/ How To

Becoming a saner indie maker

by eelco

Over the course of the past years, I've met and talked to many indie makers and bootstrapping entrepreneurs. Some making good money, others some nice extra pocket money. But no matter how they identify, often the question comes up: how do you keep sane? How do you don't go crazy? Or how do you still have time for your business or side projects, while at the same time enjoy the many other things in life too?

Being a maker of—currently—two profitable products and one two handfuls of side projects (some making a bit pocket money), I sometimes get the question too. Do you still exercise? Do you meet with friends? Do you sleep? Are you human? Yes, yes, yes and yes!

Here are in somewhat particular order, things that will help you as an indie maker.

Take time off

In fact, the biggest “trick” is to take time off. Yes, you read that right. Take real time off to do things you don't consider work. Go out for a hike in nature, read a book by the beach or explore new parts of your city and find the best new coffee in town.
By limiting your own time, you have to rethink the things you really have to do to move your work forward. You can't fool around anymore on Indie Hackers, Reddit or Product Hunt. Put in some real, solid and focused work.

“By limiting your own time, you have to rethink the things you really have to do to move your work forward.”

Real, solid and focused work

Which brings us to the next point: real, solid and focused work. The human brain is not made to multitask—this includes the brains of women, men and everything in between. When you sit down to get work done, know exactly what you want to do. Give yourself small and manageable chunks of work. Don't: “I need to create an authentication system". Do: "I need to create a User database table". Don't: “I need to design a login page”. Do: “I need to design a (reusable) input field component”. The smaller, the better. For one this create a clearer overview, but also actually finishing things has a real positive effect on the brain.

Other hugely important factors that have positive effects on the brain is to work out regularly, eat healthy and getting a good night's sleep. I am not telling you anything new here, so this is just a reminder: find some sport you love to do and do it 2-3 times a week. Walk to places, ride your bike to the office and take the stairs instead of the elevator. Eat fresh, self-cooked food more often than not, cut down on sugar (in food and drinks) and also don't eat any pre-packaged and processed food. Sleep many hours a day. Seven to eight hours is what most research will tell you. Don't trust people who tell you they function well on fewer hours a night; their brain probably suffered so much from their lack of sleep, they can't think straight anymore.

A day's worth of work (and not one more)

If you decide to work for the day, set some clear and reachable goals. When those are done, you are done. Don't crank out yet another (even small) task just for the sake of it. At the end of the day, there will always be more work to be done—even after your crank out that (even small) task. Just stop. Stop and enjoy anything that is not work and be happy and proud of what you accomplished that day.

Set the stage for focused work. Disable all your notifications on all your devices—which is, by the way, a great “hack” to enjoy life more in general. Don't have your biggest distraction a.k.a. your phone in sight. You should control your phone, not the other way around.

“Disable all notifications on all your devices—which is, by the way, a great hack to enjoy life more.”

The customer is not king/queen

Along the same lines: stop checking your stats all the time. Current active visitors on your site via Google Analytics Clicky (or from another not-evil company), new customers in Stripe or upvotes on your article/story/comment on your favourite website. These are not things you can act upon, and thus distract you from doing real stuff. I know it's a great feeling to see a few hundred people clicking about on your site, so, by all means, check it every now and then. Just be really conscious about this and rather enjoy the sight of the few thousands visits you had yesterday (what a great start of the day!).

This also goes for email. You already have notifications disabled. So now also stop checking and answering email the moment it hits your inbox. Yes, customers might appreciate a quick response. But setting the bar this high from the get-go can only lead to two possible outcomes: the customer is disappointed that once you didn't reply directly or you are disappointed in yourself for setting this crazy high standard.
“But my customer is king/queen”. No, they are not. You obviously want to provide them with the best possible customer service, but what good is it to them if you burn-out by being on on-call 24/7? Explain this, be honest with your customers. You are one person (a few maybe?) who built this amazing product, but you are also just human. They'll understand (hint: because they are human too!).

So you seem to have quite a strong opinion on doing real, focused work? Yes! I also do believe that goofing around or doing nothing at all is important too at times, but: you have to purposefully do this.

Create things just for fun

Sometimes create things just because you can. Not with the idea to make any money, to take over the world or the universe for that matter. I recently blocked out some time to create something new. Something that wasn't so “B2B”, something that was playful. Playful in visual design, marketing and copy. And just something I would enjoy working on from time to time. That something is Startup Costs. It's nothing big, it was easy to build and people loved the idea from the get-go. Win-win, I'd say.
Creating something fun and meaningless from time to time is a great way to get some of your creativity out there. Just make sure it's really small, so you can finish it in a really short period of time. Release it to the world and be happy about it.

Things you need to do vs. things you want to do

If you are just starting your new product, the many options you have can be quite overwhelming. Be really selective about the things you want to do and the things you need to do.

For developers this means:

For designers this means:

These are all things you as a developer or designer wouldn't necessarily advice to others. But when working on a product as an indie maker, you are not just either one. You are the developer, the designer, the marketer and the janitor at the same time.
Be very selective about what really moves your product forward and what is just nice to have. If you want to sweat the details of what you normally call “your profession”, go find a job just doing that.

Concluding words

The ideas written here work for me. I don't claim to have absolute knowledge or to be right for that matter. I just like to observe, listen and learn. The words written here are some of the things I've learned. As with everything: your mileage may vary. See what works for you and what doesn't work so well.
Want to have a chat about this topic? Send me an email.

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