Being a freelance developer (or any other kind of freelancer for that matter) is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. I really enjoy the freedom, and being able to work in creative projects (specially being able to choose the projects I want to be part of) is really awesome, but I acknowledge that it may not be for everyone. When you are your own boss, you need a lot of discipline. You have nobody pushing you to work harder, and you are the one responsible for delivery dates and successful project culminations. But apart from that, one of the main problems (at least for me) is just the opposite: I tend to spend a lot of time at work (more than I would if I worked in an office) and sometimes it gets hard to separate your private life from your activity as a freelancer. If you find yourself in this situation, or you just happen to be thinking in becoming a freelancer, these are some of the do’s and don’ts that I would recommend for getting the most of your life as a freelancer.
stick to office hours…
If you, like me, are a workaholic, this is maybe the hardest rule to follow. When you are an employee, you generally stick to office hours. But when you work from home, you can easily find yourself working late at night, or having a 16+ hours work day. I know we always have a lot of work to do, and tight schedules to achieve, but working more hours will only lead you to burning out, and even thought it can help you get more work done in the short-run, in the long-run it will kill your productivity and affect your personal life. German working culture is a prime example of producing more by not working longer, and there are numerous reports  on how working too much is a serious problem in some countries (like USA).
I’m not stating here that you should work less, or that you should not work hard if you need to in order to finish a project (I actually find myself working too much more often than not), but as a suggestion, try to schedule your working hours, and try to find a balance between your freelancer job and your life.
… but enjoy your lifestyle
Sticking to office hours doesn’t necessarily mean leading a 9-to-5 lifestyle. It’s just a general rule to help you organize the time you devote to work and the one you enjoy as part of your personal life. In fact, one of the main advantages of being a freelancer is the flexibility you enjoy. I, for instance, am writing this post with a coffee at hand because I will be working this afternoon at the TechHub’s Google Campus coworking center, so I had some free time this morning and I felt like writing a post. The suggestion here is to take the most out of your lifestyle. You can set your own schedule, work when (and even where) you want to, so use your time wisely, and enjoy it.
Be always eager to learn, work or be involved…
Being a freelance developer means you need to constantly be learning, getting involved in new projects and taking part in activities that will help you grow as a professional and as a person. Specially for developers (and specially for Apple developers), it’s important to stay up-to-date to the cutting edge technology, because our world is constantly evolving, and your worth as a professional is as valuable as your capacity to adapt and embrace the new technologies, and get the most out of them. So don’t become complacent: study, learn, recycle… get outside of your comfort zone. It may seem obvious, but early this year I took part in a project in which the iOS chief officer criticized me for starting to write the iOS App in Swift. If you are an iOS developer, you should be writing all of your code in Swift by now. In just a few weeks, iOS 9 and Watch OS 2 will be released to the public. Have you programmed a Watch OS 2 App yet? You should at least have tried a “Hello world” one by now.
Besides, my suggestion is to collaborate in projects that will provide you with valuable experiences to help you become a better professional, and that will allow you to share your expertise with other and be enriched by theirs. I’m not talking about paid jobs, but rather getting involved in activities that will not only allow you to learn new things, but will also help you build a network of friends and colleagues that can be invaluable in the future.
…but don’t read your email at night
True, I said that we need to constantly be learning and improving as professionals, but that doesn’t mean we need to be online 24/7. One of my strongest rules is never reading my email at night, specially not when I’m about to go to sleep. I’ve found that checking your email late at night is the best recipe for a sleepless night. Allow yourself some time to relax, and respect your sleep time. One of my main don’ts for separating work from life: don’t allow your work to take over your sleep time.
go to the gym…
…or go jogging, ride your bike, or just go for a walk regularly, but do some physical activity. I’ve found that I feel more relaxed, productive and happy when I practice exercise regularly. The Apple Watch has really helped me to do more exercise, but you don’t need it to lead a healthier lifestyle. Being a developer often implies spending a lot of time sit on a chair in front of our computers, and it’s easy to forget how much time we spend there without standing for a minute. So do yourself a favor and do some physical activity weekly. You won’t regret it.
… but disconnect
When you are at the gym, or riding your bike, or enjoying a nice walk, leave your gadgets at home. I see a lot of people carrying their phones with them at the gym, checking their email or even having a chat with their customers or boss via WhatsApp. Please don’t do that. I know it’s tempting to be always available and you can feel that you are offering a better service to your clients by being online permanently, but it will prevent your from really enjoying that time and relaxing. So allow your eyes some time to rest, away from screens. It’s ok to carry your sport band or Apple Watch, but nothing else. Use that time to disconnect from work.
keep a tidy and clean working environment…
Contrary to what’s usually stated, I find that keeping a clean and tidy environment helps me to concentrate in the task at hand and keeps me focused throughout my working hours. If my desktop is a mess, I’m usually less focused and tend to “play” with the things I have around me. For me, keeping my desktop tidy is the best way of immersing myself in the right mindset before starting work. Besides, having acquired the habit of being organized has helped me a lot to set better schedules for the projects I’m working on, and has also allowed me to reach my deadlines in a more thoughtful and relaxed way. My suggestion is: keep a tidy environment, take care of your desktop and have it clean and organized.
… but don’t be there at all times
My working space has become one of my favorite places of the house. Not only it’s beautifully minimalist and clean, but I enjoy being there with my gadgets, writing code or just procrastinating with my computer (I’m a geek after all, what’d you expect?). Anyway, I try to avoid being there at all times. I’m a TechHub member at the Google Campus, Madrid, so I spend half of my working hours there. When I want to just relax and surf the web, I would go to a different room with my laptop or have a coffee with my iPad at a Starbucks nearby. I think it’s good to change your working environment from time to time, and to avoid using the same space for working and other activities. When you are a freelance developer, and work from home, it can be sometimes hard to separate them, but I think it really helps your mind to relax and allow for a context change. My suggestion: try it. Use different places for different activities, and don’t stick to the same space for work, relax, casual web surfing, etc. Also, change your working scenario from time to time, it will help you to avoid being burned out.
These are just some of the do’s and don’ts that come to mind in my experience as a freelance developer. Do you have any suggestions? some tricks or tips that may be helpful? Share them with us in the comments below!