Tips for healthy freelancing

Sitting at a computer all day

As a web designer, I’m constantly thinking about how work may be affecting my health. Although I try to break up my days with meetings and working away from the computer, there is no getting away from the fact that most of the time, I need to be sat in front of a screen to make money.

I worry about straining my eyes, bad posture, getting enough fresh air and even putting on weight. Having two kids, I also want to stay fit for them so that I can be an active dad and be a good role model.

Freelancing, Again

After three years’s employment, I have just gone back to freelancing. I was lucky enough to live just a few miles away from that job, so I walked in nearly every day (well, maybe more like every other day), clocking up about 40 minutes of exercise each time. I was moving enough to feel like I didn’t need to watch what I was eating, and a short stroll to the shops at lunch time was a good way to stretch my legs and get some fresh air.

Now that I am freelancing and working from home again, I’ve lost my only real form of exercise and all of my old habits and methods of coping with long stints at the computer have had to change.

A freelancer friend of mine suggested I should join a gym. Now, I’ve never really been a fan of paying to exercise, but I’m starting to see the attraction of leaving the house to go for a run or swim in a comfortable environment.

One of the main reasons that I’m working for myself again is so that I can spend more time with my kids. At one and three, they certainly keep me busy and I’ve swapped that morning walk for chasing them around the house. It’s probably still great exercise, but I want to install a pedometer app on my phone, such as Moves, to see how much exercise I am actually getting.

The Rock ’n’ Roll Lunch

To get fresh air at lunch time, I tend to put the washing out, or if the weather is bad, I’ll just load the dishwasher and tidy the kitchen with the radio on full blast (the rock‘n‘roll lifestyle of a freelancer!). Mundane tasks like these are a great break for the brain. It’s good to switch off from screens and emails and deadlines every now and then, even if it is for just half an hour a day.

One unforeseen drawback of working from home is the lack of choice at lunch time. Although buying lunch out everyday gets expensive, I was at least getting a varied diet. These days, I tend to just eat a quick sandwich or some leftovers from the fridge. So, although my lunches are smaller and cheaper, I’m certainly not getting as much fresh fruit as I did, which I’m sure is having an impact on my energy levels.


Luckily, I have a family member who knows all about setting up work environments for good posture, and I’ve worked in enough offices to be aware of the best practises.

When I was sorting out my home office, she came round to advise me on how to sit and position my computer, making sure that I didn’t end up with a bad back or strained wrists for example. She also reminded me that I needed to take regular breaks from the screen, and that focusing on objects in the distance is a good exercise for your eyes.

Cabin Fever

One thing I don’t tend to suffer from is loneliness. Twitter is a great community for the industry and if I want to chat with friends there is always Facebook or Skype or countless other social networks. I find listening to music very therapeutic too, and depending on the type of work that I’m doing, this can really lift my mood or help me to concentrate.

However I do worry about my mental health, and to make sure that don’t end up staying in the house 24 hours a day, I try to schedule a few meetings a week even when I’m busy. This helps me to get some physical exercise and it breaks up my routine, stopping me from getting bored or complacent. If I get some new work from it too, then that’s a bonus!

Another good tip I have heard for avoiding cabin-fever (hat-tip to Stu Robson) is to make sure you ‘decompress’ at the end of the day. Taking a walk to the shop to get some milk is enough, just to let you re-adjust before spending time with family or friends.

Similarly, many people suggest walking around the block before starting work in the mornings. I’ve never tried this myself (too busy wrangling those kids) but I always make sure to get a shower, breakfast and some clothes on before turning on the computer.

Otherwise it can be a slippery slope, and before you know it, you’ll be answering your emails in your dressing gown, spilling cereal all over your newly cultivated pot-belly!

Benjy Stanton

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