DEV Community

Thomas Lowry
Thomas Lowry

Posted on

Things I've Learned as a Web Development Contractor

A New Experience

Several months ago I started working as a software development contractor. I began working for a single client on a part-time basis while continuing to work part-time as a mentor at DevMountain.

In recent months, and since leaving my job at DevMountain, my working hours have evolved from a regular, enforced schedule, working mostly in person, into an almost entirely remote, autonomous agenda. This shift has presented me with some incredibly difficult challenges that have taught me some valuable lessons and altered my mindset about work.

Challenges of an Autonomous Schedule

One of the most difficult challenges that has come with this change is that I have had to constantly reevaluate my expectations of myself and of my work. For example, I went into this year expecting to clock 40 hours a week, but very frequently found myself too stressed and anxiety-ridden to make even 30. To make matters worse, I became stressed that I wasn't meeting my expectations, and thus my stress and anxiety compounded themselves against me.

When I stopped to really think about why I wasn't meeting my expectations for hourly work, I recognized quite a few things that I had failed to incorporate into my perspective.

First, I recognized that my expectation of clocking 40 hours a week failed to account for hours that I work on things that are not billable to my one client. Most prominently, until March this year I was still working 11 hours a week at DevMountain, and these were inconvenient hours on Tuesday/Thursday nights and Saturday mornings.

Additionally, I was still mostly working in Salt Lake, which provided only 6-1/2 working hours at the cost of a 1-1/2 hour commute two-ways. This, combined with a change in church hours on Sundays meant that I had 0 mornings a week to myself - something that is very important to my mental health. Also, since quitting DevMountain, I've begun working on some other endeavors which are not accounted for on the clock, such as starting a meetup here in Provo.

Based on all of these factors, I reevaluated my expectation and accepted that I'm likely not going to reach 40 hours a week, and even if I did, it would come at the cost of things that are much more important to me. I have a new goal to clock 30 hours a week, understanding that I am putting plenty of time into non-billable work, and that this is my intentional ideal. I am also considering increasing my hourly billing rate to account for this recognition - something that I am already discussing with my client.

Secondly, I recognized that my contract work involves several aspects that I hadn't incorporated into my work expectations. I realized that I was expecting myself to either be "programming" or collaborating anytime I'm on the clock, but that I also need to allow myself time for project management, planning, and research, among other things. I needed to expel the expectation that I can just sit down and write the application and recognize that this job doesn't work like all the other jobs I've had where I just sat down (or stood up) and "worked".

Now that I am doing creative work, I have to allow myself time for creativity and not stress out if I spend multiple hours at a time simply contemplating problems, researching technologies, and designing solutions. Also, since I am one of only two people working on the project, I need to allow adequate time for project management, so that I remain on track with my work. Until recently, I never really understood the role all these things play in a software development job.

This incomplete perspective caused me to expect much quicker results from my work than were realistic, which caused a great deal of stress and anxiety around my work, which led both to less effective time on the clock and less time on the clock altogether.

Reevaluating my expectations of what my work looks like has helped me to take it one step at a time and feel confident that I am providing the best value to my client even during the hours that I'm not hacking at my keyboard.

What I've Learned

I've learned from this that focusing solely on the completion of my goals is often not nearly as productive as focusing on discovering and removing the obstacles that are preventing me from accomplishing my goals.

The truth is, when I have something that I truly want to accomplish, I don't have to force myself to put time and effort toward that goal. In fact, when I have a goal that I'm truly passionate about, I more often than not I have to force myself NOT to work on that thing too much - I have to force myself to stop for a minute here and there so I can eat, sleep, shower, be social, and take care of myself.

So when I find myself in a situation where I am not putting as much time and effort into a goal as I would like to, then there is almost always one of two conditions at play: either I don't really care about the goal as much as I thought I did, or else there is something unseen holding me back.


Before I stop to think about it, I tend to feel frustrated with myself and stressed as to why I am not progressing toward my goal. I tend to see myself as lazy, apathetic, and unproductive. In this situation it's important for me to recognize that my struggle comes not from a lack of virtue (i.e. diligence, work ethic, perseverance), but from a lack of perspective, and that I need to stop for a minute to engage in some introspection.

Three questions I need to ask myself are:

  1. Is my goal, along with its associated expectations, in line with my values and capabilities?
  2. What unseen challenges are holding me back from pursuing this goal and meeting my expectations?
  3. What changes do I need to make to my goals and expectations in order to more effortlessly progress toward my goal?

These questions help me to evaluate whether I am expecting myself to work toward something that I truly value and whether I have accounted for all the steps necessary to accomplish the goal, and then to adjust my goals and expectations accordingly.

My anxiety is usually caused by a lack of clarity regarding steps that I need to take to move forward, and going through this process of reevalutating expectations helps me to ground myself once more in reality so that I can move forward one step at a time.

I hope my story and the things I've shared can help you to be more congruent in aligning your goals and expectations with your actions and your reality. Let me know if you relate to this story in any way and what you have learned from your experiences!

Discussion (0)