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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!