Having spent over 10 years in a fast-paced corporate environment, productivity is really important to me. As a digital nomad, I’ve started to tailor the methodologies that I learnt in my previous career to my new work environment to increase my productivity as a digital nomad.
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How to become a productive digital nomad
Here are my top ten tips to help make you increase your productivity as a Digital Nomad:
1. Know WHEN you work best
In a more traditional corporate job, there can be less choice about when to work. Most jobs are 9 to 5 and don’t have the luxury of flexibility. But for digital nomads, it’s often different. Not only can we choose where we work, but often when we work too.
Most of us are either night owls, early risers or somewhere in between. In order to be at your best and get the most efficient work done, figure out when you feel most energised and creative during the day, and shift your work schedule accordingly. If you hate early mornings, there is little point in trying to achieve much during that time slot if you don’t have to.
The other factor you may need to consider as a digital nomad is the complexity of different time zones. If you have a client overseas, or time sensitive deadlines, then you will need to consider this as part of your working day. But you could also consider how the time zone that colleagues, or clients are working in impacts on you. For example, if you always wake up with thousands of emails from those in different time zones, consider how you might manage this differently if it impacts on your negatively. Perhaps use some time in the morning to run a triage or prioritisation of the emails? The key is to ensure that it doesn’t derail your productivity.
2. Set aside “Focused Time” and “Cruising Time”
We all have a time of day that we find most productive, whether that be before breakfast or burning the midnight oil (see number 1!) Plus, we all have tasks that we find easier and those that we find more challenging.
Perhaps answering emails or dealing with invoices require little thought and come easily to you. But conducting detailed research or writing a report for a client requires more brain power. Or, if you’re more introverted and detail orientated then the report might flow easily but making a phone call or responding to emails seems draining!
Whatever it is, there will be difficult tasks for you that are going to be easier to achieve if you tackle them at your most productive point of the day. You can maximise this by taking the following steps:
- Over the course of a week, notice at what point in your day you are most “in flow” versus when you find you are less focused or less able to concentrate
- Write this down and label the productive periods as “focused time” and the typically less productive periods as “cruising time”. (For me, the cruising time is always around 1500 to 1600 in the afternoon!)
- Next, identify the tasks you need to regularly do during a workday – list them and then rank the tasks from most challenging to the easiest
- You’ve guessed it, the next step is to allocate the easiest tasks to your “cruising time” and the hardest to your “focused time”.
- If you’ve also got important or top priority tasks, you may want to allocate “focused time” to these too.
3. Set small and focused goals to increase your productivity as a digital nomad
Depending on the particular work you do as a Digital Nomad, it can be hard to set long term goals or forecast what you’ll be doing (and where you’ll be) in 6 months’ time. In a more corporate environment, you may have a growth plan or a company strategy, sometimes with plans that forecast 5 years into the future! As a nomad, especially a freelancer, this is unlikely.
It can be easier therefore to set “small goals“. These should be targets that are achievable but stretching. Most importantly, they should be timebound. A good example might be to find 5 new clients in the next month or perhaps to launch 3 episodes of a Podcast in the next week. Or they could be even smaller than this. Something like, write 1000 words before lunch time. Or take 5 client calls today!
If you tend to be somebody who is more “extrinsically motivated” i.e., you struggle to motivate yourself on your own steam and sometimes need a friendly “push” from others, then this may work really well for you.
The best way to get the most out of this is to keep yourself honest. Write down your goals for the day or week and hold yourself to account. Most importantly, reward yourself for a job well done. If you achieve your goals, then celebrate them. My favourite way to do this is to reward myself with a coffee once I’ve achieved a particular goal of the day.
4. Take regular breaks to increase productivity
Taking regular breaks is super important to improving productivity. It can be tempting, particularly when you’re up against it, to say that you’re too busy for a break. But a short break can have huge benefits. Try the 20 minutes of work, 5 minutes break rule. Or if this doesn’t work for you, aim for 5 minutes every hour. Or find a pattern that does suit you and your work.
The main aim is to step away from the screen to rest your eyes, but you should also use the break to rehydrate and move your body a bit. A short walk or even 3 minutes of jumping jacks can do wonders to reduce stress, reignite your energy and get your creative juices flowing again. Try listening to one of our favourite songs for a quick pick me up – Spotify link here.
5. Know WHERE you work best
As a Digital Nomad, the choice of where to work are endless. This is a fantastic feeling but can be overwhelming. I’ve definitely wandered from coffee shop to coffee shop before trying to find a suitable workspace. Where possible, I’d recommend scoping out your planned workspace in advance. If you’re going for a coffee shop, check the Wi-Fi connection and the noise levels. Client calls in a loud environment would be a nightmare.
The other factor you might want to consider is whether you can work outdoors. A sunny terrace might be tempting, but if it’s really hot or you can’t see the screen then you’re working day will be utterly useless.
Studies show that extroverts benefit from a loud and open plan working environment, but introverts may find this over stimulating, preferring a quieter and solitary environment. Consider this when you choose where to work each day too. Don’t force yourself into working in an environment that doesn’t suit you. If you need to work at home, then factor this into your accommodation choice.
6. Consider your workstation set up to become a more productive digital nomad
There are a few things to consider when it comes to your workstation set up. Depending on how you like to work, you may find it incredibly distracting if your work environment is messy, if this is you, then perhaps introduce a clean-up process at the end of each working day so that you start afresh in the morning. A tidy desk will normally feel a lot more inviting and help you stay organised throughout the day.
Secondly, have you got sufficient desk space? As a digital nomad this can a challenge, but please try to avoid being hunched over with your laptop on your lap. If you’re staying somewhere that doesn’t have sufficient desk space and you have important deadlines, then think about finding a different space to work in. Perhaps a public library or a quiet coffee shop if that suits you.
Finally, think about your desk set up and whether it’s sufficiently ergonomic and supportive for your body. The more discomfort you are in, the more distracted you will become. You’ll also start to associate negative thoughts with working, which is not going to help productivity!
7. Get your tech right to increase digital nomad productivity
You don’t have to spend a fortune on the best tech, but you’re unlikely to be productive if your technology is not fit for purpose. If you’re struggling with productivity, then it may be worth considering whether there is any software or hardware needed to help you day to day.
Most crucially, you need a stable internet connection. Make sure you don’t book accommodation with unreliable internet and try where possible to have a back-up connection in case you have crucial work to do.
8. Consider how you balance “work time” v “travel time”
If you are travelling very frequently, then this is really important. There are different ways to tackle this particular challenge, here are three suggestions:
- If you can and your work allows, then designate “travel days” and “work days”. Ideally, you could use your travel time to relax and switch off a bit, perhaps listen to a good Podcast or book. If you do this, then manage your time and clients or colleagues accordingly – you don’t want to arrive to your new destination to find that someone has been trying to get hold of you and needs something urgently! Use an out of office or bounce back message on email.
- If you can’t take time off to travel, then one option could be to travel overnight or out of typical work hours. If you can sleep well as you travel, on an overnight train, plane or ferry, then you should be able to have a productive workday the next day.
- If you’ve got short haul travel requirements, then why not identify tasks that you can do as you move? Find something you can do “offline” if you don’t have WiFi.
9. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
This is very much linked to number 8! If you find yourself frequently travelling and trying to juggle a million work commitments at the same time, chances are that you have taken on too much. If you started your Digital Nomad ventures with the aim of having a better work life balance and you find yourself in this position – something has gone wrong.
I’d recommend a rapid reassessment if this is happening. Yes, we can all push ourselves to deliver at times. Perhaps the work life balance is temporarily tipping the wrong way and that’s OK for you. But ask yourself if you’re really feeling fulfilled? And how you would feel if this work life balance continued?
If things aren’t working, either cut back on the need to travel so much – being still in one place for a short period may help. Or consider how you can cut back on work or manage your own/client/colleague’s expectations.
10. Identify your “bigger picture” and why you want to be a productive digital nomad
Setting long term goals for your work can be really hard. But you might be able to identify a “big picture” that you are aiming for, even if the exact work goals are difficult to define. Consider:
- If there was one thing that you wanted to achieve in your work in the next year, what would it be?
- Why is this so important to you?
- Can you see how you might get there by becoming a more productive digital nomad?
If you ask these three questions and come up with an answer, then you’ve found your “big picture.” Once this is in your Mindseye, then you can keep recalling it every time you lose focus or need a kick up the bum!
Would you like to read more and find out how to activate your productivity superpower?
This article is an abridged version of our new book, “Remote Working: How To Find Your Productivity Superpower.” The book goes into way more detail and contains lots of new information that could help you become more productive.
If you want to find out more about how we came to write this book, you can find out here.
Most of our planning is done using other blogs, but you can’t beat a guide book at the bottom of your case. Find yours on Amazon here and get the travelling started!
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