The digital nomad lifestyle.. it’s sounds pretty damn awesome, right? It is. However, while we scroll through instagram past the açai smoothies and poolside selfies, we probably wonder how the hell people are pulling this work-travel lifestyle off. It looks so glamorous, but we don’t get the full picture of HOW they manage to do it. Where is the work? And how do they balance it with traveling all the time? Here are 5 practical ways to balance work and travel as a digital nomad.
Honestly, I figured this out for myself by trial and error. When you first begin traveling, you are so excited to explore a new place it’s tricky to think about work, or find any motivation at all to do it. This is why I highly recommend slow travel, where you can take time to enjoy your new destination yet find a rhythm that allows you to be productive simultaneously. Read about the top destinations for digital nomads here.
As a digital nomad/entrepreneur, you’re traveling and working a lot. It’s a unique and thrilling lifestyle. But sometimes it seems like there’s no time to enjoy anything since you’re always on planes or sitting somewhere typing away on your laptop. You can easily feel burnt out and tired. When you visit somewhere new, you’re spending lots of time cooped up in your airbnb.
That’s why I’ve created this article, to share 5 practical ways to balance work and travel as a digital nomad/entrepreneur and have more free time to enjoy traveling!
At a glance, they are:
- Choose your office to reflect your habits
- Define your work schedule and stick to it…consistency is key!
- Focus on increasing your productivity
- Use automation to simplify tasks
- Create strict work boundaries and shut off when needed
Choose your office to reflect your habits
You wake up in a new country. It’s Monday, and you’ve got work to do but aren’t sure where to go and more-so, where you’ll be productive at work.
First, you should ask yourself if being around people helps or hinders your productivity.
For me, I thrive off the energy of others, but in my own bubble. I prefer working in public spaces like cafes, however I am sure to have my headphones on to focus and limit the chance of distraction.
Picking the right workspace as your “office” is the first most important factor towards productivity. Without a stable internet connection, you’re out of business. You want to find somewhere you feel comfortable, with reliable wifi, tables to work at, an optimal environment, and somewhere you can stay put for awhile without feeling awkward.
I narrow this down to cafes, libraries, co-working spaces, or hotel lobbys.
I usually will just google “wifi cafe near me” and search the reviews for people mentioning “laptops” or “work”. You can usually get a feel for the space via the photos and reviews as to whether it’s accommodating towards digital nomads (ie. laptops)
If you’re anything like me, you prefer beautiful cafes with lots of light, and oat milk lattes (it’s the little things!) I am a highly visual person and creatively thrive when I feel inspired by my surrounds.
These are a few of my favorite resources for finding the perfect cafe / workspace:
- https://workfrom.co/ find work friendly spaces near you (cafes, libraries, ect)
- https://oatfinder.oatly.com/ find nearby cafes knowing that there will be a perfectly foamed oat latte or capp-oat-ccino waiting for you when you arrive. these are typically catered to millennials and are generally laptop friendly.
- https://www.th3rdwave.coffee/ montreal-specific third-wave coffee finder, discover your next favorite coffee shop with this amazing app that lists out roaster details, the vibe, and how laptop friendly the space is.
- https://www.coworking.coffee/ the best workplaces with coffee and wifi, curated by the community all around the world
Now that you’ve decided on your office for the day, make sure you pack a bag with your portable work station necessities and a good pair of headphones… and off you go!
Once you arrive at your work space, I recommend doing a quick internet test via this website: https://www.speedtest.net/
It should tell you how fast the internet is. I recommend shooting for at least 10mpbs.
Define your work schedule and stick to it… consistency is key!
Ahh, accountability. When you’re your own boss, it can be tough to self motivate and get work done when there are a thousand other things pulling at your attention. The importance of creating structure around what’s important to you will make or break your life, literally.
I have found keeping a digital calendar and sticking to it has really skyrocketed my productivity. Personally, I use Google Calendar and color code my days based on work, accommodation, personal time, and events. Block out time for work, and stick to it. Ideally this will be the time of the day when you have the most energy, whether that’s the morning, afternoon or evening is up to you, but try to pick a time and stick to it everyday.
Perhaps you work Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9am – 6pm. Or every day from 10am – 4pm. Whatever you do is fine, but it’s about getting intentional about your time and how you intend to spend it.
Whatever you put in your calendar becomes a priority. If it’s not there, it’s likely not a priority and you probably will end up not doing it.
Here’s a sneak peek at my calendar. I try to keep everything in there and sync it amongst my devices so it’s always reminding me what I have on my schedule, and I can refer back to it at a glance.
You can set events to repeat weekly, which is handy if you’re creating a work schedule. However, things sometimes change so allow room for flexibility. Figure out how and when you work best and adapt around your energy spikes.
Get specific about how you’re spending your work time
Being a freelancer means wearing a thousand hats. There’s the business side and then the actual client side, and sometimes the biggest challenge is just figuring out what to focus on first. I recommend creating milestones of how your work will be measured, then breaking it down into mini steps that you’ll need to take in order to reach that milestone.
For example, I initially had the goal to launch a new portfolio website. Okay, great. That seems big and overwhelming but by breaking it down into bite-sized, actionable steps I was able to get there.
The steps I had to take to get there looked like this:
- Sort through lightroom catalog and choose the best images to feature
- organize images by category and export to hard drive to upload to web
- Create new typographic logo in illustrator
- sketch out ideas in sketchbook
- upload final to illustrator and trace
- Write copy for “services” page
- organize services into packages
- decide on pricing based on offerings
- Write a case study based on client results
- gather client statistics from social media
- follow the outline of how to write a case study
Now that I have a clear grasp on what I need to do, you can break it down even further to get crystal clear on how you’re going to achieve your goals. Note my bullet points above are little bites of the big cookie. You want to break that cookie into bite-sized pieces instead of trying to shove the whole thing in your mouth at once. Overwhelming, I know.
You can schedule 3 hours of “business development” time and work on any of these steps during that time. Perhaps you take an hour in between for lunch and begin client work in the afternoon.
Silence all distractions, and get intentional with your work time. Even the act of putting my phone away and clearing my workspace helps me get focused! That brings me to…
Focus on increasing productivity
Silence the phone, and get in the zone. That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Hahaha… I’ll stop being punny. I cant help it.
Ok ok, so now that you’ve planned your week, how are you going to measure productivity? There’s many apps that’ll help you.
Here are the best apps to optimize productivity and focus:
(originally posted by getcloudapp.com)
- Toggl is the simple, intuitive time tracker app that you’ll actually use. It isn’t limited by device and works on your computer, tablet and phone, so no matter where or what you’re working on, your hours are being tracked. Oh, and you’ll never forget to turn this productivity app on because it sends you friendly reminders to do so.
If you’re a freelancer, a tool like this is necessary. How else will you accurately bill clients? But even those who work a salaried position will find Toggl useful. After all, to become more productive, it helps to first know how you’re really spending your time.
- Zapier allows its users to create integrations and automations between apps that normally wouldn’t communicate with each other. For example, a new email received in Gmail can be set to automatically save any attachments to a Dropbox folder and alert you via Slack.
- Slack is a communication app that makes collaboration a breeze. Email is great for many things, but it can be cumbersome when conversing with colleagues. It’s too easy for messages get lost and buried beneath a mountain of other emails.
With Slack, all of your office communications are neatly organised and searchable. Different channels can be created for different projects, departments, and clients; and team members can jump in and out of conversations as needed. Meaning they won’t get notifications about conversations they’re no longer involved in. You can also share documents and video chat so it’s a nice all in one work-centric chat tool.
- Trello is a project management app that makes managing projects less stressful; enjoyable, even. How is that possible? It all starts with the platform’s Kanban philosophy. Trello is highly visual, which makes it very intuitive.
Users can break big projects down into smaller chunks by creating “cards” for every task. Cards can be arranged into different columns, which can represent different phases of a project. As tasks get completed, cards can easily be dragged from one column to the next. Here’s how this process might look in a real-life scenario:
- Jen is tasked with managing her company’s blog.
- To keep track of all the articles written and submitted by different writers, she creates a Trello board with four columns: “Blog Ideas”, “Writing”, “Editing”, and “Published”.
- As each blog idea is worked on, it makes its way from the “Blog Ideas” column, all the way to the “Published” column when the article has been finished and posted.
Trello is a visual-heavy project management tool. I also recommend Asana as a great alternative.
Measuring productivity and taking breaks
When you are working, consider using the Pomodoro timer technique to keep focus on your task at hand, and take 5-minute breaks in between.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique was invented in the early 1990s by developer, entrepreneur, and author Francesco Cirillo. Cirillo named the system “Pomodoro” after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student. The methodology is simple: When faced with any large task or series of tasks, break the work down into short, timed intervals (called “Pomodoros”) that are spaced out by short breaks. This trains your brain to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of deadlines or constantly-refilling inboxes. With time it can even help improve your attention span and concentration.
Pomodoro is a cyclical system. You work in short sprints, which makes sure you’re consistently productive. You also get to take regular breaks that bolster your motivation and keep you creative.
Tracking productivity is important and will help you get a sense of how you’re spending your time. There’s pretty much an app for everything now, but these are just a few of my favorites.
Using automation to simplify tasks
Are you repeating the same monotonous task that is eating away at your time that could be spent working on other, more important things? Time is the most valuable resource in your life, and the only one you can’t get back. I’m a huge proponent for spending money over time if someone can do it more efficiently than you, and it’s not something that you find joy in working on.
Outsourcing is a huge time saver and honestly, you can hire someone to do just about anything that already has the skills. You might have heard of websites like fiverr and upwork — yes you can find gigs for just about anything there at affordable costs.
If you’re anything like me, you’d rather hire a fellow female freelancer first.. yay for community. My favorite place to do this is via the Freelancing Females Facebook Group. What a mouthful! But I’ve hired some awesome females to do things like handle accounting, code websites, and collaborate on projects outside my scope of expertise.
I truly believe in outsourcing something that someone else can do quicker and better than you, so you can spend more time focusing on the things that light you up!
Create strict work boundaries and shut off when needed
Back to the calendar concept. Schedule in work time with free time in mind. Once it’s 5pm and you’ve worked, it’s time to shut off the computer, put away the phone, and straight up chill. Chill time is essential time and creating healthy work boundaries will lead towards a balanced, happier lifestyle.
We’re all guilty of answering the client email at 10pm, accidentally giving out your personal phone number and texting back on a Sunday, and spending more time than we should be analysing a project. It happens. But part of the reason you want to embark on this nomadic lifestyle is so you can see the world, and have beautiful experiences. Give yourself permission to do that.
Just as you allocated time for work, allocate time for play. You don’t necessarily need to put this in your calendar but I will for upcoming events and activities that I want to attend in the future, and any plans I might make with friends.
Find your flow, and adjust as needed. Pay attention to when you feel the most energized and inspired and work off of that.
For me, I always write first thing in the morning as the new day allows for a clear channel to allow me to communicate my thoughts into things.
But some mornings, I just want to read, do yoga, or explore a new city. And that’s okay too.
With the five tips I outlined in this article, you can begin spending the time you do have more intentionally. Begin it now! First and foremost, travel slow. Take your time visiting a destination so you don’t feel a sense of urgency to do it all.
Create a schedule that works for you, become an expert in productivity, use apps to help automate tasks, and don’t be afraid to outsource! After you have completed your work for the day, shut down and spend your time in whatever way makes you feel the most joy.
If this article helped you in some way, please consider pinning to Pinterest so it can benefit more folks like yourself!
Christine is a twenty-something coffee-obsessed traveler from a small town in the US. She sold everything 3 years ago to follow her curiosity around the world.
As a passionate freelance graphic designer, digital nomad, and photographer, she has explored it all! Her mission is to help others live their dream lifestyles around what lights them up.