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The problems I am facing with being able to work whenever I want (tosbourn.com)
51 points by tosbourn on Dec 15, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 43 comments

I've been working full time for myself for 18 months now and can see some similarities (and I have been working this weekend despite just moving house and should be unpacking).

My tips would be the following, but ultimately everyone is different:

- Don't be afraid of doing a 9-5. If you find that a struggle, it's generally suggesting that the work isn't engaging enough.

- Don't work weekends, or at least every weekend. You'll soon start to resent the personal time lost if ever you felt the need for a career change.

- Make sure you can get out the house. I rent a desk in a converted chapel in a cemetery and absolutely love going to work.

- If you spent time on weekends coding, then it suggests coding is a hobby as well as a job. You may have side projects or just want to learn something new. Don't sacrifice this time for your day job. It's probably one of the rare qualities that actually makes you good at what you do.

- An hour of work outside of 9-5 is usually preceded with an hour of "I must sit down and do some work" followed by an hour of "what was it I should do now that I stopped working" - so expect a 3 hour mental drain for work during your time off.

- Do you want to be doing this in 5 to 10 years time? If not, what do you want to do instead, then do that.

Your schedule may work for you, but just keep a look out for other areas of your life being affected and recognise the source. You'll find your fiancee will probably be the to give you signals.

Hey Martin, cheers for taking the time to write your thoughts.

Right now I am certainly finding the work more than engaging in fact I kind of have to force myself to stop working in the evenings at the moment!

The converted chapel sounds pretty cool, do you have any pictures or links? (Just being nosy!)

I have always considered my work as one big hobby that I am lucky enough to get paid for.

I love your last line, this is certainly something I want to look out for, and you are right, my fiancee will certainly give me plenty of signals!!

That's great you're loving your work. I've had some really good jobs in the past (IBM, Ericsson), but got a bit bored because it became repetitive or unchallenging. That I find very tough, but thankfully I now have more than enough to keep me engaged! We are the lucky few.

As for the Chapel where I work, sure. I don't have any images to hand, but there are a few already online. Here is painting of the front from one of our resident artists at the Chapel: http://pjarvis.co.uk/gallery/128/chapel-southampton-cemetery...

There's only small images of the interior online sadly: http://www.londonclancy.com/listing/sao101012-the-chapel-sou... http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?sa=X&espv=210&es_sm=122&biw=1...

That Chapel looks cool :-D

Just my 2 cents...

As somebody that spent the past 1.5 year traveling around the world while working on a bleeding edge software that requires deep mathematical research and non-trivial integration, I came to the following:

- dedicate time during the day when you focus solely on the task you need to solve. Don't allow anything else to interrupt you nor do any interleaving with other activities. For example, you decide to focus between 7-11am, then do something else and come back between 3pm-7pm or any other time suitable to you. Don't slack off when you have to think, manage your weaknesses.

I found that this does wonders to my productivity. Often during the breaks/sleep I get excellent ideas and have enough power to carry them out. I also suddenly have a plenty of time when I can focus on my hobbies (a lot of them), persons I like to be with and on running my own business on the side.

There was some research in Germany comparing the lives of virtuoso pianists with average ones - the only difference was the virtuosos got completely immersed in their practice twice a day, whereas the average ones interleaved all kinds of activities with their practice.

This is coming from a person that prepared some of the most challenging and business-differentiating algorithms for a start up in the computer graphics area (mostly advanced geometry, SIGGRAPH Pioneer member), and still manages to dedicate time to fashion photography, making hyperlapse movies, composing electronic music, playing piano, fiddling with interesting technology like drones, writing training materials and e-books, place at the top 1% of multiple pilot MOOC courses and loves to socialize.

If you need to ask anything, let me know, I would be more than happy explain to you my recent nomad lifestyle! This is a throwaway account as I don't want to be easily identifiable ;-)

Maybe off-topic but, as a fellow nomad, I'd love to read how you deal with the weeks before moving. As active as I can be upon arrival, I feel my energy depleted when the time to part approaches. This means I'm less productive, and less prone to social interaction, as if looking forward to the next destination.

Has anything like that ever happened to you?

Greetings fellow nomad! :)

I try to schedule the best fun at the end so that I depart the location when it rocks - it serves for both having fantastic memories of the place and filling me with a lot of energy. If I can, I try to take a few days off just before moving and I always book flights on Friday evening/Saturday so that I have enough time to sleep through jet lag (with the support of melatonin supplements etc.) Sometimes this is challenging if I am for example in Japan, then the next day I need to be in France and three days later in the US.

I spend the beginning of a visit by strongly focusing and adapting to the new environment until my performance is steady; then I can have some fun.

For example while in the New Zealand I did all the crazy stuff in Queenstown in the last week - skydiving, nevis bungy, cliff jump, rafting, mtb downhill, milford sound kayaking etc.

I am sure you can find some things you are looking forward to at any place that would in turn energize you ;-)

Hey anon! Thanks so much for writing this.

I love that research - I think I had heard of it or something similar before, certainly something I should take on board.

My hope is that a 2 hour time frame should focus me to work on one task, and if the task is bigger than can be completed in two hours, it probably needs to be split up anyway.

This comment is a huge inspiration, cheers!

Good luck! 8-)

It's doable - have fun and a superb quality of life! ;-)

I would love to know what you are working on!

I don't want to divulge any details though the notice about the project's release was already posted on hacker news as well as on reddit ;-)

As a person who has employed remote workers both successfully and unsuccessfully, I'd say that it is really important to have a good understanding of deliverables and time estimates.

I was really pissed when one guy would blow 5-10 hours on something that he should have called me about... again and again. I couldn't get it through his head that remote != uncommunicative.

Basically, my requirements today for remote workers are (1) daily scrums and (2) bite-size deliverables. Keeps everyone on the same page. The guys that are good at it deliver x2-3 what I expect so that I am never concerned about hours worked.

Hi Joshua, thanks so much for your comment.

I like the idea of bite-size deliverables and I make sure to try and communicate to the point of almost over communication.

Do you still need remote worker? How can I contact you?

This is not unlike what every freelancer faces. From my own experience, interleaving work and time off is hard, so don't bet too much on that. It's way more productive to work 4-6 hours in a row instead of eight hours on and off.

Most importantly, do not work on sundays as a norm! It will completely wreck any vestige of being 'off work', and you'll catch yourself on a monday evening wondering how long has passed since last weekend.

YMMV, I'm sure there are plenty other people here who can give you good advice. Good luck and congratulations! :)

Hi Ricardo!

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

Very interesting about working Sundays, I guess the reason why I had included Sunday was because I normally spend at least a few hours coding at the weekend so it wouldn't be a big transition for me.

I've been working remotely with flexible hours for several years now, and I've come up with a couple things that help maximize productivity:

- Work in blocks, and don't let email/browsing/meetings interrupt that

- If you can at all help it, don't check email or have meetings until your first block of work is done. Getting up and right into work is very productive and minimizes impulses to procrastinate. If you check email, you get in a different mind space and can easily start following rabbit trails until you suddenly realize most of the morning is gone and you haven't done any real work.

- I work best early in the morning or late at night

- Having a specific item in mind is key when starting a block of work. Either one item that will take the entire period, or a list of smaller things to knock out.

- Figuring out what to do should be done at a separate time from actually doing the work. If you start to work, and then have to figure out tasks, you tend to procrastinate. If you know what you need to do, you can get in the zone and just do it. Spending a block on planning also allows you to get in the zone with that. If you try and context switch back and forth between planning and doing, you end up being far less productive.

- A mid-day nap gives my brain time to rejuvenate and get ready for more work. It also lets me get up early and stay up late (to hit my most productive times) while still getting enough sleep.

Based on that, my typical schedule has become:

- Get up early (say 6am) and work until noon in a solid block. That 6 hours is more productive than an 8 or 10 hour day when you have to go in the office, since its uninterrupted undistracted work.

- At noon, take a break, hit the gym, grab lunch, and take a nap

- After the nap, spend the afternoon catching up on email, integrating with the team, and polishing off any loose ends from the morning block

- If I feel I didn't get enough done in the morning block, I've got another uninterrupted stretch from 8 or 9 until midnight I can spend on work, research, or hobby coding. At that point, its easy to keep coding -- in fact, I'll usually have to make an effort to stop myself at 11 or 1130 so I can have time to relax and read a book, so my brain can calm down and stop coming up with ideas while I'm trying to sleep.

Hi Chris,

Thanks so much for sharing, this is really great stuff. I like the idea of not getting caught up in email too soon in the day :-)

How long is your nap?

Usually half an hour to an hour. Enough to feel refreshed, but not so much it goes into the next sleep cycle. Typical siesta: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siesta

there is an advantage to the traditional approach of fixed times - you are not giving everything they can get to your employer. and i think that is, simply because it is how things have always happened, considered fair.

instead, what you seem to be doing is giving as much as possible to your employer. now it's difficult to separate american / startup culture from everything else, but it seems to me that is not fair.

you are entitled to a life outside work. and it doesn't have to be a second rate life. your time isn't yours only when you are exhausted. your time isn't yours only when you are useless to your employer. it's just, and fair, and right that sometimes, in your time, you feel smart, and useful. that you have time to learn, to explore new ideas. and, flip side, it's fair if some of the time you're paid isn't top time. people are not always at their peak and there never was any "agreement" that they should be.

so i think, quite seriously, that you're wrong here.

[i work from home, and i start at 9am, take an hour off at lunch and finish at 5 or 5.30, weekdays.]

[edit: ah, ok, sorry i misunderstood.]

Hey Andrew, thanks so much for commenting.

I actually agree with what you are saying, which may seem at odds to what I have written, but the idea of big breaks in my day was essentially so that I could have this 'useful' time to myself throughout the day.

This is something I am going to be tweaking and changing with time so I am really glad for your input, thanks!

I have had a long freelance relationship developing for a company that works 9-5.

I usually start the day around when they do, and engage in back and forth communication throughout the day.

I often find it helpful to disengage around 1-2pm and either go outside, go the gym, or work on some other project, and I don't come back until after they have all gone home for the day. Then I get a few more hours of work in before dinner.

Those uninterrupted hours after 5 are usually the most productive.

Thanks for taking time out to comment on this, it is very much appreciated!

I love the idea of making yourself available for 9-5 team mates but not sticking rigidly to their structure.

I think a set schedule/routine forces you to get "in the zone." You can veer off sometimes based on what else is going on in your life, but I feel like a schedule is still good.

If you take a day or two off from a diet, you're more likely to quit the diet altogether. If you don't practice your instrument for a day or two, you're more likely to get rusty as you continue to rationalize skipping days. Weekends are normal in most work environments, but I wouldn't get too creative with your schedule.

I like the idea of two hour bursts followed by a break, as many have a hard time concentrating for more than a couple hours at a time. For coding specifically, this seems to make sense. With my job, I have to continue to keep tabs on certain ad campaigns all day long, so this schedule wouldn't make sense. I think it could be ideal for you. Try it out and adjust as necessary!

Hey Jonathan, thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

Setting a routine certainly makes sense, I just hope I can stick to it!

This is a tough one. I quit several years ago to work for myself so I know what a struggle this can be. I personally can't just sit and code for 8 hours every day. I'd go nuts. Some days I end up working much more than 8 hours if I have a lot to do and things are flowing, most I work less though.

Working from X to Y seems silly to me now. I try to set a goal of what I want to get done that day, and when it's done I'm done. The switching costs are so high when changing tasks, it rarely makes sense to start something new at the end of the day. Sometimes I work 2 hours, sometimes 10 hours, most of the time though it is between 4-6.

All that being said, I'm not accountable to a boss and a paycheck. I didn't do any work today and yet my stuff is still selling itself.

Thanks so much for commenting - I think you are right, it should be goal based, but the reason I have mentioned times in the article is because it is hard to say to a family member - oh I can do that after I finish x, when they have no idea what x is or how long it could take.

I think it's best to incorporate your own natural rhythms, to the extent that you can and still complete your work. You said you can do 6 hours of concentrated work, so after that, why not take a break for as long as it takes to refresh and then go back and do anothe hour or two work, on the less demanding, "administrative" tasks.

By the end of the week, you may find that you don't "need" to work additional hours on the weekend. . .at least not every weekend.

Also, experiment with the times of day that you are most productive. You may find that at different times of the day. And remember that you may not always need 40 hours in a week to feel productive. Other weeks, you may have the energy, desire and drive to work for 60 hours.

Hi there, thanks for the comment.

I love the idea about working out my own natural rhythm, this is certainly something I want to experiment and tweak over time.

The problem with working at home is not that you never leave home. The problem is that you never leave the office. Work will consume you, and take over your life. Take it from someone who knows.

Thanks so much for the comment Paul, this isn't something I have experienced yet but I had a feeling that it might be an issue so I have already researched co-working spaces I could invest in should this become an issue.

I've never really suffered from any of these problems. Every day I set myself up for 7.5 hours of work, and 2 hours of breaks/checking email in the morning/lunch. After those 9.5 hours are up, I'm free to do what I want. At a bare minimum I do 37.5 hours a week.

Discipline is not something a person is born with it is learned. You my friend are in the learning phase (which i'm not sure ever stops).

Thanks for the comment!

I never want to leave the learning phase, it is way too much fun! :-)

My suggestion is four tens or four thirteens or whatever and three day weekends every weekend. Zero commute time has its privileges. Hard to burn out with zero commute and three days off. Heck, four sixteens and three days off.

(Follow up edit... I think I would personally drift into something like one day on, one day off)

Thanks for the comment!

I have worked 10-16 hour days before and I can say for myself anyway plenty of time during those days is not as productive as it should be - I don't think many people could be productive for that length of time with any regularity.

Have you tried this yourself? Would be interested to hear if this works well for some folk!

Well, I agree working doesn't necessarily equal productive for some definitions of "working" and "productive". I would agree that its tough on a daily basis to sit down and smash out one task for 16 continuous hours. However most of my "work" involves the occasional scheduled phone conference call, unscheduled conferences (aka brainstorming meeting), fire fighting, administrivia, talking to people, etc. While my coworker smokes approx one pack per day I'll post on HN for a break, or I'll go on a walk around the block... Also I cannot code for 11 hours straight, but I can profitably intersperse unit and performance testing, design and planning work, not to mention working multiple projects more or less in parallel.

Its sort of like housework or yardwork. Could I dig irrigation ditches / swales in the garden all day every day? No, that's nuts. But doing a variety of productive "stuff" for a full day is no big deal at all.

I think a lot of the comments here could be summed with the realisation that a 9-5 job does not provide the employer with anywhere near 40 hours of focused coding time, so structuring your week to include 36 hours of focused coding time is beyond what could be reasonably expected.

I've found that I am a morning person and that I (thankfully) can remain engaged and productive for long hours of programming. I usually work from 6am to 5pm four days a week. This gives me long, relaxing weekends to recharge for the next week.

Thanks so much for commenting 6-5 would be too long for me but kudos that you can do it! :-D

I am the author of the blog post, would genuinely love to hear any thoughts or feedback :-)

My suggestion would be to try the pomodoro technique [1] and simply try to complete a budget of X focused 'pomodori' per day/week.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

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