Being an indie maker can be a source of strain on your mental health. Most indie makers work on their own, remotely, which can translate into a feeling of loneliness. Additionally, starting a business or juggling several projects, sometimes alongside a full-time job, can be anxiety-inducing. It’s harder to feel like you’re going in the right direction when you are both the designer and implementer of the plan.
There are many resources around mental wellness out there, but few cater to the specific needs of indie makers, who are often highly ambitious people, and are prone to overwork and self-doubt. Here are five easy things indie makers can implement in their daily life to feel happier and more fulfilled.
Keep a journal
Most indie makers have a to-do list and are great at setting goals for themselves. What do I need to build this week? How many customers will I reach out to? How efficient they are managing their to-do lists really depends on the person, but most have a tendency to see crossing stuff off the list as success in itself. Why then doesn’t it always feel satisfying?
Beside powering through tasks, it’s important to take time to reflect. This means blocking some time to sit down, and review what was achieved during the past week. Go beyond what you have done, and try to analyse your progress critically: are you getting closer to your ultimate goal? Also, how do you actually feel? It’s a great time to look for signs of tiredness, loneliness, or stress.
Instead of using a template, design a framework that is meaningful to you. In my case, I know that sometimes I can get so excited about work that I neglect my social life. So I make sure to reflect on time spent with loved ones, and to think about people I haven’t seen in a while. If you are trying to get in shape, think about how your week went: did you go to the gym? Was it enjoyable? If not, maybe try and go for a run instead the following week?
The idea is to go from blindly doing stuff to moving forwards with your eyes wide open, and a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t. I personally do this every Sunday evening before going to bed, but you should pick whichever time you’re pretty sure will be quiet, and try to make it a ritual. You don’t need to write a novel each time – even though you certainly could! For example, I only use quick bullet points.
Make IRL friends
Talking about social life, it can get pretty lonely for indie makers. We love creating stuff from our laptops, be it through coding, designing, or writing, and there’s such a wealth of stuff to do online that it’s easy to spend hours without actually talking to a human being.
This can be extremely detrimental long term on your mental health. We humans are social animals, and we need to connect with people in the real world. But most people past a certain age make friends at work, so how can you socialise as an indie maker?
The Internet is still your friend – it’s just about taking it offline. You could sign up to meetups – Indie Hackers and Product Hunt have plenty of events happening all around the world. If you’re in an area with many indie makers, you could also go to events organised by co-working spaces. Or, next time you connect with a fellow indie maker online and realise you are both currently in the same city, offer to meet for a coffee or a drink. Bringing these online friendships into the offline world will do wonders to your wellness, and will deepen the relationship by doing stuff you can’t do on the Internet.
Make it a habit any time you travel to check who is around. For example, I had beers in London, coffee in Paris, and dumplings in Taipei with fellow indie makers. These face-to-face chats are so valuable, and the conversations you end up having are often more raw and real.
Get off social media
Another nice segway here. Lots of indie makers spend most of their non-working time on Twitter, Telegram, and Slack. While these are amazing places to get advice, see what’s happening, and stumble upon interesting links or conversations, they can also be a time-suck, and negatively impact your mental health.
Another bad effect social media can have is to encourage comparison with fellow indie makers and discourage thinking outside the box. How come their product seems to do so much better than mine? Ha, someone launched a feature similar to what I had in mind, is there even a point in shipping it now? Everyone seems to be going for this style of illustrations for their landing page, should I do the same? And so on. Social media creates closed groups where everyone is looking at what everyone else is doing, comparing themselves, and emulating what their peers are doing. Not the best to stimulate your creativity.
Instead, find other, slower, more mindful sources of information. Pick up a good magazine about the industry you are trying to disrupt with your product. Read a book by an expert in an area you want to improve in, such as UX design or marketing. Watch a documentary. There are many ways to consume interesting information that are both relaxing and enriching for the mind.
A good way to limit your social media activity is to block specific times for it. Maybe only at lunch time and before dinner. Another more extreme way to control yourself is to make it impossible to use social media when you’re on the go.
“The solution I’ve settled on is that I’ve turned my phone to greyscale (to reduce its addictiveness; go to Color Filters in Settings), deleted email, Slack, and all entertainment apps (YouTube, Twitch, Instagram, and even the browser), deleted the app store (locking it with a passcode that I don’t have access to). My phone is now only useful for reading, music, texting; I find myself using it much, much less, at basically no cost to my quality of life.” – Justin Kan, YC Partner and entrepreneur.
Take an offline hobby
What to do with all this time you now have on your hands? A great way to develop your inner sense of happiness is to cultivate your creativity. While many indie entrepreneurs focus on digital products for their business, taking a hobby that does not require a laptop can be a great way to disconnect.
From a recent conversation on Twitter with other indie makers, here are some recommendations, from easy (cooking) to more involved (beekeeping).
- Electrical engineering
- Gardening (or grow potted plants)
- Get an aquarium
- Lock picking
- Learn a new instrument
- Learn a new language
- Make music (DJing)
- Make physical stuff (candles, woodworking)
- Sewing (needlework)
- Traditional photography
- Woodworking (develop your photos yourself in a lab)
This could also technically be a offline hobby, but should really be part of any person’s routine. Exercising does not necessarily mean going to the gym. It could also simply be going for a walk. Not only exercising is beneficial for your body, but it’s great for your mind too. It’s an opportunity to rest your eyes, to reflect, and to let your mind wander for a while.
If you’re up for something more energising, there are lots of options that can be fun. During that same conversation on Twitter, indie makers not only came up with the usual suspects such as running, cyclin, and swimming, but mentioned dancing, surfing, rock climbing, and even archery.
Going back to the importance of making friends, exercising regularly is also a great opportunity to find a workout buddy around where you live. What about a fellow indie maker? You could chat, brainstorm, and get in shape all at the same time. Or you could go for a friend that has nothing to do with entrepreneurship, and use that time to completely switch off, so you can go back to making with your mind rested and feeling full of energy.
This article was inspired by Justin Kan’s Feeling Good program. Many thanks to Justin for sharing his plan with the community.