In May of this year, I founded a software agency and started living as a digital nomad. That means that wherever I go, I take my work with me on my laptop and on my phone.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the last month and a half about working when you’re permanently on the move.
1. Decide what days you’re at work
Since most of us only travel for vacation, it’s easy to forget that you need to get work done when you get to a new place. Time block your weeks and your days between sight-seeing and getting work done. Settle into the idea that you are living wherever you happen to be.
You need to figure out how to get into the “zone” when the environment around you is constantly changing. Our brains respond to triggers. Figure out what your work triggers are going to be. I know it’s work time when I sit down at a cafe and open my laptop.
Triggers only work if you reinforce them over time. If you follow a trigger up with an hour of social media, then you’ve reinforced the wrong neurons in your brain. Once you’ve pulled the trigger, get to work.
2. Travel fast and slow
The more location hopping you do, the more time out of your day logistics is going to take up.
I recommend trying to spend at least a week or two in a place if you can. That gives you enough time to see everything you want to see and also enough time to work without feeling FOMO.
When you do move locations, prioritize short flights. If you want to city-hop, pack those hops into a few days between longer stays.
3. Calling the USA
If you have clients or coworkers in the USA, then you need some way to talk to them.
Here’s how I call the US for free using Google Voice.
- Grab a Google Voice number.
- Download the Hangout Dialer app for iphone or android (also download hangouts dialer for android).
- Set up call forwarding to your phone by connecting hangouts to google voice and tell hangouts to ring for incoming calls.
Google Hangouts settings:
Now you can make and receive phone calls to the USA for free. As long as you have wifi you’ll be able to answer on your phone or computer.
Wherever I go, one of the first things I pick up is a SIM card with a data plan. That way I don’t have to rely on finding wifi to stay reachable at all times.
If you’re in Thailand, I recommend TRUE wireless. For Europe, I’ve been using Vodafone, but they’re overpriced and I’ve had some issues with their service.
One of many things I like about NomadList, is the recommendations they send whenever you land in a new city, which includes a good SIM card provider.
4. Productivity Tools
Communication: Slack, Email, Hangouts
Already covered in #3
Scheduling: Google Calendar and Todoist
Make sure you keep your Calendar up to date with all travel logistics and work related events. Google Calendar is also a good place to schedule your time blocks.
I started using Todoist, replacing my previous system of physical checklists. I’ve found it much harder to keep track of paper notes when I’m on the go, so everything has been moving digital for me.
Keeping Notes: TextEdit, Evernote, Notion
I’ve also started using Evernote again for the same reason. I’ve been writing copious notes using the TextEdit application on Mac.
I love TextEdit because it’s a no-distraction writing tool, but it’s hard to keep my notes organized. Evernote lets you tag posts and their search functionality is great.
I still prefer to do my actual writing in TextEdit, but I’m considering switching everything to Notion as an alternative to both.
If you work with people in different timezones, you’ll have to deal with some weird hours.
My favorite timezone tool is https://worldtimebuddy.com.
It’s the best app I’ve found to compare timezones at a glance.
For me, what I care about most is the overlap of daylight hours between two locations. The less overlap there is, the harder it’s going to be to stay synced up.
Weird hours are one of the primary tradeoffs you make to live as a digital nomad. Be willing to do some late nights or early mornings.
6. Continuous Improvement
If you’ve got bad habits now, traveling is a great way of resetting your brain. Addiction has a large environmental component.
Moving locations gives you an opportunity to start afresh and make new habits. Make sure you aren’t carrying your bad habits around with you. If you’ve associated opening your laptop with going on Facebook, then moving won’t save you.
If you’ve had an unproductive morning or created a bad habit, don’t let it kill your desire to get work done. Take a walk, turn off your phone, and write down exactly the thing you want to work on.
When you sit back down, force yourself to work on that and nothing else for the next 15 minutes. That’s often enough time to get yourself back into gear.
Despite writing this post, my own work habits are still very much a work in progress. These are the main things I’m currently working on improving:
- Time blocking
- Staying organized
- Tracking productivity
Have you tried mixing work and travel? What works for you?