Freelance Advice: Wear Socks at Home

6:30 am – my alarm goes off.

I roll out of bed, silently promising myself I’ll dial that alarm back to 5:30 one day – but given my old habit of going to work for 10:00, 6:30 is already a serious improvement. That I’m more productive in the morning is just one of the things freelancing has taught me – a lesson learned after several 16-hour days working late into the night and wondering where my energy went.

Morning hours are precious – the rare time of day where my reserves are topped up and even the ugliest projects seem manageable. Turns out creativity and focus are a bit like house pets – let ‘em rest up and give ‘em some food, and they’ll be around to play most of the day.  

Eyes a bit blurry, I head down the hall and into the kitchen to throw together some kind of breakfast. When you’re focused in on business, your health is one of  the first things to go. I’m trying to get back to eating right, a goal sandwiched between revenue targets, ideal body fat percentages and places I hope to travel in the next 12 months.  From the kitchen to the shower, from the shower to my desk room.  It’s a common ritual – why bother explaining it?

Because as a self-employed person, it’s easy to wake up, flop out of bed, throw on whatever’s close to you and head to your desk. No breakfast. No shower. And why do your hair? Nobody’s around to see you, right? You might be tempted to see this complete lack of obligation as a perk.

“Work from home in your underwear!” The dream.

Careful. It’s a trap.

Around month 5 of this little adventure, I looked up and realized some terrible things. For starters, pride in my appearance had reached an all-time low. I’d throw on a trusty plaid shirt, my best jeans and some dress shoes when I was meeting with a client – but at home, half the time I was lucky if I had a shirt on under my hoodie – the same hoodie I’d worn the day before. Probably the day before that, too. Cologne bottles gathered dust. No sense in trying to smell nice for the rabbit downstairs.

Worse still, I’d gained weight – devoting what was once gym time to squeezing out that next few hundred bucks. Days were cyclical and blurred together  - a hazy time spent rebounding between my desk and my bed, interrupted by the odd trip to the mail box and a walk to the bank to cash all my cheques. My left eye would spend up to a quarter of the day twitching – a sure sign of being sleep deprived, strung out on caffeine, or stressed.

At times, all three.

Let me stress that this sudden nose dive in basic life skills was not the usual for me. I’m no Martha Stewart and I won’t make Abercrombie & Fitch’s summer campaign, but I didn’t grow up a slob.  

When I started out on my own, I thought hustling hard meant giving 110% to my business. A work ethic that began as a means of avoiding failure (work hard so I don’t go under!) became a work ethic focused on earning as much as I possibly could by drowning my days in an office chair and avoiding frivolous things like eating.

I was thrilled to be building a business and excited by being greeted with early success. But I was exhausted, fattening up and dressing like someone from Trailer Park Boys. Worse, every conversation with friends began to be dominated by my work, what I was doing, my new leads. It became an unhealthy focus. I was missing out on the rest of life.

That’s when Derek (if you’ve been reading my blog, you know he’s someone I consider a mentor) shared a simple idea with me:

“Wear Socks at Home.”

Socks are usually the last thing people put on in the morning – and the first thing you stop wearing at home. If you’re wearing socks, chances are good that you’ve showered. If you’ve showered, you’ve probably shaved. And so on, and so on. In other words, bring structure back to your life, one small step at a time. Make time for breakfast. Dress up like you’re going out in public. Schedule in gym time. And know when to shut it all off and just be with friends. 

The basics – but it’s not hard to get lost.

I don’t work in my underwear any more. I’ve got alarms on my phone to wake me up, get me out of my chair hourly, remind me to eat, tell me to go to the gym. It’s okay to have ambition, okay to throw yourself into a dream, okay to work hard and sacrifice things to build the life you want.

But while you’re building your great big life, don’t forget about the rest of it – even the “small” stuff.

Wear socks at home.

3 Responses to “Freelance Advice: Wear Socks at Home”

  1. Tony Spencer says:

    I’d take the advice a bit further. Find somewhere else to work.

    When I went full time self employed many years ago I setup an awesome home office. I really loved working in this space for 1.5 years. I had self discipline and a schedule all worked out. Then a friend bought a commercial property way bigger than he needed and invited me to rent an office for cheap so he would have some company. I agreed and within a week discovered something important… I wasn’t so self disciplined as I had thought. Getting out of the house eliminated the “hey I think I’ll mow the yard” syndrome. Perhaps more importantly it provided a much needed physical divide between my personal and professional life which paid dividends in my relationships.

    Coop spaces are a great choice but if they don’t exist where you live just do some networking, meet cool people you’d like to be around during the day, and suggest you rent a desk space in their office.

    • Joel says:

      Tony – Really good point!
      I work out of my old employer’s office sometimes, I find the change of scenery and being surrounded by people is really important for maintaining my sanity.
      That said, I don’t have the same “mow the yard” problems just yet – though if I had kids or others living in the house during work hours, you can bet I’d be getting into a co-op space. I think for early freelancers, money excludes the chance to work anywhere but home or Starbucks – but when the capital is there to make it happen, you’re absolutely right, that’s a smart option.

      Separation of personal and work life is important too; I only work in my office. Computers don’t go in the bedroom, kitchen, or anywhere else. But a completely different physical space is, as you said, another solid idea. Appreciate your stopping by!

  2. Thanks for the post, as a former freelancer I always enjoy reading thoughts of other self-employed people on working at home, process organization and home office philosophy.

    The main thing I’d like to point out from your article is that you’ve found what works for you. This is hard!

    Still I am not a fan of early hours. I’ve spent around 4 years to understand that neither early alarms nor going to bed at 10-11 PM makes me a morning person. My opponents often say that I haven’t tried enough (oh really!) , that I’m just lazy – but, in fact, this doesn’t bother me amy more. I accepted the fact I just can’t be productive before 10 am (being non-productive means I would stare at a five-word utterance on the screen, sipping some third cup of coffee, wait, what did I want to say? I wanted to say PILLOW). I even did some check-ups at a clinic and went to a therapist – and they said: why do you need to be an early bird if you obviously don’t have wings?

    Now to the underwear=) I had a reverse situation. I’ve read all these nice lifehacker-ish articles about wearing a white shirt at home, working only by the desk, having fixed working hours as office people do, you know what I am talking about.

    And I followed them. That was so terrible I can’t even explain. I had some anxiety issues. And after that during 11 months of freelancing I was working out my own rules. Why am I writing this comment – I just don’t want people to feel miserable or unsuccessful if they love to work at 3 AM in their bed=)

    Anyway, great post! I enjoyed it, and I’m gonna get the second pair of working socks because it’s freaking -17 ? outside=)
    BTW, did you try a standing desk?

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