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2022-10-05

My First Month as Self-Employed


It's been a month since I officially became self-employed in Canada. So far, things are going quite well, especially in terms of quality of life. Time flows slower, and a day is surprisingly longer than I used to feel. Even though my monthly income in Sep 2022 was roughly 50% of the amount I earned until the previous month, I feel the "cost" for a better life is pretty cheap. And thankfully, the 50% amount is still not a threatening number for a single person living in the city.

That said, I know it's too early to conclude; being in a situation where every minute literally counts needs a radical shift in how to use my own time, and I'm tuning myself daily to be a better version of myself in various ways. Here, let me jot down some of the key changes, observations, and tips I have had for the first 30 days.

What are you doing now?

You can find the answer in takuti.me/now:

I started a new career as an independent software developer in September 2022, focusing particularly on data & AI ethics and machine learning productization. … [T]here are three pillars of my work: Empathy, Ethics, and Externality. While I want to be honest with my personal feeling (empathy), I also want to be mindful of the long-term, eventual consequence of my work (externality). Ultimately, it is important for me to ensure the deliverables are ethically crafted throughout an end-to-end development lifecycle (ethics).

Following the principles, I'm currently working for two startup companies, both based in Japan.

I'm fortunate enough to have these immediate opportunities right after being independent, and both of them came from the connections in my home country; the first pillar—empathy—has strongly been stimulated thanks to the direct referrals, while the work is challenging enough in terms of externality and ethics.

A day in the life of a freelancer

In fact, the 50% reduction of my income is an intentional choice controlled by a simple variable—Working hours. Right now, I'm explicitly making commitments for two clients with just a little over 50% of my entire capacity in total, meaning I work for 4-5 hours per day at most, depending on the progress of the projects.

The rest of my day is for personal activities such as learning, reading, writing, and working out. Some of the recognizable changes in how to use my spare time include: cooking at home more often1, spending more time at a library, reading more printed books, and hiking or running long distances on weekdays. What a great privilege!

Importantly, once I started mixing multiple calendars in that way (personal, client A, client B, …), I realized that having a better mechanism for time management is critical to maximize the gain from the lifestyle and minimize any kind of regret I may have after wasting a day. Thus, I ended up with:

  • Creating an (almost) complete plan for the next day on Google Calendar before going to bed;
  • Using Calendly to avoid double-booking;
  • Configuring iOS screen time & focus mode to (1) disable almost all apps from 9 pm to 11 am, and (2) check messages (e.g., emails, texts) only twice a day, at 11 am and 5 pm2, with summarized bulk notifications.

The following figure illustrates how the integration works and what my typical day looks like, though there is still a big room for improvement.

calendar-sync

It should be noted that working from home as self-employed can be depressing due to the lack of human interactions as I learned painfully. Thus, I'm experimenting to do "virtual co-working" on Focusmate, a web application in which you can find a random person across the globe, connect a video with them, speak about what you will do in the next 25 or 50 minutes, and work on the stuff individually while a mic is muted. The app is surprisingly useful, and spending focus time with someone else naturally disables me to be lazy and does make exercising the Pomodoro Technique easier.

A little more about $

Let me become a bit more transparent about my financial status. Currently, I'm at the third job after coming to Canada: (1) Treasure Data, (2) Amazon, and (3) self-employed. Assuming the Canadian dollar amount of monthly income I earned from the first employer was 1.0 as a baseline, my income has changed over time as follows.

income-chart

Note that the numbers are before taxes and do not include any one-time payment such as RSU.

Not to mention the amount of cash from employment doesn't speak anything about the meaning of my life both in the short and long term, but, considering how the Western capitalistic world is structured, it makes complete sense to earn less after being a picky freelancer.

For accounting, I'm using FreshBooks. In Canada, Intuit QuickBooks Self-Employed seems to be a solid option for freelancers, but the specific tier of the service does not offer multi-currency support, which is a must for me to work globally with a potential of making inter-currency money transfer on Wise. By contrast, FreshBooks readily allows us to have foreign clients configured with an arbitrary currency, and it additionally has a time-tracking feature that eases generating hourly-rate-based invoices.

Moving forward

To sum up, the first month as self-employed was extremely fruitful even without any special events such as traveling. On one hand, I want to keep the healthy momentum as long as possible. On the other hand, as "my own boss", it is important for me NOT to get used to staying in the same comfortable position. That is, I would like to continuously review where I am and seek the "next steps" for adjustments, preferably on a weekly-to-monthly basis rather than quarterly or yearly.

In particular, my immediate challenge can be three-fold:

  • Find a client in Canada, hopefully in British Columbia. Although working globally with flexibility is one of the greatest benefits freelancers can enjoy, I, as a BC resident, have a strong interest in contributing to local communities. Otherwise, it makes no sense for me to spend my entire capacity for remote countries while living in Canada. Thus, until I explore the Canadian opportunities enough, or unless it brings greater empathy than the one I can more closely feel in the current country of residence, I have no immediate plan to have additional Japanese clients3.
  • Increase community involvement. Since I have enough spare time, I'd like to spend more time outside where I can see and interact with real humans. In particular, as the summer ends with Royal Victoria Marathon, this year's last big marathon race I'll run this weekend on Oct 9, 2022, it is critical to be conscious about where to allocate personal time in the coming months. For example, I'm planning to try a monthly membership of a community-owned gym or local yoga class so I can put myself in a not-alone situation.
  • Work "less". Checking email only twice a day and using Focusmate for maximizing productivity—These are the tips I read on Tim Ferriss's The 4-Hour Workweek, and I probably want to read the book again to better manage my use of time. In this first-month review, I intentionally highlighted a trade-off between working hours, income, and quality of life/work, but they shouldn't be, in practice. For instance, spending 50% of my capacity on two clients doesn't mean I'm up for taking two additional clients and doubling the income; even though I'm working for fewer hours, the current jobs already occupy my brain a lot, and context switching can be impossible for any additional workload. Therefore, the problem is more like non-convex optimization, and wisely taking steps is a key, rather than linearly adjusting a single factor at the expense of others.

It is still the very beginning of the journey, and there are a lot of things to refine. I'm simply excited to see how my life does or doesn't change moving forward.

1. It means I eat less at restaurants and cafes. This is a good indication of how low my current stress level is because I used to eat outside for the sake of relieving stress; although these "special" meals at an unusual location bring positive feelings, my new lifestyle doesn't need the stimulus that much.
2. In my experience, 99% of notifications do not need my immediate attention as long as the SLA stays at <1 day. If you do ask me to reply immediately, sorry—I probably cannot go with you. I've never met such a person though; once explained, people are normally willing to respect others' time however they manage it.
3. The fact that the Japanese yen gets cheaper and cheaper is another challenge I'm facing. Although I'm not working for the sake of money, losing a source of income in CAD (or comparable currency) simply has a direct impact on my emergency fund and poses a need for rebalancing. In that sense, unfortunately, I cannot be optimistic about the home country's economy anytime soon.

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  See also

2022-09-02
Paddling in the Life, and Currently I'm a Freelance Software Developer
2022-05-05
Starting with Empathy to #GetReal, Beat Loneliness, and Be Ethical. #MentalHealthWeek
2020-04-18
How I'm Working From Home

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Last updated: 2022-10-05

  Author: Takuya Kitazawa

Takuya Kitazawa is a freelance software developer, minimalistic traveler, ultralight hiker & runner, and craft beer enthusiast. While my area of specialty is in data & AI ethics and machine learning productization, I have worked full-stack throughout the career e.g., as a frontend/backend engineer, OSS developer, technical evangelist, solution architect, data scientist, and product manager. You can find what I am doing lately at my "now" page, and your inquiry is always welcome at [email protected], including comments on my blog posts.

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