October 28th, 2008

I’ve been a full-time freelance writer for four months now, and I enjoy the work I do. I write for Village Voice Media’s blog Heartless Doll, I have my weekly column Click Me, I do translations for Tom’s Guide, and I contribute to publications like The Economist, Playboy, Forbes.com, and Wired. I get to write about the things that interest me — sex, gender, technology, and video games — and I do it on my own schedule. My gig, in theory, is great.

Trouble is, this is the first time I’ve worked day in and day out on the internet. While I’ve freelanced in some form for almost four years, it’s always been while doing other things: going to school, teaching, traveling. Now that I’m settled here in San Francisco, there’s something sort of anti-climatic about waking up every morning, walking ten feet to my desk, and spending eight hours on the internet. Despite the fact that I enjoy my work, the whole experience leaves me kind of bummed.

Does anyone else out there work full-time online? Anyone have any suggestions for how to stay happy while staring at a laptop screen? My doctor, funny little man that he is, has told me to stop eating lunch at my desk and start stretching my neck throughout the day. Penny Arcade injects thirty seconds of cheer into my life three times a week. Really, it’s not all that bad. Still, I’ll take any and all tips!

Tags: Bonnie life

13 Responses to “Do you work on the internet? Does it bum you out?”

  1. Dave Says:

    My biggest advice would be to get out of the house regularly and away from the computer, even a nice laptop screen or external monitor is going to fry your eyes if you stare at it for too long at a time. Go somewhere and eat lunch, go out and grab a cup of coffee down the street, whatever. I try to make sure to eat lunch away from my desk, and get out for a half hour break or two during the day.

    Most productivity studies say you should get up and stretch your legs, have a wander around, get a new drink, whatever, once an hour or so, that’ll go a long way towards relieving eye strain and the like during the day. I definitely do that, and it definitely helps.

    Basically it comes down to the fact that staring at a laptop for a zillion hours a day isn’t particularly good for you, even if you’ve got a nice monitor and a nice desk and chair (though I can’t over-estimate the value of those, make sure you have a comfy chair) and taking breaks from subjecting yourself to that can go a long way toward making yourself feel better. Try to make some time to get out and interact with, like, actual people as well, even if it’s just the barista at the coffee shop, I always get cranky if I don’t at least get out and chat with people or get dinner or something during the day.

  2. That Fuzzy Bastard Says:

    Getting out is excellent advice—back when I was working at home, I always started my day with a 15-30 minute walk, even in crappy weather (which only made me more happy to be in my home!)

  3. Jinny Says:

    I would suggest trying to work at different locations if you can. Visit a nearby library or local coffee shop that offers free wi-fi. Getting out and changing your work environment can work wonders. Well, I suppose you could develop a caffeine addition from frequenting a coffee shop…I could think of worse things. :)

  4. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Great suggestions, guys, thanks! My trouble though is often that, since I work for myself, any time I take away from my desk during the day directly relates to money I don’t make. 15-minute stroll through the neighborhood: a post I don’t write. 30-minute break to go get a coffee: pitch I don’t send. An hour for lunch: a column I don’t file. You get the drift…

    I do hit the gym a couple times a week (wow, I just said “hit the gym”; I’m officially a tool) which helps make sure I get out of the apartment at least once a day. My least favorite thing though, like Dave mentioned, is when my roommates will come home at the end of the day and I’ll realize I haven’t spoken to another human being for nine straight hours.

    I’ve also started getting really nasty headaches in the back of my neck, which my doctor informed me was from working too much without breaks. It’s just so hard to take care of yourself when there are things to get done…

  5. Chris Says:

    A question you’ll need to answer for yourself, then, is “Is money more important than health?” In my humble opinion, if filing a column prevents you from eating lunch, then that column ought to wait until the afternoon. I’m a freelancer too (musician): I like to think that I practice what I preach. And, really, you’re wildly intelligent, witty, and perceptive: you can see that your body is telling you something with those headaches. If you keep your present pace, your purse may overfloweth with cash, but you’ll be in too much pain to spend it, other than on world-class, non-socialist health care.

  6. josh Says:

    i too find that some exercise at one point during the day can act as an energy booster. I also like to keep a kettle of hot water for tea nearby.

  7. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Chris, you sound like my doctor :).

    My new-ish regime has been 1) to not allow myself to start working before 9:30 2) to not allow myself to work more than 40 hours a week 3) to remove my over-achieving self from the computer for at least half an hour for lunch 4) to stand up and stretch my neck every now and then, possibly while making tea and 5) to get myself out of the apartment Friday afternoon, either to the library or a coffee shop. You know that Friday “I wish I weren’t in the office anymore” itch? Yeah, working ten feet from my bedroom means it’s really easy to just curl up, watching TV, and ignore work…

    The other thing is, and maybe this is something you guys haven’t come across (?), in general it just feels somewhat anti-climatic, working from home. Then again, there’s probably nothing to be done about that :).

  8. Dan Says:

    You have two problems here. Working at home, and being a workaholic.

    For the first, I know exactly what you mean about it being anticlimactic. The tips I’ve seen have revolved around having a separate space, ideally a separate room devoted to work. You do work there, and nowhere else in your home, and you don’t do anything there but work.

    If not a separate room, I’ve found a common space (like a living room) with few distractions to help. The fact that I can’t permanently make the space “mine” (and that I have to wear clothes to be there) makes it feel more like an office and less like a bedroom.

    And change it up! Libraries and coffee shops are an excellent idea for when you know there’s no way in hell any work is getting done at home. When I visited Seattle, I toured some of the coffee shops and was amazingly productive in just about all of them. I have a friend who moved from Seattle to SF and assures me the ones in SF are *even better*.

    Another separation idea you might want to try is having separate accounts on your computer for work and other times.

    Now to the workaholism.

    Wait, you mean you didn’t learn how not to work all the time when you were in college? That’s been one of my most valuable lessons. Of course, I had to suffer an emotional breakdown, nearly fail out, and take a semester’s leave of absence before I finally got the message. I sincerely hope you don’t have to go through similar before you learn.

    Breaks are not preventing you from working. They are keeping you sane enough to continue working. The fact that you spend a third of your life asleep seems wasteful until you try to go without it. Breaks are the same way. They are sustenance.

    While it seems you are more productive if you continuously overwork, this doesn’t turn out to be the case, at least in the long run. Maybe you can handle the frenetic pace for a week. Maybe for a few months. I guarantee you will reach your limit at some point, and then you will need a large amount of time to recover. As you approach that point, you will become simultaneously less & less productive, and busier & busier to try to make up for it.

    Guess what? After you hit your breaking point, you will need a long period to recover. During this period, you won’t be able to get much work done. All those breaks you didn’t take become debt you have to pay off.

    So do you want to ride an emotional rollercoaster? You’ll probably “waste” the same amount of time either way.

    And now that I, a stranger on the internet, have magically solved all your problems through the sheer force of typing, I ask only that you let us know what solutions you eventually find.

  9. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    All very true, Dan. I’m working on calming down, I really am. Heck, I even watching House in the middle of the day yesterday. Wait, was that a break or simple procrastination?

    Sadly (or not?) I wasn’t one of those college kids who did nothing all day. I was one of those college kids who worked super hard and ran a million clubs and edited a magazine and blah blah blah. Overworking is in my blood :).

  10. koffyninja Says:

    while i do have the advantage of working in an office, I spend most of my day error checking websites and staring at countless lines of HTML. While it’s not perfect, I’ve actually found that visting this site helps me get over the tedium of work. I also use lunch time to take a walk down the block to eat. it helps break a boring 8 hour day into 2 boring 4 hour segments with a nice stroll in between. but I should get back to work before the boss gets of the phone and looks over this way…

  11. Leigh Says:


    Do you remember some time back you called me a “rising star in the world of game journalism” or something? Well, as a “rising star,” I ran twenty five miles a week, went out a couple nights a week, cooked all my own meals and was about to quit smoking.

    Fast forward like eighteen months maybe and I, too, am a full-time internet person. My exercise now consists of a walk around the corner to buy coffee, I did not quit smoking, I prefer to communicate in text instead of on the phone, I am tired earlier and I suffer from stunning backaches. I eat frozen vegetables and order out constantly at great detriment to my wallet because I’m tired and don’t feel like making anything, or I become anxious and worry I don’t have enough time. My vision has gone in the toilet and so has my fashion sense — or my inclination to put on something other than sweats.

    So the answer to your question is, yeah. It bums me out. What’s helping me is to get really good at drawing lines — definitely designate a space for work in your house (not not not the bedroom) and work there. Don’t do other things at the same time like eat or watch TV; in other words, even though you are at home, try to draw a big line between the things you do at work and the things you do while not at work.

    And yeah, obviously, eating lunch out, taking walks, stretching your neck and having frequent breaks for chat and emotional stimulation are good ideas too.

    I also agree with the person who identified that “working from home” is only a major issue when it combines with “workaholism.” Workaholics who can go to offices are forced to eventually leave their offices and go home. Workaholics are already *at* home.

    So, yeah. I think the strategy comes down to workaholics who work from home must moderate with twice as much self-awareness and self-care than normal sane people.

  12. YangYin Says:

    Have you considered finding a lover or dom(me) who you can meet a few afternoons a week or one that will come over and pull you by your hair away from the screen?

    For the neck and eye problems, check out Chi Gong. Should be easy to find a teacher or class in San Francisco.

  13. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Good to know I’m not alone in being bummed, Leigh. What do you think though, should I have someone to pull my hair away from the screen :)?

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