Imagine this scenario: You’re on a flight to Bali, where you’ll spend the next month practicing yoga and surfing. Then, you’ll head to Bangkok for a few months, where you plan on visiting sacred temples and soaking up the animated street life. After that, your itinerary is up in the air, but you’re thinking of heading west to the colorful, Gothic city of Prague…or maybe to the historic Italian capital of Rome.
Welcome to the life of a digital nomad—where pure, unadulterated freedom combines with…oh right…work.
So how do digital nomads fit in the time (and energy) to hop around the world and see everything while simultaneously working?
I’ll let you in on a little secret: It all comes down to productivity. It’s about working smarter, not harder.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: So how exactly can I maximize productivity as a digital nomad—so that I am actually able to spend my afternoons surfing in Bali and exploring temples in Bangkok?
The answer? Read on to find out.
1. Develop a Consistent Daily Routine
SUCCESS agency CEO, Avin Kline, has been traveling around the world for the past year and a half, while managing the agency. And no matter where he is in the world, he works on East Coast time. Impressive, huh?
One secret to Avin’s success has been establishing a morning routine. In his own words, “whatever time of day it is, it’s morning for me whenever I start the day at SUCCESS agency, no matter the time zone. Listening to a positive podcast helps me more than an audiobook and gets me going and thinking well. I also read the Wall Street Journal.”
When you’re bouncing around from one city and time zone to the next, it might seem impossible to develop some sort of routine. But don’t despair—it is possible. All it takes is a bit of motivation and habit.
Maybe it’s as simple as brushing your teeth and making a cup of coffee before checking your emails. Or maybe it’s doing some meditation and yoga each day at the crack of dawn. Keep in mind that what works well for one person might not bode well for you. So if you haven’t settled into a routine yet, try out different ones until you find what’s a good fit for you. Then, try to be consistent and turn your routine into a daily habit.
2. Follow a Schedule and Set Goals
At the end of each day, write out your schedule for the following day, along with the main things that you want to achieve.
Also plan ahead to determine what needs to be accomplished for the rest of the week and month, and set specific and actionable goals for yourself. What exactly do you want to have completed by the end of the week? How about by the end of the month?
Write down your schedule and goals. This will make them more real. Studies have proven that writing down goals makes it 42% more likely that they will be achieved.
So don’t forget to pack those post-its!
3. Break Down Your Tasks
Sometimes, we feel so overwhelmed by everything that we have to do, that we don’t even know where to begin. Feeling so overwhelmed can lead to procrastination—a total productivity killer.
So what’s the solution?
Personally, I’ve found it very helpful to break down my to-do list. So, for instance, instead of thinking to myself, I have to write six blog posts, one newsletter and two emails by next week, I will break it down for myself: Tuesday and Wednesday, I will write two blog posts and one email; Thursday and Friday I will write the other two blog posts and the other email…Focus on one (or just a few) task at a time.
You could even organize your tasks based on their difficulty level (easy, medium and difficult). Once you check off all the easy, quick tasks, you will feel more motivated to get started on the rest.
4. Eliminate Distractions
We live in a world filled with distractions. And when traveling that world as a digital nomad, we’re faced with even more distractions.
One of Avin’s keys to success is “not trying to combine a crazy awesome time with getting work done.” Because “then you won’t go full on in having a great time but also won’t go full on in getting work done, so you’ll probably do a poor job at both.”
Keep work and fun separate. Don’t try to “work” while having fun and don’t try to have fun while working. If you do, you probably won’t succeed very well at either.
Think long and hard about how you can best minimize distractions. What do you find most distracting? If you work best at night, then it’s probably not the best idea to stay at a party hostel in Thailand. Instead, you might consider staying in a more tranquil, quiet environment (even if it doesn’t sound as much fun). For many people, their phones are the biggest distraction. If that’s the case for you, turn it on airplane mode for 45-minute intervals. Or even put it in a different room, so that if you use it, you have to think intentionally about getting up to go and get it.
5. Find a Good Work Environment
Forget about the white-sand beaches and exotic locales. You’re probably not going to be very productive working from a hammock on a beach in Brazil (as cool as that may seem).
Many digital nomads work from cafes or coworking spaces. When deciding where to work, ask yourself: Do you like to be surrounded by people or do you prefer to be in a more solitary environment? Do you like places that are dimly lit or places with natural lighting? Does loud music bother you or do you find that it helps you concentrate better?
If you aren’t sure, test out different environments and find the space where you work best. Hey, it might even be that white-sand beach, after all…
6. Work in Intervals
In order to be our most productive, we all need to take regular breaks throughout the day. Just how regular, you may wonder? One study by The Muse found that the most productive employees worked for 52 minutes and then took 17-minute breaks. Yes, they got more done than those who took fewer or shorter breaks throughout the day. In other words, working more does not equate to productivity.
Try this out. Set your timer and when 52 minutes is up, reward your hard work with a 17-minute break. Just be sure to step away from your screen during that time. The most productive employees also spent their breaks away from their electronic devices and instead recharged their batteries by reading a book or having some face-to-face interaction.
7. Set Aside a Time for Collaboration
Whether you have to collaborate with your team members or make phone calls to clients, chances are, you’re going to have to spend part of the day collaborating with other people around the globe. Try to set aside a time for meetings and collaboration (ideally this would be the same time each day). That way, you can spend the rest of your day focusing on getting stuff done.
At SUCCESS agency, we’ve found a system that works pretty well for our team. From our morning meetings at 9:15AM, until 1PM ET, we all try to be “in the office,” in case we need to work together on something. Then, we can all focus on our own tasks for the remainder of the day—the principal word here being focus, since the constant back-and-forth of collaboration can make it difficult to focus and get in the zone.
8. Get in Some Exercise
It never feels like there are enough hours in the day to do everything that we want to do (especially when traveling the world as a digital nomad!).
But here’s the thing: you can make time for anything. And that includes a one-hour workout, even if it’s just three times a week. It’s all about setting your priorities straight.
If it feels like you’re struggling to fit it in, carve out time for a workout in your schedule. Tell yourself (and write it down): Go for a jog at 5PM.
So you might be wondering: why are you telling me this? What does this have to do with productivity? The answer is: a whole lot, actually. In addition to its many physical benefits, exercise has been proven to improve concentration and memory; enhance creativity; and allow us to learn faster.
So if you really want to be productive (and get smarter)…make some time for exercise.
9. Get Inspired
Sometimes, all it takes is a little inspiration to motivate and kick-start productivity.
Our CEO, Avin, is an avid podcast listener. Some of his favorites include: The Tim Ferriss Show; This Week in Tech (TWIT); Entre Leadership by Dave Ramsey; and the School of Greatness with Lewis Howes.
Whether it’s listening to an interesting podcast or reading a blog post like this one, jumpstart your day with a little inspiration—and my guess is, afterwards, you’ll feel ready to conquer the world (or at least your work).
Last Pieces of Advice
At the end of the day, being a digital nomad is about exercising self-discipline and setting boundaries for yourself. You won’t have a controlling boss hovering over you to make sure that you’re getting your work done, so this is something you’ll have to manage on your own. If you negotiate with yourself and lack structure, finding that time to work is always going to be a stressful burden. So don’t negotiate when it comes to your work. As Avin says, “if it ends up being a question, then it’s always a question, [which] can make being digital nomad difficult.”
My advice? If you have just recently started working remotely and are eager to start your digital nomad journey, don’t buy that plane ticket just yet. Wait a few months before taking off. Practice working from home (or wherever you are currently based), and get your routine and work habits down pat. That way, when you do transition into the digital nomad lifestyle, you will be ready. You’ll be able to spend part of the day productively working…and who knows, the other part of the day, maybe going scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef or skiing in the Alps…