Wednesday 15 September 2010

7 practical challenges you might face whilst living your dream life

When you think about giving up your office life, having more leisure time, planning your day however you want to and living out your dreams, what springs to mind?

Perhaps you imagine sitting on a beach with the sound of the waves gently lapping against the shore, whilst you occasionally check your email to see how much extra money has been deposited into your Swiss bank account since you finished your last bottle of ice cold beer?

(image via @johnnyvagabond)

Wouldn't that be nice? No challenges, just a life of easy and comfort. It's possible, I'm certainly not doubting that, and maybe one day that will be me. However right now in my first week since leaving employment to explore other ways of life, I'm still firmly in London trying to get my plans up and running and I'm already starting to find some challenges that I didn't anticipate. Practical challenges that need to be overcome before I can settle into this new lifestyle that I'm trying to create...

1. Need for social connection

This is an obvious one, but travelling to an office each day provides lots of opportunities to catch up with people you know and interact with them. It could be anything from a simple 'hello' to a long lunchtime catchup with colleagues you class as good friends. It's also a good way to meet new people through contact with new starters, clients or suppliers.

When you work from home these opportunities are few and far between and sometimes don't happen at all. It's easy to think that substituting real contact with social networking on Twitter/Facebook/etc.. will fill this void, but as we all know it's easy to end up wasting hours or whole days getting distracted with the entertaining or informative links being shared. On the flip side, I'm finding that the total lack of interruption means that the days seem about 5 times as long as they would normally, and you can get a huge amount done.

Solution - I think for me it will be signing up to a few daytime classes (languages, fitness, etc.) and catching up with more friends in the evening (update - I now think this is really important, here's why). It's definitely not daytime TV. Another solution to the isolation of home-working is to head into the city and work wirelessly. But even in a tech-hub city like London, that can have it's problems...

2. Wireless working

I had really hoped that with all these wireless devices, free wifi and hotspots everywhere it would be easy to run an online business whenever and wherever. Unfortunately, so far it's not turning out to be as easy as I'd hoped. When you work in an office and the wifi or network go down there is a public outcry, business stops, money is lost, and IT usually make it the top priority to get it sorted straight away.

The problem with non-office wifi in coffee shops, bars, public spaces and even paid for co-working hubs is that the providers really don't care about your business, and why should they? Right now there isn't sufficient reason for them to care if the connection drops out, sites are blocked or the speed is so slow you can't access Gmail, they will still get customers.

Solution - For now it's trial and error to see which are the best hotspots to connect and work from. Ideally you want a strong signal, good bandwidth and full site access. Power-points are also a must for extended mobile outings. I'm in the process of compiling the best spots in London and will be posting this to the Resources page soon. Please do send me any good hotspot recommendations through the comments.

3. Public workspaces

Setting up your mobile office in a public place can be both liberating and frustrating. It feels great to find a lovely spot, pull out your laptop and get straight into your work surrounded by inspirational sights, sounds and people. Well it does until a bunch of bored screaming toddlers sets up camp right next to you. And why shouldn't they, after all you're in their space, you should really be in an office, right?

Solution – find a few different public spaces that you enjoy working from and remember that you're mobile. Pack up and go to the next one if it's not working for you. You're not chained to a desk anymore so don't be chained to a place.

4. Co-working hubs

You could always go for the middle ground between public spaces and expensive office space and go work in a co-working shared space. I'm still testing these out and will report further. In theory they are a great idea, in reality I'm not 100% sure. The upside is that you should get a nice space, wifi, coffee facilities, toilets, printer (if you still need to use paper) and the company of like-minded, forward-thinking, mobile entrepreneurs. The downside is that you'll pay a not insignificant price for the same thing you can probably get for free at home if you have wifi. But wait, you'll be surrounded by interesting folks just like you. The only thing is they might be totally wrapped up in their own thing so won't want to interact with anyone. Or they might just be dull people who aren't on your wavelength at all. And of course with so many people sharing a hotspot you are at the mercy of the space's bandwidth which might end up being much worse than your own home connection.

Solution – try a few out before you sign any contracts. Many will give you a taster day if you ask nicely. They are a great idea and hopefully one that will vastly improve your network of friends and colleagues. But if you just need to get some online work done it might be cheaper and easier to stay at home. Which brings me to...

5. Traveling

Unfortunately I don't live within walking distance of any interesting places for mobile working and I've had too many bicycles stolen to consider going back to cycling. So I need to catch the dreaded London Tube. So once again I find myself at the mercy of Transport for London. Once again I'm paying over the odds for an overcrowded and unreliable service. Avoiding venturing onto London's public transport, which can be almost inhumane during rush hour times, was one of the drivers for me leaving office life in the first place.

Solution – Try to avoid rush hour at all costs. Not that easy when the rest of the world revolves around working hours. Meet-ups, classes and opening hours are based on them. I guess there isn't much I can do about this apart from relocating to somewhere where I can walk or Boris Bike to the places I want to spend time. Maybe this is an unsolvable problem in London which is vast and such an impossibly hard city to get around. If the city isn't working then maybe it's time to think about changing it. Over the next few months I'm going to try short spells of working in other cities to see how they compare and will be keeping this problem in mind.

6. Eating

As part of the new routine I'm following a Low Carb diet which means that I need to regularly eat meat, vegetables and legumes, and avoid carbs (especially white carbs) as much as possible. WOW this is hard in London, and I guess it would be in most other cities. At home this is not a problem as I've stocked the fridge with everything I need, but it's almost impossible to find cafes or takeouts that go high on the meat and low on the stodge. Sandwiches are the default reasonably priced food and even healthy options tend to include rice, noodles or couscous.

Solution - Whole Foods do have a great lunchtime mix and match deal that is perfect, but it's a little on the expensive side. Any good ideas for this would be really appreciated.

7. Time perception shift (feeling like you have too much time)

This is a really odd one. When you work in a super busy environment you find that the days fly by. You work late into the evening just to get the essentials done and never seem to get on top of everything. You never have enough time to do all the things you need to do, never mind start on things you want to do!

But when you take out the commute, start to work at your personal peak performance times and remove interruptions you find that you complete things very very quickly. This leaves lots of leftover time which it's very tempting to fill with mind-numbing things like watching TV. It's really odd that time, the very thing you give up work to get more of, can become a problem. You can almost overdose on if you're not used to it. You may find yourself getting up late or going to bed early just because you can't figure out what to do with it all.

Solution – fill the time with things you've always wanted to do and never had time. You can use techniques such as dream-lining to do this. Plan activities into your calendar so they create events to look forward to and to build the rest of your days around.

The other thing to do is just get used to it. I'm still feeling incredibly guilty about having time on my hands and desperately trying to find things to keep me busy. But as the excellent Zen Habits blog points out, creating space and solitude in our life is incredibly important. Space allows us to think, to absorb, to process and it also allows for randomness and the unplanned to enter our lives. So either use the spare time in unexpected ways, meditate, exercise, dance, laugh out loud, write, sketch, sing, make music, read, knit, send a message to someone you admire, whatever you can come up with that makes you feel good. Or just sit in solitude, do nothing and see what happens, apparently it's the best way to be creative.

Have you come across any unexpected challenges whilst you've lived or worked outside of the confines of the traditional office? What were they and how did you try to overcome them? Would love to hear your personal experiences.


  1. Edgy - have you tried Hub Culture on Carnaby Street - great place to work - I am in there most days. Here's a free taster for you ;-)

  2. Hey Ben
    I did actually and I used a voucher. Great site/idea.
    The day I visited the wifi wasn't working (in fact it was the day I wrote this post) but since then they have contacted me to say they are upgrading the wifi and have kindly given me another free day. I'll update once I've visited again.
    Are you planning to add more things to the site to 'taste' in the future?
    All the best

  3. I'd really recommend using a 3G connection through your phone or a modem instead of battling with wifi connections. I can work across the country now without even considering whether I am connected or not - and when I was in Thailand for the past two months a $20/mo unlimited data sim card did the job there too. It's really worth it I think to take such a core thing off your mind and out of your day.