How to Stay Human (While You Freelance)

It’s almost a year since I told Ofir Nachmani, CEO of IOD (and my boss), that I would be moving from Israel to the U.S. the following month. At that point, I had been working full-time for the company only for a short time.

To request from Ofir what I did — “Can I take this job to the U.S.?” — would likely be considered brazen and absurd at most other companies after half a year of employment, even in this digital age of remote work. But Ofir hardly missed a beat when he replied, “We’re a company of freelancers, how could I say, ‘no?’”

It took a few more conversations for us to work out enough details so we would both be comfortable with the arrangement, but we did — and I took my job as VP Editorial & Marketing with me to the U.S. where I’ve been living since last June. But I was back in Israel this week for a management offsite. I’m writing this blog post from the IOD offices at wework in Tel Aviv. Ofer Prossner, VP Operations, is sitting to my left; Ofir across from him.

Petar Marinkovic, our CTO, also joined us later in the week, flying in from Belgrade.

And while officially I was in town for a very important, high-level strategy and planning meeting …off the record? I’m here because I missed the guys.

Really. I missed working in the same space as them. I missed the impromptu brainstorming sessions, the in-person debates over how to handle a challenging customer request, and of course, the banter that can only happen in real life, on the ground.
This year working remotely — in the most remote way I ever have as a freelancer — really got me thinking about what it takes to stay sane if you choose a freelance lifestyle. And since IOD is a company of freelancers, I thought I’d share a few tips.

Is Freelancing Even Your Thing?

Some people I know claim they could never work as a freelancer. Either they fear the unpredictable paycheck or they believe they wouldn’t be productive if their desk was only feet away from the laundry or the refrigerator.

Not me. In my 20-year career, I’ve done a few stints as a freelancer. An office job does offer somewhat of an illusion of reliability, but after a few years in one place I often tire of a full-time office job’s on-the-clock mentality toward productivity and its always-in-the-office methodology toward collaboration.

However, as much of a proponent I am for freelancing, I also sometimes suffer the side effects of working remotely, and in this particular case, in a completely different time zone from my colleagues. Side effects may include: Loneliness, hunger, poor hygiene, eating when I am not hungry, not eating when I am hungry, shouting at the laptop screen, and talking to myself in the mirror.

So what have I figured out?

Tip 1: Get Out of the House

When I used to live in Israel, I lived in a very tight-knit kibbutz community where there were a bunch of freelancers or stay-at-home parents. There I could take breaks from my work to go for walks in nature or have coffee with various neighbors in their homes. In suburban NJ, however, where I live now, you hardly see anyone outside between the hours of 9 am and 6 pm, unless they are walking from their garage to their car.

Luckily, with our wework membership, I’ve started venturing into a wework space in Philadelphia where IOD’s new U.S. operations will be located. (More on this to come in a future post.)

There I get to interact with actual human beings, not just the faces of human beings on screens.

If you don’t have the luxury of co-working space, the coffee shop seems obvious, but I sometimes prefer the local library. The vibe is different at the library and it’s a lot quieter than Starbucks. Also, my mom works from home, and sometimes I work from her house. Be creative. In Israel, and in many countries, you can even work from the train. Free wifi. Air conditioning. Interesting people. 

Tip 2: Get Out of Your Pajamas

When I finally saw the guys last week in person, they were polite. They didn’t act surprised to see me in an outfit other than my lime green H&M sweatshirt and black leggings. But I imagine they were surprised. I spend half my week each week in that lime green H&M sweatshirt.

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However, I got fancied up for my work days in Tel Aviv this week. I wore jeans. And a clean t-shirt every day. One day, I even wore a top with colorful patterns. I almost matched the mural on the wall … but not quite.

Ideally, getting out of your pajamas would be followed up with a shower. But it doesn’t have to be. Bare minimum, wear something different to work — wherever you work — than what you slept in. Do this at least three times a week. It will make you feel more professional, and more confident. This is a practice I am going to employ when I get back.

Tip 3: Get Off of Social Media (and Reward Yourself for Doing so)

Let’s face it. As freelancers, we are way more prone to being distracted than professionals who work in a cubicle amongst a sea of cubicles underneath security cameras or behind firewalls. We are on a clock of our own making a lot of the time. I’ve come up with a whole bunch of tricks to keep productive in this age of distractions. The most successful is a reward system. I’ve always liked a good competition, and sometimes as a freelancer, the only person you’re up against is yourself.

If I stay off social media for an hour, I get to eat ice cream. Even if it’s still morning.

If I don’t open instagram until afternoon, I get to spend 15 minutes just mindlessly scrolling through images of vintage books and toys. (I won’t ask you what your instagram reward would be, but [insert hobby or vice here.])

If we didn’t know before now, we know now. Social media use is a time suck, and worse. It’s addictive even for individuals not prone to addiction, but worse for those who are. Acknowledge the risk to your productivity of having social media up on your screen and get off for a specific amount of time.

So, Are You Feeling More Human Yet?

There are tons of other tips I can offer (…and maybe I will in a future post!)

Last tip for now: If you haven’t freelanced before, but somehow ended up reading this article because you are considering it, be in touch with us.

We are always looking for new tech experts and editors to join our IOD community. This week I also met up with a few of our Israel-based editors and it was so great to hear from them that working in our unique way — collaboratively with a tech expert — is something they find rewarding above and beyond the paycheck.

I have a few more days here and I am going to try to enjoy them — actively ignoring what the news has to say about the region — and just spend meaningful, productive time with the guys, soaking up that in-person collaboration to last me until the next time we meet.

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