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Thoughts on mobile app development.

A Healthy Indie Life

For the past 2.5 years, I’ve been working from home as an independent iOS developer. My real love is for developing in-house apps, but there’s a lot of satisfaction to be gained from freelance work as well. It took me a long time to get used to working from home, rather than working in an office. I’ve always loved the work that I do, and having the freedom to choose what that work will be, but working out of a spare bedroom on your own is a big shift. That said, I’ve been feeling increasingly happier with my situation over the past 6 months or so, and I’d like to share a few of the reasons why I think that is.

Exercise

I personally think this one is so important that it comes first – both in this blog post, and in my day. Every morning I wake up at 6.30am, and head off to a CrossFit session. I’ve tried a lot of things in the past, but I absolutely love CrossFit. Sessions are typically run by a trainer with a group, and usually involve a high-intensity workout with a variety of exercises (we even get to do handstands). The beauty of it is that everything can be scaled, so it really doesn’t matter how fit (or unfit) you are. Now that I’ve been doing this for a few months, not only do I feel great, but I’ve made some new friends, it gets me out of the house, and no matter what else happens for the rest of the day, I can at least feel good about having done some exercise. Of course, you don’t have to join a CrossFit group to get the benefits of exercise – go for a bike ride, join a running group, or just go for a walk. If you can, do it first thing in the morning, so you don’t have a chance to avoid it. Your mind will be clear, you’ll feel good, and you’ll be set for a full productive day.

Your Environment

Lately I’ve been making an effort to keep my desk clean, and my room tidy. I put away all my test devices when I’m not using them, paperwork gets filed quickly, and the room is dusted and vacuumed once a week. This helps to avoid the mental drain that can come from being surrounded by clutter. I find it’s really nice to have a full desk to work on as well, rather than the little square that’s leftover if I leave stacks of books and papers around.

Some Character

Just because you don’t work in an office doesn’t mean you can’t spice up your space a little. Some people collect figurines, some people put up posters – me, I like to have a fish tank. I recently purchased a Fluval Edge tank, which is a neat little self contained aquarium. It looks great, and fits really nicely on the desk next to my iMac. Yes, I really am brave enough to put a box full of water next to my computer. Aside from giving me something interesting to look at every now and again, a tank full of fish makes for a great session of rubber duck debugging. If you don’t like what the first fish had to say, move on to the next one!

Regular Hours

I believe that keeping to a routine is a key factor in being a successful independent worker. Whilst I’m not super-strict about it, I generally work weekdays from 9.00am until 12.30pm, break for lunch for an hour, then continue working until about 5.30pm. At which point I stop. There are occasions where I’ll work longer hours, or work on the weekend, but this is the exception rather than the norm. This helps to give some normality to life, and also helps to avoid that “always at work” feeling that can creep in pretty quickly if you’re not careful.

Take Breaks

I’ve never liked the idea of sitting at my desk for many hours at a time, but it’s very easy to do, especially if you’re deep in some code. That’s why I installed Time Out, a free app on the Mac App Store. I have it setup so that every half hour I’m told to take a 10 second break – just enough to jump up from my chair, stretch my legs, and sit down again. Then, every hour I’m told to take a 5 minute break. I always try to make sure I walk around during this break, whether it’s to take the garbage out, check the mail, or just go outside for a moment. Rather than breaking my concentration, I’ve found on many occasions that these little breaks help me to have an “aha” moment, so I actually end up being more productive rather than less.

Work Isn’t Everything

This is a big one. Have you read The Top 5 Regrets People Have On Their Deathbeds? I’m particularly interested in point number 2 – every dying male patient in this article regretted working so hard. Every single one. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, but don’t let it come at the expense of your family and friends, because it’s very easy to do.

Know When It’s Time To Quit

Independent work isn’t for everybody. If you’re not happy, try and figure out whether it’s the work, or the work environment. If it’s the work environment, try some of the things above – or think about renting an office, or look into a co-sharing space. If it’s the work that makes you unhappy, you can always go back to a regular job – there’s no shame in trying something that didn’t work out.

Find What Works For You

Everyone is different, and on one can tell you the best way to live your life. However, I do hope that some of these things got you thinking. If you have any other suggestions I’d love to hear them!

6 Comments

  1. I’d love to hear how you made the transition into working on your own. Great article!

    Reply
    • Thanks, and good idea! I’ll save this one for my next blog post I think…

      Reply
  2. Great article. I am in the same position as you right now. I however believe I am not happy with the work environment. I am currently trying to decide where I want to live. I am 23 years old, and all my friends are scattered, moving away for jobs, have jobs and are in the process of getting married, etc. It is stressful feeling like I am being left in the dust. So I am also asking myself if this is what I want to do. This is leading to not much work getting done right now which is not what I want. So I have many other options I can take such as going back to school. All are well and good but I don’t think it would bring me the life I want to live. In the meantime, I believe this lost feeling is due to the fact I have not developed and released a new app for awhile, and the ones I have developed I don’t feel I can brag about. Hopefully I will release a new app I am working on for christmas called PhotoVinci and regain the excitement of leading an Indie life that I had before.

    Exercise, routine, and a clean work environment is a must for me to be able to concentrate, and not feel stressed. I recently tried out CrossFit with a friend of mine and it is the perfect environment to meet people and get a great workout in, sometimes in a very short amount of time. It is awesome, cheers! My routine has been nil lately due to constant traveling, and other interruptions in my life that I hope are passing through quickly. And the one thing I know I am suffering from is the clean work environment. I had my own desk in an apartment when I was in college and I was able to get a ton of work done. I was surrounded by people my own age almost all of the time, and I would work out regularly. There was always something to do, and when there wasn’t, I was excited to be developing new things. Since I have graduated, I just haven’t had that. So hopefully I find a home base soon, where I can join some athletic group that meets regularly, get a good routine, and have a clean work environment I can dirty with mockups of future apps. And hopefully have people my own age I can hang out with to relieve stress and share ideas with. Until then, I am lost.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Reply
    • Hey Joe – I think the most important thing at your age is to start figuring out what makes you happy, and what you want to do. You’re still young, so there’s plenty of time to make mistakes, go down the wrong path, etc. The sort of social pressure that you’re describing can be tough, but honestly – most of it is probably in your own mind. Don’t be afraid of falling behind, everyone moves through life at their own pace, and you’ll be a lot happier if you do things your way instead of someone elses.

      To me, it sounds like you might be best to go and find a good developer role for a year or two. There should hopefully be plenty around, and it will give you that social contact it sounds like you’re craving. This will also give you some invaluable experience. Being an indie is actually pretty tough, and doesn’t suit a lot of people. Alternatively, you could try looking for some contract work – this will help relieve the pressure of getting apps out there, and give you some interaction with the world as well.

      Best of luck!

      Reply
  3. Hi Ben, Your blog was both encouraging and inspirational. I have day job by necessity (family and mortgage to support) and let my creative side out on the iOS platform (one pub to my name). I’ve recently started down the OpenGLES path and am amazed with what can be done. If you get a chance take a look at the 2011 WWDC video on intro to graphics and opengles – simply incredible.

    Good luck with you indie work, George

    Reply
    • Hi George, thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. OpenGLES is certainly very powerful, and a lot of fun as well. Good luck with it!

      Reply

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