Picture yourself in your pajamas, drinking coffee peacefully, and doing something easy on your laptop. It’s early morning, and you have a few minutes before you need to wake the kids up, so you log onto Insert Favorite Non-Distracting Side Hustle Here and do a half hour of work. Ch-ching! Your PayPal account now has an additional $10 in it.
Sounds great, right? I imagined finding a side hustle that might allow this kind of drop-in response with little commitment, but I just haven’t found it. This summer, I tried some new side hustles other than being a fitness instructor, which I discussed in my last post, hoping I could pick up a little extra cash, but in most cases, they’ve just added more mental clutter to my life. But why?
I had high hopes for Rev transcription. I love transcribing stuff. When I was in middle school, I taught myself how to type quickly by using a typing instruction book, and I picked up extra spending money doing odd jobs like typing term papers for students at the local college, or entering hundreds of names and addresses into databases. When I learned about Rev, I immediately signed up. They make you do a grammar test, and if you pass that, you have to spend some time working on transcripts for a grade as a rookie before they let you have your pick of the jobs.
I was excited about the challenge and thrilled that I was getting high scores on my rookie jobs. But once I entered into the pool of freelance transcribers, the work became a mixed bag. Some of the jobs were fascinating – learning about topics like how a cooking school operated, or listening to scientists talk about the future of artificial intelligence. Occasionally I’d get a really smooth audio recording, where my fingers flew across the keyboard in perfect harmony with the sound of a woman’s voice reviewing a new product
But these weren’t the norm, in my experience. Often the jobs were few and far between, and there were so many transcribers that the jobs would get snatched up immediately. Or there would be abundant work, but the audio sounded like someone had set their phone to record from the depths of a pocket while at a cocktail party. Collect calls recorded from prison pay phones where you could barely decipher the mumbling, but you were supposed to enter what the person was saying verbatim. Important business meetings with ten identical dude voices talking, all of whom needed to be distinguished from one another as they droned on about results-driven deliverables or best practices.
Then Rev started to get strict with grading (they still grade you randomly even after you’re approved to transcribe), and many people in the Rev forums seemed to panic, including me. With Rev, you can select a job, listen to it for almost an hour, try your hand at transcribing and then discard it if you feel like you can’t handle it. I became more of a perfectionist and found myself constantly listening and then discarding, paranoid that I’d take on something that would commit me to six hours of work trying to produce a perfect transcript of someone’s underwater basketball game. Ultimately this is what got me in the end – the fear of getting a bad grade on a transcript, and also the enormous amount of time I was wasting getting stressed out about whether to take a job or not. And then my really good pair of Bose headphones broke, so that settled that matter right then and there.
I know there are people who do Rev for a living and manage to keep a cool head about it all, and there is definitely money to be made there with persistence and spare time, but it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t even hit minimum wage, even though I can type 110+ words per minute. To be a good transcriber when working with all types of audio, you have to not only type fast but also be very skilled at hearing what’s being said despite dialects, mumbling, accents, laughter, wind noise, pocket lint noise, etc. Also, as I was trying to only work at night, I couldn’t find short enough jobs that I could complete in the very brief amount of time I have to myself after the kids go to sleep. So I mostly just drove myself crazy.
There are other side hustles which, again, might be lucrative if you had sufficient time and could pursue them with single-minded dedication, such as secret shopping or mystery shopping. With those, you basically pose as a customer and buy stuff so you can evaluate the customer service you receive. The jury is still out on this one, but so far I’ve only had two successful mystery shopper experiences, both evaluating a second-tier fast food restaurant’s service. I got about $50 worth of free burgers and fries out of that one, although that may be a trade-off for the subsequent reduction in my lifespan, since I’m convinced that fast food offers an express pass to the grave.
I’m signed up on several secret shopper sites, but whenever I can remember to log in, I’ll see job offers like, “Pose as Mandarin-speaking customer and sign up for bank account, payment $100” or “Visit gas station and purchase two cans of SKOAL menthol tobacco, payment $5.” My thought process: Wow, if only I could speak Mandarin right now! Or Wouldn’t I use that much in gas, driving to the gas station to buy chewing tobacco?
I’ve also tried one called Job Spotter, where every time you see a Help Wanted sign you click a picture of it and upload it to an app. Again, this could ideally involve a nice long walk through a shopping district, where you could rack up the points, but so far I’ve only managed to acquire $3 worth of spotted jobs because I haven’t been diligent about pursuing them. Finally, there’s one website I do like called Prolific, where you check in and complete surveys. It does meet the goal of taking 3-5 minutes here and there, even if it only pays like a half dollar at a time. But it’s not stressful.
Side Hustles As Further Life Clutter
This brings me to another point about side hustles. The journey to financial independence, which is often also about simplifying your life, shouldn’t involve cluttering your life further to get there. For me, certain side hustles might contradict that goal. If a side hustle requires you to constantly check your electronic devices for new jobs, if it will come with hidden surprises (the unintelligible rapper who suddenly starts dropping some slang-filled rhymes in minute 22 of an otherwise smooth audio transcript), or if it requires you to go out of your way for a small amount of money (a ten-minute drive to get a can of tobacco), perhaps it’s not worth it. Although these jobs might bring in some extra money, they can also distract you from those very things you want to be financially independent to enjoy, such as, for instance, your family. So for now, I’m sticking with my day job, with the ideal goal that night is for relaxing.