How to Manage Your Time After College with a 9-5

By the time you graduate college, you have been in school for a VERY long time. For most grads, it’s all they know. We get used to basing our schedule on school, including homework, study time, and extracurricular. This means it can be very difficult to manage your time after college, now that your responsibilities have shifted.

However, a pillar of success is managing the time that we have effectively. I recently graduated as a Mechanical Engineer and began a 9-5 (technically 8-5) day job. I have put a tremendous amount of effort into learning to manage my time effectively and can help you to manage your time after college.

In a lot of ways, this is the beginning of your life. This is the beginning of your life. Of making your own independent decisions that can determine your happiness and success.

I will focus on not only how to manage your time, but what should be included in that time to reach the life you want to live.

This post will help you manage your time after college.

Set Priorities

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If you were anything like me when you were in college, school was your top priority. Even if you were nothing like me, your priorities were likely school-related in one way or another. Be it school sports, school clubs, friends at school, etc.

Now outside of school, those priorities are much less structured. It is important to spend some serious time thinking about what really matters to you to help you decide what to spend your energy on.

These priorities could be anything from your health, to your family, to your job. My top five would be:

  1. Family/friends
  2. Side Hustle
  3. Fitness
  4. Relaxation
  5. Health through food/cooking

Don’t Judge Yourself

This list will look different for everyone, and that’s okay. Try not to judge yourself when you make the list. The more honest with yourself you can be, the more effective and accurate the list will be. Subsequently, the more effective you will be at achieving your goals.

An example of not judging myself is the fact that my 9-5 didn’t even make it on my top five. If I were to judge myself, I would feel guilty for this as the traditional thought is to focus on your day job to make it anywhere and provide for a family. However, when I’m honest with myself, I can see that an engineering career is likely not where I want to end up. I crave creating things for myself. I crave the flexibility of working for myself.

So for me, putting more energy towards my side hustle has given me a whole new lease on life. I now see a vast ocean of opportunity instead of me. Instead of the meager pond of hopping from company to company for the rest of my life praying for that 3% annual raise.

Funny enough, this has even made me more effective at my day job. When I have a side hustle to feel satisfaction from, even something as silly as one view that day, I don’t need to seek satisfaction from my day job. Instead, I can focus on getting my work done with more mental clarity, knowing I am working towards my goals outside of work.

Have a Morning Routine

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This may sound silly but hear me out. When you’re in school, your schedule is constantly in flux. You could have a class at 7 am on Mondays and 2 pm on Tuesdays. This gives you a lot of free time but also makes it hard to get any kind of rhythm going.

One benefit of leaving school and starting a 9-5 is that it adds a lot more structure to your days. Every weekday, you need to wake up at the same time and start work at the same time. You can use this to manage your time after college more effectively.

Why Have a Morning Routine?

A morning routine does more than just simplify your day. It ensures that each day starts out on the right foot. If you start your day by rushing out of bed to make it to work on time, you will feel out of sorts for the rest of the day.

The effect of a morning routine is so profound that the National Alliance on Mental Illness has a post detailing the power of a morning routine. Don’t naively think you can handle a haphazard lifestyle. It will be harder to break bad habits down the road. Start them early, right out of college.

What Should Be in Your Morning Routine?

The first step is the simplest. Wake up at the same time every work day, preferably on the weekends as well. Give yourself enough time to wake up, get ready, and eat, plus 30 minutes at least. Trust me, this time will disappear more often than not.

Second, just get ready. Brush your teeth, shower, and all that fun stuff. I don’t think I need to touch on this. Hygiene is important.

Third, have a plan of something to do outside of just getting ready that will motivate you to get up. This could be working out, working on a side hustle, stretching, prepping for that night’s dinner, or cooking a nice breakfast. Anything that you feel obligated to do in one way or another. I have found that this is a very powerful motivator for getting out of bed in the first place. It also provides a bit of momentum to the morning that can be lacking if it’s just brushing your teeth and eating Cheerios.

Last but not least, have a decent breakfast. I’m not gonna harp on eating habits as that’s not the focus of this blog. All I ask is don’t just rely on sugary cereal or a protein bar every morning. This has been studied over, and over, and over again. Give yourself the best shot at the day by starting it off right. “The most important meal of the day”.

Build a Brand/Identity

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Most people who work through a career are simply building up a resume to hand to their next employer. They earn skills and experiences at one employer that they then use to represent themselves to the next.

This strategy has of course worked for many people. However, I would argue that this puts you behind someone who has some sort of additional outside presence. Some outside presence can represent the “you” that exists outside of the workplace. That represents additional skills that may not be 1:1 applicable to your job. Employers love to see well-rounded individuals with different interests and skill sets.

While you are learning to manage your time after college, get started on this process early. Those who begin building a brand for themselves this early have such a powerful opportunity.

How to Build a Brand

As I mentioned before, a “brand” can be anything representing who you are independent of your job. It could include your job, but shouldn’t be dependent on it. As an example, someone who starts a YouTube channel that focuses on what they do at work could always make videos about their next position if they left. Their body of work and experience transfers to a new position.

I would certainly recommend building your brand digitally. I don’t even know how you’d go about building a brand physically nowadays without a physical store. Maybe it involves printing a bunch of stuff? I don’t know. Anyways.

In my opinion, the number one way to build a brand is to have a website. Now before you run away, it isn’t as bad as you think. There are tons of website builders out there that make this super easy. My personal recommendation would be either WordPress (what I am using now) or Wix. The advantage of WordPress is that you have far more runway to do more powerful stuff in the future. The other option is Wix which can be free as well and is extremely simple to use. Try them both out and pick which feels best.

Now what to include on this website? You could do anything from using it as a digital portfolio to posting about things you are personally interested in. The important thing is to create something that represents you and put it out into the world.

Why Build a Brand?

Since you graduated college and are reading this right now I’m going to assume you are a nerd. So think of building a brand as increasing your surface area to opportunities.

If all you have to represent yourself is your day job, you are only exposed to opportunities directly related to your position. However, if you have an outside personality and representation, opportunities previously inaccessible to you can become apparent. No one knows where they will end up in life. So give yourself the ability to end up anywhere.

Take the time to start on this now and you will thank yourself later.

Work on Something That Brings You Satisfaction

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Starting a day job after having a relatively large amount of freedom in school can feel suffocating. Like you suddenly don’t have time for anything you want to do anymore. But fight for something that brings you satisfaction in your top five priorities.

It can be painful to start, but make sure you do this even if it means sacrificing a non-satisfying fun time. For example, spend an hour working on your personal art project instead of playing a video game you will forget tomorrow. There is a time for relaxation, but there also has to be a time for building something.

I want to reflect on what I said earlier about not judging yourself. A “satisfying” project does not have to be something definitively “useful”. Working on carving a wooden spoon may bring no additional functionality to your life, but it may be the feeling of self-satisfaction that means more than any success.

If your job genuinely brings you satisfaction, this may not apply to you. But for most of us, a day job is something to get by and work our way up the ladder and that’s it. If that is you, strive to find something more out of life than grinding endlessly towards that next slightly improved 9-5 grind.

Whatever it is, don’t forget about the possibility of turning your side project into your main job. We are taught to believe that this dream is impossible, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t hold yourself back by assuming something is impossible for you. We all start from very different places, but people really do achieve amazing things when they put their minds to it.

If your goal is to start a side hustle to find out-of-work satisfaction, check out my post on How to Start a Digital Side Hustle in 2022.

Don’t Let Your Employer Take Advantage of You

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I am fortunate to not have yet experienced this, but I know of several friends who have. It’s easy to let an employer convince you to just do a bit of extra work or an extra project outside of your job description “temporarily”.

When learning you manage your time after college, remember that it is indeed your time. Your finite resource to spend doing what you love with who you love. Of course, there is nothing wrong with staying late a few times or taking on a couple of extra tasks of your own accord. But the second that becomes an expectation or a demand, start looking for somewhere else. I guarantee you you can find somewhere else with comparable pay and a better work-life balance.

Continue Learning

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Learning should not end with school. Instead, learning can now shift to learning about things you are genuinely interested in. Continue to stoke your passion for your interests by learning through books or videos.

If you have decided to start some sort of side hustle, work to learn how to become effective in that pursuit. People become unhappy in their life when they stagnate, whether by any fault of theirs or not. Even people in unfortunate situations find hope in the possibilities that learning affords them.

If you are interested in continuing your learning here, check out my posts on the stock market or my posts on building wealth.

Closing Thoughts

Learning to manage your time after college has effects on your life beyond what you can imagine. I hope that at least one of these tips can help you manage your own time. I guarantee that these methods can improve your life in many ways.

If you have any of your own tips you’ve discovered, please comment below. We learn faster together.

Evan from My Money Marathon

Evan from My Money Marathon

Hey, my name is Evan. I am a personal finance blogger passionate about bringing beginner
investors into the stock market world. Go here to read about my story, from knowing
nothing about investing to being well on my way to financial independence.

One response to “How to Manage Your Time After College with a 9-5”

  1. gate io Avatar

    For my thesis, I consulted a lot of information, read your article made me feel a lot, benefited me a lot from it, thank you for your help. Thanks!

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