from tough projects and continuing to blaze your trail is this–take a break. A serious break. Maybe for a few days, maybe for a week. Take as long of a break as you need to recoup and be back to your full potential again. BUT don’t take your focus off what’s really important, blazing your trail.

Vince June 24, 2014 at 5:31 am

Definitely agree. The key I’ll add is to not beat yourself up over it. A couple day break from your side gig to let the system refresh is sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself. Thanks for the article I feel like there are soooo many of us in this position. Well timed and thorough.

Amanda September 20, 2012 at 11:56 am

Hah! This is exactly how I got through my days at my software job — find other things (like writing my novel) to keep me interested, since my “Real Work” only took me a fraction of the day to complete. Unethical? Ah well. Maybe my former work environment should have adopted a more ROWE approach.

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jennifer blanchard September 21, 2012 at 5:59 am

Go ROWE!! It’s nice to see there are other people who know what that is and support it.

Mike Sherry August 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm

I did a whole consulting project for a new SaaS company, and they ATE the whole ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) thing right outta my hand!

Seems like a no-brainer, for high-performing, self-driven people.

TJ September 20, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Manipulative – but great post Jonathan!

I am currently in the process of searching for jobs. I want to continue working on developing my blog, so I am now considering taking an office job, haha. I worked an office job in the past and always had plenty of time for surfing the web so I know exactly what you are talking about. Hell, I even had a software program installed that would flip my monitor screen by hitting a combination of buttons!

I am glad this method worked for you and look forward to reading more devious post on your site.

P.S. – How do you guys get the courage to invest $500 in the Trailblazer program, without knowing where it will lead? It seems good, but that’s a huge investment for me.

Best,
TJ
How-toBeHappy.com

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jennifer blanchard September 21, 2012 at 6:01 am

I got the courage to invest in Trailblazer because I’ve followed Jonathan and his blog for so long that I’d seen enough to know I was doing the right thing with my money. Plus for the payment plan price and all the amazing bonuses and his money back plus $100 guarantee I really didn’t see how I’d be going wrong. It was worth my $500 investment and more! Trailblazer has changed my life and my business.

Scott Stephens April 15, 2013 at 4:59 pm

I second Jennifer’s comments about Trailblazer. I LOVE IT! The payment plan helps a lot, and I totally connect with Jonathan’s personality and method. It’s an amazing community of people.

Dusti September 20, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Ethical smethical. Seriously. They probably aren’t paying you enough to sit there anyway. This is like guaranteeing yourself a raise you should already have received.

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jennifer blanchard September 21, 2012 at 6:01 am

My thoughts exactly ;-)

Liz Seda September 20, 2012 at 2:58 pm

I don’t think this is unethical at all.

There are times that you just have to sit there and do nothing, and the fact that this is preferable than you don’t work on something else is completely ridiculous.
Work should be based on results, so as long as you’re getting results, it really shouldn’t matter what you’re doing.
If you were working for a principle based company rather than a rule based company, you wouldn’t have had to do this in the first place.
So, as long as you’re delivering on what you promised to do, it’s not unethical.

Also, I did this as well, and here are other things that worked for me:
1.) You can also write up blog posts or brainstorm in your work email. That way it looks like you’re writing an email instead of a blog post.
2.) Don’t do all of your work at once. Deliver it over a period of time. Don’t overdo it. Don’t do much more than what’s expected of you. Do just enough so that you don’t get fired and you don’t draw attention to yourself.
3.) Schedule meetings with yourself. It blocks off your calendar and serves as a guarantee you can get your stuff done.

Liz

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jennifer blanchard September 21, 2012 at 6:02 am

Thanks for your additional tips, Liz! Those are great additions to the article and definitely worthwhile ways to play the corporate game and launch your biz.

Kim Thirion September 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm

I wouldn’t say this is unethical – a bit sneaky perhaps, but not unethical. In my opinion, as long as the work that you’re being paid to do is being done, then go for it. Of course, at all of my previous jobs, this wouldn’t have been possible due to the type of job I was doing, but then it wasn’t exactly corporate.

On a side note, I follow Jennifer’s blog and I love it. Definitely worth the subscription!

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jennifer blanchard September 21, 2012 at 6:03 am

Thanks Kim! I appreciate the comment and the recommendation!

articles September 20, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Just a smiling visitant here to share the love (:, btw outstanding design .

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James September 20, 2012 at 7:14 pm

#10 had me cracking up.

I definitely think the 40 hour a week concept is flawed. The story would be different if people were paid for their performance instead of by how many hours they stay at their desk. I can see this as being unethical as far as you’re breaking the fundamental agreement you had with your employer if they were paying you for your time and not just on the amount of work you were completing.

You could also look at this from the other point of view though. Let’s say your passion turns into a successful business and you end up employing someone that you pay an hourly rate to help out. Even if they’re finishing all their work, how would you feel about them spending a portion of the time you’re paying for going towards something not related to your company?

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jennifer blanchard September 21, 2012 at 6:05 am

You make a good point, but if I hired an employee I would NEVER pay them for their time. NEVER! Paying someone for their time is stupid. I would only pay them for RESULTS. If it takes them 2 hours to get results, awesome. If it takes them longer, that’s fine too. The hours part doesn’t matter to me, what matters is the quality of work.

Robert Wall September 20, 2012 at 8:20 pm

I guess I get to be the unpopular person here.

If you’re carving out time to work on a side biz at work, and you have to worry about being fired because you’re not doing work pertaining to your job, then you’re not “doing all the work you’re being paid to do” – you’re “doing all the work you’ve currently been assigned”.

Try reversing the roles.

You’ve started your own business, and you have an employee who designs marketing materials for you. You tell that employee that you’d like them to design a ten-page color brochure, a letterhead, a business card, and a promo banner to hang out your window, and that you need it done by Friday. You expect it to be a bit of a challenge to get done in a week, so you leave your door open but you don’t check in with them until Friday at the end of the day.

At the end of Friday, you discover that they finished the project mid-day Thursday and they’ve been working on a dot-com startup, on your dime, for a day and a half.

What would *you* do?

I suspect “pat them on the back because they did everything they were being paid to do” wouldn’t be high on the list.

Had you known Thursday that they were done, you would’ve sent them home early, given them more work, or something along those lines…..right?

Thinking about it honestly, at $10 an hour, 10 hours a week, that’s over $6000/year (by the time you count salary, fees paid by the employer like unemployment insurance, workers’ comp, etc.) that you’d be paying them to work on their own business.

Realistically, would you pay an employee $6,000 per year to do work unrelated to their job? What if it was $20/hour, or $12,000/year? Is there an amount that you’d be comfortable giving up so your employees can start their own biz on the job?

If your answer is “no”, then it’s not ethical.

I see a lot of “should”s in the comments above, pertaining to work. If what you’re meaning to say is “this company treats me like crap, so I don’t mind if I’m screwing them over to the tune of 10 hours per week” then just say that. I don’t think anybody here will judge you for it.

But unless you’re an independent contractor with a project-based billing system, or you have a separate agreement in place that ties pay to per-project goals, you’re not being paid for the work output you produce – you’re being paid to work the number of hours that you’ve agreed to.

I suspect many of you will disagree with my assessment. Have at it. :)

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Jamie Alexander September 20, 2012 at 11:20 pm

I agree, it’s completely unethical and to say any different is crazy.

“If what you’re meaning to say is “this company treats me like crap, so I don’t mind if I’m screwing them over to the tune of 10 hours per week” then just say that.”

This is true, and I also wouldn’t judge you. I used to spend half my time in the air force playing on the Internet, but at least I admitted ole Lizzie was paying me to surf Google.

jennifer blanchard September 21, 2012 at 6:08 am

I see the points both of you are making and I agree, to a certain extent. First off, paying people for their time is stupid and a really outdated way of doing things. Second off, I would NEVER hire an employee and pay them for their time. Once again, that’s stupid. It’s stupid because it takes some people more time to complete tasks while others it takes less time. So paying them for time isn’t actually a true measurement of the work they’re doing. I would only pay an employee based on RESULTS. The results are what matter to me, not how much time they spent on it.

And @Robert I actually was doing an awesome job and doing everything my bosses asked me to do. I never turned anything in late and I never half-assed anything I was working on. I got the performance reviews to prove it :-)

jennifer blanchard September 21, 2012 at 6:14 am

And to be fair I WAS being treated poorly at these jobs, BUT that’s not the reason I did what I did. I could’ve left and found another job… but working a “job” isn’t for me. I discovered that and used time creativity to help me build what I’ve created in the world. Don’t get me wrong here–I’ve done most of the work on my business at home, in my own time. But when something came up that required me to work on it during my “day job hours” I wasn’t opposed to it.

Jamie Alexander September 21, 2012 at 8:23 am

Like I said, I would never judge anyone for doing that. I might do it myself. I just think it’s unethical, but I’m not one for corporations taking advantage of people so I don’t care.

And hiring someone for their time is perfectly acceptable and some things you couldn’t hire for anything else.

I think the big reason this post is a bad idea is because it might get someone fired then they’d be on hot water. It’s probably something that should have stayed to yourself. But it was definitely a fun post and if A-list bloggers can encourage people to break the law, you can encourage people to build a business in work time lol

Robert Wall September 21, 2012 at 8:42 am

Jennifer, I can agree with the idea that paying by the hour is silly for many things, although I’m not sure at this point that there’s a functional, legal way to pay an employee solely based on results (other than in an area such as sales, and even that gets dicey).

Even if you could do this though, there are a lot of things to consider.

Consider freelance work, which is effectively what you’re talking about when you’re talking about paying for results – no matter whether the person is an employee or not.

What happens when the business changes? When a project gets dropped? When a project is specced out poorly? When the worker believes the project to be done (and it *is* done, by any arguable standard), but the boss runs them through 25 rounds of minor revisions, and then decides the project needs a complete redesign?

These things are all huge problems for freelancers, even with contracts in place. I would imagine they’d be even worse for employees. After all, if your perception is that you’re being screwed over by your current employer because they’re not paying you enough, is it likely that the non-equitable nature of the situation would change just because they’re paying by results instead of by the hour? I’d think it would get worse, not better.

The hourly system smooths over those issues in the standard workplace by creating a system where people get paid an hourly wage that’s less than their peak performance might merit, in exchange for the company taking a good deal of the risk off their shoulders.

It might be not be the most efficient way to pay people (it’s definitely not), but it does remove a lot of the uncertainty for both sides. It lets both sides negotiate terms over known quantities (salary, benefits, sick days, hours per week, job duties, etc.).

That’s what you buy into when you accept a job with a company, and it’s that the benefits of that risk transfer that you’re reaping while you figure out how to establish your freelance business.

The only real question left is whether you’re going to live up to your end of the bargain.

If you have to keep multiple documents open to hide your work quickly, put mirrors on your monitor, lie routinely, pretend to be working, and track your boss’s schedule to minimize the likelihood you won’t get caught, I find it very hard to categorize that as “doing everything my bosses asked me to do” – simply because if they knew you’d completed your work, they’d have come up with some other things for you to do.

What you’re talking about is basically running a “long con”. The work you actually did might’ve been awesome, and you might’ve gotten good performance reviews. That means you successfully pulled the wool over your bosses’ eyes. That’s probably at least a little difficult, so kudos to you.

It doesn’t, however, make the activity ethical.

Again, I understand the thought process of the people who say “nope, I got a raw deal, I’m going to milk it for all its worth”. But at least call it what it is.

Leo Tabibzadegan September 20, 2012 at 8:36 pm

LOL Bang on!

I created 1000lifelessons.com while taking phone calls all day in a Call Centre (i’d get roughly 30 seconds to a minute spare time between calls).

It was the best decision of my life :)

Be the best at your job, and do your best work. Then create something beautiful simultaneously.

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jennifer blanchard September 21, 2012 at 6:11 am

“Be the best at your job, and do your best work. Then create something beautiful simultaneously.”

What a great statement Leo! I totally agree!! As I’ve already mentioned in the comments above, I don’t believe in paying people for their time, only for the results they produce. If they are doing everything I’ve asked of them, I don’t really give a shit what else they’re working on. I’m not interested in what they do with their time. I’m interested in the results they are producing.

Mike Tubbs September 21, 2012 at 9:36 am

Considering a company would drop you at a moments notice to make an extra buck….

You are paid to get work DONE. If your work is done then you have kept your end of the bargain.

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Robert Wall September 21, 2012 at 11:58 am

I find it fascinating how pervasive this thinking is. Unless you’re a salaried employee, you’re paid for hours worked – nothing else. Literally, NOTHING else.

Your pay stub shows your hours worked, and gives you pay for those hours. If you miss a day (without having paid sick leave), your hours go down and you lose money – regardless of whether or not your weekly work gets done. If you stay overtime, your hours go up and you make more money – regardless of whether the reason for the overtime is that you were too slow during the week.

Unless you have an agreement with your employer that you can do whatever you want during “down time” (some night security jobs, night shifts at care facilities, etc.), not working during work hours means you’re billing the company for hours that you’re not spending working.

How is this not unethical?

jennifer blanchard September 21, 2012 at 4:19 pm

@Robert Just to make it clear–I was a salaried employee at every job I did this at. So technically I wasn’t being paid “by the hour.”

Mac September 21, 2012 at 11:07 am

Here’s another tip:

Got some job-specific jargon? Use it. A lot.
I recently got a new job–switched from a marketing company to a marketing department in a company (huge difference!)–and I have very little to do at the moment. I finished my second novel this week, while also sounding super impressive to the higher ups. How’d I do it? Keyword density! Anchor text! Tail terms! Natural search results! Hash tags and @replies! Those words were used all the time at my last job, but no one has any idea what most of them mean here. That’s good news for me!

Also, print stuff out. No one printed things at my last company, but they love it at my new job (it’s more corporatey I guess). Do some keyword research with Google’s SEO tool and print out some of those handy graphs. Graphs look like hard work.

I don’t hate my day job–I’m still writing, so that’s cool. I just hate sitting around when I have nothing to do. Right now, getting a salary and getting freelance money helps me tackle those pesky student loans faster.

Thanks for the tips!

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Daniel Aipa September 21, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Thank you for sharing your experience Jennifer. I believe you must do what is necessary in order to do something you feel is essential. I actually use a few of your ideas, I enjoy what I do but writing is a missing piece of the puzzle. I wake up earlier in the mornings to get writing on my blog, during lunch, and sometimes when I get home.

I do work on my blog at times during work hours, but I give myself a time limit. I do work related assignments and when I feel my focus start to wander, I write. Sometimes I’d just write on a legal pad for several minutes.

Mahalo for sharing. Aloha.
Danny

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jennifer blanchard September 24, 2012 at 8:47 am

Thanks for your comment Danny! I appreciate it. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one :-)

Ryan James September 21, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Very excellent post.

This has been my life for the past 4 months! I have a running joke with my wife that my day job is interfering with my life’s work. I keep the 2 worlds very separate with a personal laptop and a device to switch the monitor/keyboard between the “work” PC and my personal laptop. This has a number of benefits, but the largest is that I am not on the “work” network. NEVER assume any degree of privacy when you are logged into a network – random email reviews may trigger some type of scrutinization of your usage, and then the situation could blow up.

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jennifer blanchard September 24, 2012 at 8:48 am

“I have a running joke with my wife that my day job is interfering with my life’s work.”

hahaha! When I was still working a day job, I used to refer to it as my “side job” and my business was my actual job. That mindset shift alone was a huge help to me. Plus I loved the idea of calling a job I hated my “side job” even thou it was my full-time income at the time.

David Hamilton | Everlution September 21, 2012 at 9:46 pm

This post is straight-up badass. It’s funny how from an American point of view this could be considered unethical. But from other cultures it would be vastly different.

We all have done this to some degree or another. It’s “ethical” to screw around, but considered often “unethical” to be actively working on a business. The latter is actually more productive and you’re contributing to the world more.

I used to work at a hedge fund when I started my first blogs, and it was always an unspoken social agreement that everyone had screw around time, or building business on the side time. Someone above mentioned social skills (trust, charm, etc) above – this is critical. You can build relationships, cover for each other and get away with so much…as long as the overall work product of the team doesn’t suffer, be there for them, and they’ll be there for you…and you can do what you want.

That was my experience of it.

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jennifer blanchard September 24, 2012 at 8:49 am

“We all have done this to some degree or another. It’s “ethical” to screw around, but considered often “unethical” to be actively working on a business. The latter is actually more productive and you’re contributing to the world more.”

EXACTLY!! It’s considered “ethical” to hang out and chat with your coworkers for two hours or to waste time around the water cooler, but doing what I did is “unethical”… funny how that works!

Eddy September 22, 2012 at 6:00 am

Disagree with this post, although do respect Jonathan work. I havent read all the comments. All I want to say is, whilst I too want to leave my corporate job in the long term to start a business, the assumptions Jonathan makes here are not applicable to all office workers.

I never sit there twiddling my thumbs, yes there are expected hours, and the results based performance he mentioned are the most important, but to do my job your mind is always engaged in the technicalities of project management.. I work on live projects in high profile city clients. I am engaged with other people all the time to get my work done, there is no time I can hide away infront of my desktop and do my own thing. There is always something else to fill capacity, everyone knows what I am working on, especially those in my team. My employer is always looking to challenge me (good and bad?), and naturally being a productive person, I would never waste hours of facebook if I had free time as suggested.

Further more, a bigger point which Jonathan overlooks is the fact most decent offices these days can observe employees desktops or restrict their actions very easily via remote network connection. Emails and browse history which you may be using for your business is recorded and cannot be erased by the employee.

Im not following this if anyone wants to debate with me Id love to talk via email :)

Joanathan I look forward to a solution which suits my situation.

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jennifer blanchard September 24, 2012 at 8:51 am

Hi Eddy,

Just to be clear–Jonathan did not write this post and this isn’t something he’s done. This was a guest post by someone else (me). While I see your point, I did mention in my article that people could get fired by doing some of the stuff I mentioned. It’s really up to each individual to decide what is right for him/her.

Paige | simple mindfulness September 22, 2012 at 9:59 am

I’ve never quite understood the whole idea of having to sit with nothing to do. It’s totally demoralizing. I’ve seen this whole thing from both the employee and employer perspective and I still come to the same conclusion. As an employer, I want my employees to be happy and do their best work. I don’t care where, how or when they get their job done, as long as it’s delivered on time and done well.

I used many of the tips above extensively at one position. As for the rear-view mirror – I told everyone that it was bad feng shui to have my back facing the door (I had an office). At this job I told my boss that the job only took a fraction of my time. His suggested use of my “spare time” was to walk around and chat with people about anything. I’ve certainly heard of “management by walking around” but this wasn’t his point. We both knew that I was overqualified for the job. He knew that I worked on my own business on the side and it irked him but he had nothing else to give me. The overall work environment was so demoralizing that I had no drive to find additional work. While I loved having all the extra time to work on my own business, I truly desire a better, more fulfilling job while I grow my business enough to live off of.

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jennifer blanchard September 24, 2012 at 8:52 am

” As an employer, I want my employees to be happy and do their best work. I don’t care where, how or when they get their job done, as long as it’s delivered on time and done well.”

Sounds like you’re a Results-Only Work Environment person, nice!!

Bill | Leadership Heart Coaching September 23, 2012 at 7:08 am

I’m in a unique situation with my job as I work from home as a technical support manager. Although I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder, I also don’t have a lot of free time in the day. There are times I’m working well over eight hours in a day or needing to be available on a weekend.

It’s definitely soul-sucking my energy and I’m taking the necessary steps to exit stage left as soon as possible. That is why I have no qualms about getting some work on my side business whenever I can during the day.

It’s a struggle because there are evenings where I’m too run down to work on my business after hours. However, I do have an exit strategy and I make sure each of my actions I elect to take honor that plan.

Totally enjoyed the post and you have a new subscriber :-)

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Alejandro Reyes September 23, 2012 at 8:11 am

Ok, I won’t lie, on this one. I did most of this, I think the only one I didn’t do was the rear-view mirror. On the other side I did work at a bank, so the mirror would really have gone far beyond the line.

Anyway, on my particular case it was non-negotiable. besides we weren’t able to reach facebook or any social network so the best thing I found I could do without really getting anyone crazy was to study like crazy.

As a web developer, it was not uncommon to need a reference ebook or something like that, so if they caught me reading that stuff it was ok. Also, another thing I did, was listening to audio courses instead of music. People by default think you are insanely busy if you are listening to music in front of your computer, so it was a great way to slip by.

Also, be early at the office, that’s one of the most powerful, and if you need it, from time to time also stay late preferably working WITH your boss, this helps a lot because he will know you are not only an awesome employee, but you really care. Don’t try to fake that one, really care about the business of your employer otherwise they will find out about your side gig and be angry at you in no time. Instead if you really are there for them and find about your gig, most will say it’s cool, just don’t over do it.

Yes, this post may sound borderline unethical, then again if you are doing your work above and beyond expectations, you aren’t failing to the company that hired you, you are just using your time to stay productive.

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Ron Tester September 23, 2012 at 8:34 am

I will say, as someone who has owned a business for more than 10 years and works with about 50 employees, that as a small business we cannot afford to have anyone riding the clock. Perhaps in a bigger company you can get away with this, but if you work in a small business I would encourage you to consider your fellow employees and the way that your side projects might be affecting their future. Over the years I have had to move some folks from full time to part time, shift work responsibilities, delay/defer bonuses that I never promised but would have liked to have given, all because of productivity gaps. I have also let people go who didn’t demonstrate a commitment to doing all they can for the well-being of the company and their coworkers. My company may be the exception to the rule, but I would still urge your readers to consider the short and long term effects of their actions on the business, not as a vehicle to make the owner(s) rich, but as a vehicle for their fellow-employees’ security and financial well-being. Does the owner share in that responsibility? Absolutely, but if you are working in the business then you have a responsibility, too. For many who work in small businesses, your colleagues’ ability or inability to go on vacation, buy a house, send their kids to college or retire comfortably is indirectly a result of the decisions that you make.

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Naomi Niles September 23, 2012 at 10:43 am

I guess I’m going to be one of the dissenters here as well. I’ve had some really crappy jobs. I started working part-time at the age of 13 and went through about 10 jobs before self-employment at the age of 20. I never considered using my time at work as my own time.

I don’t judge others for it and it seems like the thinking that it’s ok is fairly prevalent. I also agree that in a lot of cases, the employers are playing unfair themselves and probably deserve it.

But, there are so many ways to be useful even after what you’ve been told to do is done.

Like the following:
-Ask the boss for something else to work on.
-As a fellow colleague if they need help with something they’re working on.
-Be creative and find something that could be made better. If a way of doing things is broken, propose a new solution. The idea might not be adopted, but what if it is?
-Negotiate your job description.
-Quit and find another job if you hate your job that much.
-etc.

There’s always something to do if you actively look for it.

And by doing this, you might even discover new things about yourself. For example, I learned that I had a knack for design when I offered to help a colleague prepare window displays for a major department store. If it wasn’t for that, I might not be doing what I am today, who knows? Heck, if I ever leave the digital world, I might do that instead.

Again, this isn’t for the employer. This is for YOU. It is satisfying to go home at the end of the day knowing you did the best with your time at your job and now you are free to offer your best to your side-business. It builds your self-esteem and guides you toward excellence.

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Misty September 23, 2012 at 12:15 pm

According to her comments, Jessica was getting paid on salary, so I don’t see anything wrong with what she did. I also don’t see anything ethically wrong with doing it if you’re getting paid hourly, but only in the right circumstances. Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that you work an 8-hour day and get paid $120-160, but you make your company a profit of $500 for that day (that’s probably being conservative for some jobs). Now, let’s say you manage to do that by only actively working on projects for 6 of those hours, and work on personal projects for the other two. Is that wrong? Well, you’re still making your company a tidy profit, so I don’t see how that could be considered ethically wrong, and your performance reviews will continue to be good. However, businesses are always looking for ways to improve profits, so if they /find out/ that you are capable of doing that same amount of work in 6 hours, they will only want to pay you for those 6 hours, so it’s in your best interest to not let your boss know that it only took you 6 hours.

Personally, when I worked an office job, I just tried to regularly come up with productivity boosters that benefited the company as a whole far beyond what they were paying me. (In the form of macros or other shortcuts that would cut a project completion time by hours or even days.) What I found was that once I had a reputation for this (and for finishing projects faster and more accurately in comparison to my co-workers), no one really questioned if I was working on something that seemed unrelated to work, since they knew that eventually something good for them would come out of it. :) As a bonus, these same productivity boosters helped me get my projects done faster and more accurately, and thus made it easier to carve personal time out of my work day without harming my employer.

When it comes to ethics, I think the important thing to determine is whether you’re an asset to your company or a liability, regardless of whether you work on personal projects “on the clock.” Your company is going to try to squeeze as much productivity out of you as they can, because that’s what businesses do, regardless of how valuable you are to them. They will drain you dry if you let them, even when they genuinely like you. However, if they think they’re getting maximum productivity, and you are making them a respectable profit, why is there anything ethically wrong with carving something for yourself out of your work day? If your boss is happy with your work, then I say go for it, but always take care to ensure that you are worth more to your employer than they pay you.

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Tal Gur September 23, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I personally would prefer to be honest with my employer. The goal would be to shift his or her thinking around employee effectiveness from time-based to results-based. Something which is not always easy…
P.S I love the design Jonathan. Great job! :)

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Crystal September 23, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Ethics are a highly personal thing, and I can relate to the feeling that, when you’re used ruthlessly, you have to squeeze anything you can back for yourself – and on the sly, because there’s no way such a ruthless employer will agree to anything that isn’t bloodsucking you dry. I’ve worked for such employers before, and one of the things I hated was how it turned me into a clockwatcher.
That was wrong for me. Personally. It ended up so bad I had to file and fight my way through a workplace bullying/harassment claim to get myself transferred, but I believe in using the system, rather than sneaking around it, and hard as it was, the end result was I got out.

I use time at work to do things for myself, yes. But I keep it down to my legitimate break time. I come in early, but sit at the cafe down the road on my laptop to get stuff done before I go in and start work. It’s tempting to clock on and get stuff done “on the bosses dime” but bottom line I’d feel uncomfortable being untrue to my own values. I want out of “corporate-dum” because it’s so soulless, and my employer is definitely not the open kind I could negotiate with to get time to myself, but I do have entitlements and I feel no guilt whatsoever in using those, which are not paid in any way, to progress my dreams.

This isn’t a brag, or anything. I’m just saying you have to know what your own values are, and live to them, or you’re doing yourself a disservice. And even then, even working 100% of work time on work projects, you can STILL progress your dreams during the workday. Maybe not to the same extent that Jennifer has, or as fast, but it’s still entirely legitimate.

Finally, I have to point out to the people who say that “paying people for their time is stupid and wrong” – if you’ve entered into an agreement to be paid that way, then it’s still an agreement. It’s like those people who argue that the laws are dumb, so you don’t have to follow them – you’re on a slippery slope, and you have to watch out that it doesn’t come back to bite you. Either your word in an agreement is binding, or you’re going to find loopholes that advantage you. When you’re a successful business owner, and your actions set the tone for your own organisation, what kind of person do you want to be, what kind of environment do you want to create, and what kind of employee do you want to attract?

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Jenness Sautereau September 23, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I can see it from both sides – especially if you have a less-than-moral or ethical boss; however, I still don’t think it is right and I happen to know first hand that karma can be a b**ch and one day, you’ll walk in and realize that that you’ve been paying your own employees to compete against you. The fact that they feel justified just adds to the fuzzy feeling I’m sure you won’t be having. What the discussion should be, as I’m actually amazed at how many on here feel zero qualms about this, is how do you know you have the right stuff to do your passion and succeed in your own business, if you are unable to work 40 hours on a career that you chose in a job you interviewed for and accepted, that you are getting paid an amount you agreed to accept in exchange for the duties you agreed to do? If that is too hard, then the weekends you have to cancel because a project fell through and you have to pull a rabbit out of a hat so you’ll make your mortgage; equipment breakdowns, bad reviews that suddenly tank your readership and turn your inbox into one big epic flame of fail and insults, a product that accidentally harms someone which turns into a lawsuit…all the jillion joys of being in business – will be too much I’m afraid for someone who is used to cutting corners. Your dream should not come at the expense and loss of someone else who has no idea they are paying for it. Unless you live in socialist or communist countries, where it all is government regulated because they most you’ll ever achieve is mediocrity. But this is America – we all work, we all produce, we all succeed higher than anywhere else. It is the shining light where you don’t have to be a general or king to live well. At least it was.

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Brian Regal September 24, 2012 at 8:07 am

Ethics aside, no matter what you do in launching your own company while working for someone else puts you at serious risk of litigation. I know. Never once did I work on any of my ‘new company’ projects during ‘work hours’ (some employers, not to mention some positions where work hours are undefined, consider anything you do during your employment that is counter to the goals of your position to be suspect, as does the law). How do I know this? Because nothing that I did in preparation for launching my own company was done during typical work hours. Did that stop my former employer from pursuing legal action? That’s a big, fat NO.
So, regardless of the question of ethics, you should check the Employment and Labor laws in whatever state in which you’re working before engaging in ANY activity related to your new venture. Especially look at the laws regarding misappropriation (time, materials, use of company property like PC’s, fax machines, etc.), unfair competition (launching any new venture when employed, regardless of whether or not your new venture has anything to do with your current job, automatically puts you under suspicion) and know that Dropbox files created during your employment, whether on the clock or not, can be subpeonaed.
This may be irrelevant if your position is not one in which you play what is considered a ‘vital’ role in the company. But understand, they can pursue legal action regardless of the scale.
There’s more to consider than just getting fired. I wish I could tell you that’s the worst that can happen, but the truth is that it isn’t. You can be legally forced to pay restitution on wages earned if they suspect that your time was used for anything other than what you were employed for. And judges in these matters are NOT sympathetic to the employee.
Be very, very careful.
I’m sorry to be such a downer, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that this is horrible advice. I love you guys and the messages you send, but this one is waaaaayyy off the mark and supremely naive.
If you want to start your own gig, do it before work, after work, on weekends and never, ever, ever use any of your company’s property to do it. Even opening a Google incognito window will not pass muster in a forensic examination of your PC’s activity log files.
As far as my case was concerned, I made sure that anything that I did would place me beyond any legal repercussions. But it didn’t stop the former employer from pursuing me.
I completely understand how feeling like you are giving your life to a company with only a paycheck to show for it can create fallible justifications for doing this based upon the emptiness and bitterness that you feel. But don’t make the mistake of following any of the rules above without understanding that there are much more than simple considerations of ethics and conscience.
Your friend,
-Brian

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jennifer blanchard September 24, 2012 at 9:06 am

Thanks for all the comments everyone!! I appreciate your feedback–both the people who think this is ethical and the people who don’t. For the ones who don’t, I just wanted to clarify a few things…

1) My main bosses at both jobs I did this at knew that I was working on side projects. Neither of them cared as long as I got my work done and did everything they asked of me. We just had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement between us.

2) I was extremely desperate for a way out. I’d been in hell for 7 years jumping from job to job and finding nothing that suited what my heart truly wanted and needed.

3) While doing side business work at my day job helped a ton, MOST of the work I did to finally get out of my crappy day job was done AT HOME.

4) I’m not advocating that everyone at every type of job do this… I think it’s something that most people in office jobs could do, but like I said, it’s up to you to decide what works best for you and what you can “get away with” while still doing a great job.

5) Paying employees/contractors for time is stupid. I stand behind that belief 110%. And yes, I’m fully aware that 99% of employers still hire people based on time, but this is an old-fashioned way of working that does not suite jobs in the age of information and technology.

I am a HUGE supporter of what’s known as the Results-Only Work Environment (gorowe.com), which means employees are hired and paid based on RESULTS and nothing else. No results, no job. Results are defined ahead of time with the employee’s manager and then it’s up to the employee! The employee now gets to determine when to work, how to work and where to work… based on what works best for them and best for getting the job done. That means no more working in the office, unless you want to; it means no more commuting, unless you want to; it means no more “core business hours”because the employee gets to decide when they want to work, etc.

THIS is how jobs should be in this day and age. If my day jobs had been a ROWE, I’d prolly still be working one of them.

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Nancy Blackman September 24, 2012 at 10:56 am

It’s not borderline unethical. It IS unethical — all of it, which now makes me re-think the whole Trailblazer….

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Jonathan September 24, 2012 at 11:15 am

Nancy, you should know that this post reflects the view’s of Jennifer, and not those of me or Trailblazer. Everyone has to make their own choices and decide for themselves what is ethical and what’s not. We feel that you should do what’s right for yourself, and let your own heart and conscience guide you.

Kevin Velasco September 24, 2012 at 11:49 am

This post further shows how flawed and inefficient the full-time job model is. Paying someone to do 40 hours’ worth of work per week is suboptimal because people only get about 4 hours of real work done in an 8 hour work day. One possible solution is to do what Germany does – allow people close to 6 weeks vacation per year.

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Brendan Baker September 25, 2012 at 5:05 am

Hehe, awesome post :)

I WISH I had the free time at work as this is EXACTLY what I would be doing… getting paid to exist and do work your passionate about! I can’t really complain because my work is pretty cool, however I do have an even stronger passion creating the movement on my site.

Some good tips here, keep it up!

Brendan

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Wasima September 25, 2012 at 5:46 pm

This tactic doesn’t offend me. When I’m on a deadline at work I sometimes lock myself in a room and work 12-14 hours without a break. For business “day” trips, we often have to take the first flight out in the morning, sit in meetings all day and get home after 10:00 p.m., then back to work the next morning. I eat lunch at my desk daily.
Nobody seems to notice or acknowledge that extra time and effort. If I’m caught up with work and my boss is happy, I don’t have any issues with stopping to write a blog post or something similar. Sometimes the break or change of focus re-energizes us to focus back on the day job.

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Kevin Velasco September 25, 2012 at 11:13 pm

You know what’s unethical? The U.S. having zero mandatory vacation days: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_statutory_minimum_employment_leave_by_country

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Jane September 26, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Excellent post. It probably is unethical, but these days almost everyone screws around on company time checking their Facebook or setting their fantasy football lineup.

I launched my first product by working on it during my downtime at work. My department was being phased out at the time, so I didn’t have much to do anyway. It made the days go by much faster to have something to work on and I’m sure it looked better than just sitting around bored. The guy who sat next to me spent his time texting his girlfriend and messing around on IMDB while I was coding my software. When the company downsized, I went off into my “early retirement” and he had to look for another crappy job.

Love the tips, too. I did a lot of those, but definitely never thought of installing a rear-view mirror.

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Penny October 5, 2012 at 9:57 am

Writers and other creatives have been doing this since time immemorial (before computers in workplaces even existed). In fact, in certain jobs it’s even tolerated – think hotel night porters, for example. I wonder if spelling it out in a public blog post is a good idea, as it may make employers more suspicious, but I admire your boldness anyway!

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Joe Cassandra October 26, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I thought I was the only one!

Everywhere I looked, people said “I worked hard at my day job then stayed up til 3am working on my business for 3 years”

I need more sleep than that! so I took the risk and started building my new site all while at work, because when I get home I need some time with my wife where it’s not about work.

I’ve gotten a pro at the SHIFT-TAB maneuver, works like a charm.

I do hate the ‘pay per time’ area, because I work 40 hours a week, but could do all my work in probably less than 20 hours. That’s 20 hours of NOTHING!

It was actually from this wasting of time that I had the idea to start doing something productive. I found Pat Flynn at Smart Passive Income, and I’ve worked at my site every since.

It may take a while for me to get profitable enough to quit, but I know once I can find a consistent work pattern, I can do anything!

Cheeers Jennifer!

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Jason Martin November 7, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Ethics are not objective — they don’t exist independently of our minds, therefore ethics are an illusion.

One person’s idea of what is “ethical”, is not going to be exactly the same as another’s.

If you’re going to judge the actions of others, don’t judge other people’s actions based on your ethics and your standards, judge them based on their own.

Personally, I’m a fan of ROWE (Results Only Work Environment), so obviously I value output over the time it takes to create it; therefore issues like these don’t bother me (both from an employer or an employee standpoint). As an employee, I act in accordance to what I personally as a business owner would tolerate, so the golden rule is absolutely in effect (we all came out of the big bang/god/whatever you call it anyways, so how we treat others is really how we are treating ourselves, albiet 13.7 billion years seperated) :)

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Joe January 7, 2013 at 12:05 pm

I love this. I have also written blog posts that look like I’m writing an email. Just a classic move.

Thanks for writing this, Jennifer. You have just given this 50 year old inspiration to blog more at work.

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Michael Nitschke February 1, 2013 at 1:19 am

I is realy nice to read that you guys have so less work assigned to you that you can do it in less than required time.
That means either two things:
* The work is complete meaning less and nobody really cares if it is done or not.
* You are not living up to your possiblities. Means you are not showing that you are able to do more work, and get paid more. Or want to move up in the ladder.

I have the exact other problem. At the end of the day there is so much work left. I not doing a bad job, or deliver bad results, but the work comes in faster than we can work it off.
And it gets worse with every day, as more and more features were required from our customers and managers.
I would love to change to get paid to exist. But at the moment i more or less exist to get paid. And you are whining from within the comfort of your ivory towers. At least a bit.

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LV February 7, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I’m amazed it took a long time for someone to post that this may open you to litigation. It doesn’t much matter if this is ethical or not, but if you work on your personal business during time (and using resources, such as your desk, computer, printer…) that is meant for your employer’s business, they may legally own whatever you’re producing on their time. This also includes anything you may invent during your business time. Your business might possibly own it; not you.

This has legal precedent, which I encourage anyone interested in doing this to look up further.

Again, not to be a downer, but that is a very real issue to not get caught up in.

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Zachary April 8, 2013 at 2:54 am

I think some people here are confusing the meaning of “ethical” and “fair.”

It may certainly feel like using company time to work on side-projects is fair to you because you’re in a sucky situation with a soul sucking job you hate, but ethics are separate from what is fair or not fair to you. Doing the ethical thing means doing what is right, even if it’s not doing what feels most fair to yourself. If you agree to be paid for your time, then even if you feel like being paid for your time is “stupid” you still agreed to the situation you felt was “stupid,” so it’s simply not ethical to then decide you can use that time you’re paid for as personal time.

The argument that “I’m salaried, so I’m not paid for my time.” isn’t necessarily accurate. If you were salaried and paid strictly based on results from your work, you wouldn’t need to hide the fact that you were working on a personal project. You could stroll right up to your boss, say “Here’s my deliverables for today. I finished early, and I’m going home now.” So, this means that even if you finish your assigned work early, you’re still expected to keep working during those business hours you’re expected to occupy your office/cubicle/wherever. Whether that means offering to help an employee out, asking your boss if there’s something you can help them with, etc. The fact that you didn’t make your boss aware of this and leave work for the day shows that you understood you were being paid for your time, not your output, and expected to find more work to occupy yourself if you completed what was assigned, even if that time was salaried rather than hourly.

The “If I weren’t working on a side-project, I’d just be sitting around wasting time anyway” argument. Okay, but that’s still just another form of stealing company time. As I mentioned above, if you’re done with the work at hand, you can be sure that someone has something you could be working on. I’ve never worked anywhere that didn’t have more stuff that needed to be done. If you do just want to sit around and twiddle your thumbs, or do anything that isn’t work related, then so be it, but that’s not really ethical either. I think people just feel more outraged in a case where rather than just wasting time, you’re actively using time that you’ve “stolen” from your employer to then make more profit for yourself, when you’re being paid to make profit for that business.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not say I’m pro-corporate soul sucking jobs where you sit around all day and do pointless busy work. I’m just saying that if you want to steal company time to hasten your escape from a situation you don’t find fair or favorable, just say “I don’t like the situation, so I did this to change it. It wasn’t really fair to my employer, but I’m happier now, and I don’t really care.” I can respect that honesty more than I can respect trying to pretend that just because you don’t like your job or feel like you’re owed more, that these reasons or any others can make those actions ethical.

Making ethical choices has nothing to do with how you perceive your treatment by the corporate grind, and everything to do with the decisions you make. I think Crystal made a great point when she made the comparison to people who choose to not obey a law because they don’t feel the law is logical or just.

Doing what is ethical and doing what is best for yourself are two different things, and rarely are you lucky enough for the two options to be in line with each other.

I just wanted to point out what I felt was a very weak and illogical argument. I do support a ROWE approach, but I think that if you want that for yourself, you should find an employer who supports that as well. Then, if you still want to work towards having your own business, you can do so without violating the agreement you have with your employer, opening you up to not only ethical issues, but as others have mentioned above, potential legal issues as well.

I also feel that writing something like this simply may not be a very good idea, whether you intend to work elsewhere (you never know what the future may hold for you) or even if you plan to strike it out on your own. Even if you don’t intend to work for someone else going forward, when running your own business you’re just trading your one boss for a hundred new ones, your clients.

I know that if I read an article from a business owner who I was considering doing business with that detailed how she had cheated her previous employer and then emphatically defended her actions throughout the comments, I would probably reconsider doing business with her. My thoughts being “If she felt it was okay (and even ethical) to do this because she didn’t like the hand that had been dealt to her, whose to say she won’t feel the same way about our contract someday and do something similar to me?” Like Crystal mentioned above, giving in to your ethics and morals once is a slippery slope that just makes it easier to do the next time around. I’m not saying you’re a bad person, I’m just saying that it was probably not a good idea to write this article…

No matter who sees this article, potential client or employer, it will never show you in your best light.

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Christine April 22, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Great, interesting, thought-provoking post. I’m just amazed that there seems to be so many jobs out there where there isn’t enough work to fill up a full day. I’m currently a librarian (until my side business gets up and running – 12 days into the course!) and I have a backlog of work constantly. Any kind of time-pinching to do my own stuff on the side is really hard to justify to anyone, inlcuding myself. Love reading the debate!

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Mark Hermann April 30, 2013 at 10:10 am

Too funny, Jennifer.

Bravo for such a subversive take on the day job escape route. and it’s refreshing to see all the commentary from a whole lot of like minded folks out there.

Especially since I am right in the middle of such “unethical” practices as we speak. And I don’t buy that crap one bit about this being unethical. If you do your work and do it well, what can they say? Did your boss really think you were here for life?

I would add the following. Since no one else at my company knows anything about social media and blogging, I took on that role. So I am often engaged in webinars and other training sessions that support my own side business, while under the guise of furthering my efforts to be a better blogger for the company.

So if there’s an opening at your company where you can help out with online practices, it’s a no brainer and makes your side gig work all the more easy to keep chipping away at until you take that great escape.

Great post!

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Iris July 1, 2013 at 2:52 am

Phew! I thought I was the only ‘unethical’ one. I have always strived to perform ‘above expectations’ in my roles and for what? To line someone else’s pockets? I now only ‘meet expectations’ at work (but not under perform) because that is what I’m paid for. If I happen to finish a task ahead of schedule I work on my own business and I do it smartly. I am grateful for my current position and have no ill-will towards my employer or colleagues – in fact I glean many insights from them as potential customers that I wouldn’t get working from home – plus they’re paying off my mortgage!

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Mariana July 1, 2013 at 3:22 am

Great post, I used these techniques myself to quit coporate job. It works, and I don’t find the unethical as far as you have the same performance at you rjob. I do find them dangerous, as your employers may discover what your are doing and may not appreciate it. But I find that it is your life and it might be worth the risk.

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Sandy Federgreen July 22, 2013 at 8:55 am

Having the superior health and financial resources to travel with my wife as much as possible, to see more of your planet and meet more of its individuals.

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William Suphan August 12, 2013 at 11:38 am

Good stuff! A lot of us are in call center jobs where we don’t have a set amount of work. We’re at the mercy of the phone. So, I have to hope it’s a slow day and so what I can between calls.

Since I have several different programs running at the same time, it’s not difficult to hide my side work. I just use Notepad because it’s inconspicuous and doesn’t use up resources and have a slow time opening and closing like Word sometimes does. I always use Notepad for call notes anyway, so it’s not unusual for me to have it up. If I’m writing in Notepad and someone comes up, I can click on anything else in my taskbar and it will be work relevant. I also use the mirror trick. :)

I surreptitiously installed an RSS reader so that my browser window isn’t on a non-work-related site. To hide it, I just need to click on anything else in my taskbar. This way, between calls, if I’m not writing, I’m reading something inspirational, like the article above!

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Debashish August 21, 2013 at 5:55 am

Great post Jennifer. I couldn’t agree more with the fact that as long as results are delivered, “ass in the chair” time shouldn’t be mandatory. My advice is whatever you are doing at your day job, don’t be nervous and look confident and comfortable. As for the practice being called unethical, I have to disagree because at my day job:
- 50 hours of mandatory work
- Daily work often stretches beyond the standard 8 hours
- Non negotiable salary and work hours
- No overtime pay
- Leaves have to be approved by boss (I have seen people get bullied into reducing leave days)
- Arriving late for work (even by 5 minutes) means losing half a day’s salary
- Internet access is only provided at the discretion of the department head
- Socializing is frowned upon
And the list goes on. I agreed work for a living, not live to work. So, I do not believe that ethics are involved here. Only the question what one wants from life.

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Nancy S August 22, 2013 at 9:26 am

I have mixed feelings about this whole matter and I appreciate all these thought provoking and very insightful comments. I’m still not sure how I feel about this – I can see both sides of the ethical question. I do want to point out that there are jobs where you have to pay people for their time. It’s not stupid and outdated in all cases, it’s just the way some jobs are structured. The receptionist where I work doesn’t get up and say “I’ve answered my phone call quota for the day so I’ll see y’all later”. Our customer service dept doesn’t leave at 10am because they’ve met their sales goal and any customers who call in later can just wait until tomorrow. Restaurants don’t send the wait staff home because they’ve served X number of guests by midday and too bad for anyone who wants dinner. If you went to the supermarket and there was a sign on the door that said “Closed: We’ve met our sales quota for the day, better luck tomorrow!” would you think that’s a great way to run a business and applaud them for not wasting employee time? Service based companies would soon be out of business if their hours of operation were based on something a customer can’t control or predict (like regular open hours). I agree that there are many jobs where paying for time is outdated and not the best choice, but I bristled a bit that it was so disdained across the board in every single instance. In many jobs there is just no other way to pay people, it has to be based on their time.

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Derek McCullough November 7, 2013 at 10:42 am

I think this is entirely up to the person. Everyone is entitled to decide for themselves if what they’re doing is ethical/unethical. I think when Jennifer was hiding it, it was more to be discrete about it and not flaunt it directly in front of her bosses/coworkers faces.

Personally, I think that this is totally fine. I do and I don’t really feel bad about it. I only do it when work is so slow and I don’t have anymore work to do. Believe it or not, this does happen. For me, I’m way more productive than about 80% of my colleagues. I can sometimes finish work 4-5 times faster. However, come paycheck and review time I’ve never been compensated 4-5 times as much.

My true passion isn’t in what I do. I don’t think that climbing the corporate ladder will get me where I want to be in life. So is there merit in working my ass off for limited increases in compensation? For me, the answer is no. So when I find minutes here and there I’ll type out my thoughts, sometimes enough for a full post or maybe do some accounting. It’s just what I do. I know many others who spend up to half of there time at work socialize. I am not sorry that I choose to waste my time at work by not wasting my time.

Is that right for you? That’s up to you to decide. If you want to assume the risk, then do so knowing you aren’t alone.

Great article, Jennifer!

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Desertscrooge April 8, 2014 at 8:11 am

I’m afraid the lady who wrote this needs to get out of my head. Lol. This post describes me right now but with a difference in that I don’t think I’m unethical at all. Between July last year and January this year, I worked 7 days a week up until 3 am in the morning most days for an absolutely crappy salary. I had no life, all my friends dropped off my radar since I never showed up for anything. I got client calls at all hours of the night. I went home for my sisters wedding and yes, you guessed it, I was on my laptop the entire time. My entire life was work. Finally, in January things eased up and I was burnt out. I took some leave for sometime to do some thinking then returned to work end of February. Things have eased up now and I spend a lot of my time working on my escape plan. I think I have earned those hours with my soul and I will use them. However, my work isn’t suffering. I still get it done. I’m just a robot now and reserve my passion and working till all hours for my escape plan.

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L April 18, 2014 at 6:44 pm

I completely understand the commenters above who argue that this is unethical, period. But there ARE jobs out there where there is no alternative. When you finish your work, there IS no other work to do.

I had a job with an exterminating company for a while. My job was to answer the phones and do data entry on the reports the exterminators brought back. I’m a fast typist, and my data entry was usually done before lunch. There WAS nothing else for me to do—I asked! They literally expected me to sit there and twiddle my thumbs between phone calls.

So, I brought a yellow legal pad from home and wrote the bulk of a novel, longhand.

And it wasn’t long before I quit that job for better opportunities. ;)

Just adding this to say: there are jobs where, once the work is done, it’s done.

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catherinelbyrne May 6, 2014 at 2:48 am

Just be careful not to send too many emails/check too many websites that are not related to your day job, in case they are being monitored. A company I worked at monitored all our emails and website use.

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Sean June 17, 2014 at 10:47 pm

I’m feeling more confident and delighted about finding a website that resonates with me. Ive fallen out of love with so many passions. It’s occurred it’s time to say fuck it and be my own boss. I love the message on this website! I love finding out there are others like me who want to become masters of their time!

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Carol August 26, 2014 at 5:44 am

I don’t find this unethical, on a personal level, though as many of the tips are designed to avoid, it certainly could get someone fired. And as Robert Wall mentioned in his comment, the more expected workplace thing to do with extra time is creatively contribute above and beyond “the work that is being asked of you.” Though, if you don’t care at all about that job, I can’t say I’d blame you not giving 120% – unless as Robert suggests that might be good experience towards your true goals.

The thing that would concern me more is the idea of using company property for personal business and the way that could impact ownership of your work. It might be hard to prove that you spent company time on it (which also may impact ownership of the work product), unless you were caught, but it might be documented forever if you are using the computer and company network for these things.

Tip #3 seems especially dangerous given that if you accidentally save it, then there could be a copy saved where your company technically owns it. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s worth taking a really close look at your company policies around intellectual property and work product and company equipment/networks, possibly even talk to a lawyer if your company doesn’t have stated policies. How likely is it that this would ever be an issue? Don’t know. But might be worth considering in making this choice.

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Jonathan September 21, 2012 at 2:45 pm

I agree with you completely Robert. One grey area however is temporary employees that are independent contractors. These people get screwed over the worst. I’ve seen large companies (I worked for one) that would promise temps permanancy after a said period of time and then keep half of their staff as permanent for 2 or 3+ years.

There’s definitely unethical stuff going on on both sides. But do two wrongs make a right? No, certainly not.

Personally at my last job I was completely up front with my boss about working on side projects (I was an independent contractor aka long-term temp with zero benefits and all of the drawbacks).

In fact on my first day my boss said, “I don’t care what you do after you get your work done, as long as it’s done.” I still went above and beyond for them and regularly sought out extra projects for my work.

Ultimately I think it’s best to be up front with your employer about it and negotiate it with them.

Here’s another way employers and employees could both benefit from the employee working on a side business: make a certain percentage of time “personal growth time.” Say 20-30% of time, maybe even more if the person is an exceptional employee. I believe that entrepreneurship is the second greatest vehicle for personal growth (only surpassed by relationships, particularly intimate ones), so it could easily be qualified as personal growth time.

Employees that actively spend time on their own personal growth are always going to be greater assets to the employer than those that do not.

Also, the another point to raise is this: in most corporate cultures a large amount of idle social time or leisure time is expected and the norm. Time spent sitting around the coffee machine (not on break time), chatting mindlessly with coworkers, lagging after meetings, taking longer lunches, etc.

This is pervasive in many company’s cultures. If this type of behavior accepted (sometimes tipping out on 20-30% or more of work time), is it unacceptable to spend this time doing something productive that also doesn’t directly benefit the employer or work performance?

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Robert Wall September 21, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Temporary employees definitely can get the short end of the stick – lots of companies are long on promise and short on delivery. If the employees are actual temps (through a temp agency) there are some temp agencies that provide some additional benefits, etc. – but it’s kind of a crapshoot.

I like your idea of “personal development time”. It’s kind of like Google’s “20% time”, although my impression of 20% time is that you’re supposed to be working on company-related projects.

Even in the “20% time” scenario though, your creativity is being used, you’re being challenged, and you’re taking initiative – all qualities that would serve you well as an entrepreneur.

If the wasted time is measurable, then why not do something constructive that’s *not* unethical? Get together some employees that feel the same way you do (and who, presumably, also have extra time) and propose something like “20% time” or “personal development time”. Document all of your observations, and make a business case for it.

Or take those same people and build something awesome (company-related, so you can show the awesomeness to your boss when you’re done) in that spare time.

There’s lots of ways you could improve yourself and your work situation, and that would serve you well as you transitioned into an entrepreneurial venture.

I guess the bottom line is that I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to change a workplace, or create a shift in a company’s culture. That’s good & healthy, and if you think you can do it it’s worth a shot.

I also don’t see anything wrong with negotiating the best deal you possibly can with your employer, and re-negotiating as necessary.

But when you’re finding yourself sneaking around behind your boss’s back and installing rearview mirrors on your monitor, what you’re doing is almost certainly unethical.

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