Travel

How to Stay Productive as a Digital Nomad

How to get your shit together and keep it together

I know you’ve thought about traveling, you always talk about it, so what are you waiting for?

If you have a family or mortgage or job you really love, then stop reading right now. If you don’t have those things, there’s nothing keeping you tied down. Sure your situation may seem comfortable and familiar but that’s exactly why you should GTFO. Personal growth doesn’t come from routine. You need to put a little strife in your life, make things challenging so that you become a better version of yourself.

That may not be true for everybody but I never met a person that told me “You know what man? I really regret traveling to Thailand.” Trying to earn money, travel, and remain sane is one of the most exhilarating, challenging, eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had. I strongly recommend it.

But I’m not here to sell you on the idea, you’ll either take the plunge or you won’t. I’m assuming you’ve already decided to get balls deep in this whole travel thing and want some advice on how to remain productive as you galavant around the globe.

Traveling is the easy part. Anybody can spend money on plane tickets and hostels. The hard part is making money on the go, forging your own career path, making the world your office, overcoming huge obstacles and resisting temptations on a daily basis.

My Instagram account may look like a 24/7 vacation but I work much more than I travel. If you want to keep living the dream as a digital nomad, you need to remain disciplined and balanced.


Discipline

It was nearly impossible to concentrate with that shit in the background

Self-discipline a skill that you need to keep sharp. Like anything, if you don’t practice something, you start to suck at it. You follow every impulse and desire without a second thought and end up feeling empty.

Self-control is an illusion. We’re all at the whims of our animal brains, chasing any impulse that we believe will make us feel good. It’s impossible to try and stop it but you should try to control it.

If you’re working and traveling, “No” needs to become one of your favorite words. Learn to embrace it.

The voice in the back of your head is always going to be saying “But you’ll only get this chance once! You need to take advantage! You won’t regret it!” And that voice is partially right. If you give in to temptation at every opportunity this will be the only chance you get to travel.

The goal is to make it things sustainable so you can keep traveling. It sucks, a lot, to part ways with people you really enjoy or avoid going out but you’ll end up thanking yourself in the long run.

Obviously don’t say “no” to everything, working the entire time defeats the whole purpose of traveling. The one rule I live by is: I can have as much fun as I want after my responsibilities are taken care of. This applies to working on a laptop for companies back home, working at a hostel, working on a farm, or any occupation that you choose abroad.


Balance

Massive Buddha Says: Get your shit together

if you tip the work or pleasure scales too far in one direction, you’ll end up feeling burned out or worthless.

Some people don’t mind neglecting responsibility but I can’t stand it. When I ignore deadlines or avoid work I should be doing, it’s the only thing I can think about. The pleasure rarely outweighs the guilt.

You need to be smart about when and where you decide to have your fun. It’s strategic, not random. Thinking “I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!” is totally normal but make sure you’re in a good place to do it.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re never “done” with work, it’s a constant part of your life. Don’t try to complete everything at once then go on a vacation. Do a little bit each day and keep work as part of your schedule.

Pace yourself, develop good habits, and always be looking ahead to the next task on your list. Finding a balance between enjoying yourself and making money is key. You want to be focused and productive on your goals without burning out.

If you start to sway too far in either direction, be honest with yourself. Acknowledge that you’ve been a lazy piece of shit or a workaholic and then map out some steps to get back on track.

Balance isn’t about working all the time, it’s about working as much as you need to achieve your goals.


Set Goals

Friend Goals

This is rule #1 and the most important thing you can do if you want to become and succeed as a digital nomad. Write down what you want to accomplish and then work at it little by little, every day until you get there.

I set out at the beginning of the year to quit my bullshit ass job, travel across Asia, and become a full-time writer making enough to pay for it all.

Making a plan and telling my friends about it forced me to figure things out. If I hadn’t committed to it, I probably would have kept playing it safe, sitting at a desk miserable every day.

By telling my friends about it I gave myself incentive to succeed. I couldn’t admit failure to them, It would be way too embarrassing. Nor did I want to look like a person that constantly talks shit without doing anything about it.

8 months later, I had done all of that and more. I quit my job, went across Asia as well as Australia, New Zealand, and Tahiti, and haven’t had to dip into my savings once.

Did things work out exactly how I planned? Not even close. I had to adjust and fail constantly along the way. But I stuck to my goals, remained focused and committed to figuring things out.

I’m nowhere near perfect but I’m better than I was at the start of the trip and better than I was yesterday. It’s always better to be terrified doing something you love than comfortable doing something you hate.


Create Habits

I waned people to think I was at the beach but in reality I went straight to work in my room

If haven’t read The Power of Habit, you should. It will help you understand why creating habits is essential for your success. Discipline and balance are only possible when you develop habits that fit your travel lifestyle.

Unfortunately, when you’re moving from timezone to timezone and spending every 4th or 5th day traveling in an airplane or a train, habits are hard to come by. They take some adjusting from the usual, easy-to-predict daily routine.

Plan around these travel days. Try to work if you can but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t. Traveling is full of stress and anxiety, it’s hard to concentrate and you’ll get frustrated not being able to complete things on your to-do list. Be realistic, otherwise, you’ll make goals that aren’t achievable, feel overwhelmed and end up avoiding work entirely.


Make a Realistic To-Do List and Stick to it

The best thing I did was make a daily, weekly, and monthly “to-do” list. Write down your tasks you want to accomplish that month (for example: publish X number of articles, work X amount of hours, or send X number of emails). Then break that down into weeks, and make a to-do list every day based on that.

Make a schedule with daily goals in advance and then stick to it. As you start to check things off and make progress, you’ll feel better, more confident, and be able to travel for longer.


Give yourself “Working Hours”

When I first started trying to balance working and traveling, I found the grass was always greener. Without a schedule, no matter what I chose I always felt like I was neglecting something. I had no measure of productivity or structure and just worked when I could. The chaos drove me insane.

In order to avoid this, write down what you need to get done each day and each week, carve out time to work on each task and stick to it. You can go so far as making an itinerary for the day like:

  • Work on Contract 1: 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
    • Task 1
    • Task 2
    • Task 3
  • Work on Contract 2: 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
    • Task 1
    • Task 2
    • Task 3
  • Lunch: 12:30 – 1:30
  • Visit Temples: 1:30 – 4:00 PM
  • Emails & Website Work: 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM
  • Dinner & Reading: 7:00 PM – TBD

If that’s too granular, try putting one task per day to focus on.

  • Monday – Finish schedule and outline for project 1
  • Tuesday – Finish deliverable 3 for project 2
  • Wednesday – Travel/Fun day
  • Thursday – Finish Deliverable 1 for project 1
  • Friday – Reach out to new clients
  • Saturday – Launch social media campaign to promote business
  • Sunday – Hiking and exploring

It can be as simple or detailed as you need but map something out. Put some structure in place and train your brain so you’re not easily distracted or persuaded. Don’t forget to add in some fun, remember, balance.

Find a Remote Workspace Where you can Concentrate

This was not an ideal workspace

Trying to make the world your office is difficult. Most coffee shops and hostel lobbies aren’t ideal office spaces.

I thought it would be a breeze to work at hostels with free WiFi and spend half my time doing fun travel stuff. When I started, I was surrounded by temptation, begging me to ignore my responsibilities and explore. No matter how disciplined I thought I was at first, I wasn’t strong enough to resist making new friends and running away from my laptop.

Every time I tried to focus I would get distracted, end up talking to somebody which eventually led to us going to eat or going on some sightseeing adventure. The voice in the back of my head was furiously screaming at me to get back to work the entire time.

Once I started choosing the sensible hostels meant for solo travelers and digital nomads, everything changed. The lobbies were full of people like me. Everybody was quiet and respectful.

Hostels/hotels are the most important choice because that’s where you’ll spend a majority of your working time.

The Ideal Remote Workspace

Airport Lounges are the best option

  • Comfortable chairs with backs – stools will haveyou hunched over and looking like smiegel, get you a chair with a back.
  • It’s quiet and empty – usually, you avoid these spots because if it was good people would be there. Not in this case, embrace the deserted.
  • Noise-canceling headphones – Not a workspace requirement but don’t go to work without them
  • Abundant power outlets – This is an absolute must. You don’t need antoher excuse to leave when your battery dies. Take it out of the equation and focus on working.
  • Strong coffee – no explanation needed

Hide Your Phone

When you have to work, lock your phone in your hostel so you are physically unable to pick it up.

I know how addictive checking the phone can be so the only foolproof solution is getting it the hell away from you.

Most people spend 3 hours and 15 minutes per day on their phones. Thats precious time you can’t afford to lose if you’re freelancing.

A recent study in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research found that simply having yor phone around you lowers cognitive performance, even if you don’t check it.

You’re not at an office where half the day is spent dicking around. Working instead of exploring to keep your journey going is justifiable. Scrolling Instagram is not.


Take the Leap and Figure it Out

All of this advice boils down to discipline and balance. Exploring enough to stay motivated and inspired while working enough to pay for your journey. If you can dedicate yourself to those ideals, the rest will fall into place.

There is no comprehensive “how to” guide that applies to everybody. Your job, money, and travel goals will be drastically different from mine. My only hope is that my general advice will help you plan at least a little bit and make things somewhat easier.

Again, you don’t need to do anything before you leave. You can jump in and use this as a guide once you get out of the country. Or figure it out as you go. These are tips to make things easier, don’t use them as excuses to not travel. I recommend doing at least some research and planning but if the thought of that bores you then book your flight and do your thing.

Book that flight, make the first step, and remember, if my depressed, anxious ass can do it, so can you. Discipline and balance.

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