The Seven Sins of Independent Work

You may be familiar with the seven deadly sins laid out in the Christian tradition. They are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Using this framework I thought it might be interesting to propose seven "sins" independent workers must avoid if they want to create sustainable and meaningful indie careers. Here's what I came up with:

1. Obsession

Many indie workers are driven to their work by an intrinsic interest in their specific field. Intrinsic motivation is a great thing but left completely unchecked it can easily bleed into overwork and burnout. As an indie worker you often don't have the clear signals that mark the beginning and end of a work day so the tendency is often to work longer hours than traditional employees. There's an almost constant sense of "there's more work to be done!" when you work for and/or by yourself. You must fight this urge to let work become an obsession. You must allow deliberate restoration to become part of what "working hard" means to you.

2. Envy

If you're the flavor of indie worker who makes his living on the internet then you've likely fallen victim to envy more than once. It's incredibly easy to look around and see other indie workers who have nicer websites, more interesting projects, bigger clients, or some other aspect of their work that can fill you with envy if left unchecked. Comparison is a dangerous game to play when the comparison group consists of the entire internet/rest of the world. To the extent that you can you must use internal metrics of comparison when gauging your level of success. Instead of comparing yourself to someone in your field who seems to be doing better than you try comparing yourself to your past-self. Use whatever metrics you'd like but only use them when comparing where you are now to where you used to be.

3. Formlessness

One of the most beautiful things about being an indie worker is the autonomy to work however you want. One of the most frustrating things about being an indie worker is the autonomy to work however you want. A complete and utter lack of structure almost never works for indie workers. There's obviously a great degree of individual preference at play with how much structure we prefer in how we work but I've never seen anybody who lacks any structure whatsoever being successful. How can you build a little bit more structure into your day without turning your indie work into a regular 9-to-5 job?

4. Busyness

It's easy to equate being busy with being productive. The always busy indie worker is rarely the truly successful indie worker. Being constantly busy means you're having trouble identifying and separating what is actually important to you and the work you do from the rest of the information you're flooded with on a daily basis. Try using the Eisenhower Matrix of Urgent/Not Urgent and Important/Not Important continuums to identify where most of your time is being spent and to ensure you're spending as much time as possible on that Important but Not Urgent work that so often represents the most meaningful and difficult work we can do.

5. Tunnel Vision

Personal and professional development are largely the same thing when you're an indie worker. Whereas a traditional employee may have opportunities to learn new skills via their employer an indie worker does not have anybody telling them what they need to learn next to move forward in their career. Indie workers must cast a wide net in order to read the trends in their specific market and identify which skills will allow them to do the work that's needed in the future. It can be easy to get locked into a tunnel vision situation where the only thing that appears to matter is completing the next project, responding to the next email, and cranking through the to-do list without ever stepping back and assessing the larger situation.

6. Distraction

While indie workers need to make sure they avoid tunnel vision, they also need to know how to block out distraction to truly focus on the task at hand. Distraction robs us of our ability to deliberately practice which is the best way to develop our skills. It prevents us from developing the concentration that allows us to do work that truly creative work that goes beyond the surface level. In a world where your next paycheck isn't guaranteed distraction is more than just an idle waste of time -- it's stealing money from yourself and your family.

7. Isolation

Despite the moniker of "indie worker" it's impossible to be 100% independent at all times. You still have colleagues even if you don't work in the same physical location or even in the same industry. Part of the reason for the popularity of coworking spaces is the fact that indie workers have been craving a way to connect with like-minded colleagues since there's only so much work you can do in your home office before the social isolation becomes too much to handle. Social isolation can stunt your professional and personal development and make what seemed like a great idea at the time (becoming an indie worker) seem depressingly masochistic in retrospect.

What else keeps you from doing your best work as an indie worker? What should we add to the list?

Photo by See-Ming Lee