A common challenge faced by many digital nomads is the issue of productivity. Being remote workers, we need a good level of self-discipline and motivation to be highly productive. Throw in the constant temptation of traveling and changing environments; it can be even more challenging to sit
our ass quietly down and get to work.
However, making the best use of our time at work also means more time for exploration and leisure activities. That said, how can we be more productive as digital nomads?”
Here are some productivity tips that can help keep efficiency high. I practice some of them regularly and am still struggling to adopt others.
Productivity Tips for Digital Nomads
This is probably the most important macro factor. It is difficult to hit a high level of productivity if you are always moving around. There are too many logistical issues to consider when traveling to new places, such as accommodation, transport, places to visit, and the list goes on. Moving too quickly means you have less time to explore a destination. This further forces you to make the best use of the limited time in checking out the place instead. The draw of exploring a new destination is just too high.
On the other hand, slow travel means you are not at the mercy of time. You can spread out your time exploring places and have sufficient time for work. It also provides an opportunity to build a routine and avoid having to adapt to a new environment constantly.
We only have that much decision making prowess in one day. If we keep spending them on daily minor stuff, we have less energy to focus on important work decisions. (This is why Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg wear the same stuff every day, so they don’t spend precious brain juice on the “nitty-gritty” in life).
Segment on-the-go tasks
Commuting can sometimes be very time-consuming. We can better utilize the time during long bus rides or flights for productive work. I like to segment out tasks that I can perform offline and fit them into these long travel journeys. Sometimes I download all the materials I need beforehand and work on my laptop while traveling.
Some trains, particularly in Europe, also has WiFi access. It might make sense to go with a company that provides that even if it is more expensive. If you do connect to public WiFi, remember to use a VPN, particularly when working with important data.
However, I always keep a pen and notebook in my backpack, which I use to draft or plan when using the computer isn’t convenient. This productivity tip has given me a significant amount of quality work time because there is not much distraction while stuck on the bus or flight.
Know where you are most productive
Be self-aware and understand what your best work environment is. Some people work well in extreme quietness while others like having background noise. It explains why some people complain about coworking spaces being too noisy, while others complain about it not being social enough.
Sometimes, your optimal environment can even vary across different tasks due to the nature of work. For example, I need way more concentration when I am writing than when I am doing design.
One of the key benefits of a digital nomad is the flexibility to choose where to work from, so why not take full advantage of this. I am personally way more productive in cafes where there is background music, yet not directly blasting into my ears.
Figure out what kind of work environment works best for you and strive to either get an accommodation that can provide a similar environment. Alternatively, check out coworking spaces and cafes that suit your taste.
Know when you are most productive
It is not just where but also when. Some people are more productive in the morning, while others are night owls. A good understanding of when your creative juices flow is crucial to planning your schedule.
The easy tasks are always more tempting to start with first, but it is essential to understand which items are critical to your business/work. You want to cater to work on those tasks when your brain is at its optimal performance level.
You can also use this as an anchor to planning your social/leisure activities or travels. Try to reserve the productive time for work and enjoy while you know productivity would be low anyway. That helps to keep your nomad and work-life balance in check.
Build a routine
I have not deployed this method much in the work domain, but more for fitness personally. However, I have met many nomads that have found it useful in their work. Creating some form of small routine in our primarily ever-changing life helps get them into the work mode. It encourages discipline to focus on work during specific hours every day as the body clock adjusts to the routine.
The routine can be simple: wake up, meditate, get coffee, work for 3 hours, etc. It also eliminates redundancy in decision making throughout the day since there is a “fixed” schedule. I do notice that not having a routine can be damaging. Some days I spend too much time deciding if I should go out or when I should eat, which is an utter waste of time.
Start your day strong
That said, I like to start my mornings strong. It used to mean squeezing in my workouts at the gym before the day begins (until covid hit).
Starting the day with an accomplishment sets my mind up for better mental choices for the day. I tend to eat healthier and be more motivated to make the days as productive as possible. It is a positive propagating effect that cascades down to different aspects of your life.
The positive attitude gives me better focus on my work, and I’m pretty sure that boost of adrenaline in the morning plays a part as well.
Batch process similar tasks
This approach is one of the most important things that I am working on as I take on more projects and businesses. Batch processing tasks means performing tasks of a similar nature together at one go.
When you repeatedly perform the same task, you get into a flow, which makes the execution much faster. It is much more efficient than jumping from one task to another. For example, I will segment a block of time to work solely on writing drafts and another block to process all my photos across different articles. This is more productive than jumping from writing to processing five photos, and then creating social media assets all within the same time block.
Determine which of your regular tasks are similar and can be performed together for higher productivity.
In a close similarity to the previous tip of not jumping from one task to another, multi-tasking is another productivity killer. It is especially so if your other tasks are not work-related. Our brains are meant to focus on one task at a time, and distractions like social media or tv can totally throw your concentration off.
One of the reasons I am more productive in cafes is that I don’t have as much distraction. I am guilty of playing Netflix or YouTube videos when working. While I can get away with it for some of my tasks, it is certainly not helpful for others. I can never get any writing done with the television raving on.
Get sufficient sleep and find your best sleep pattern
The amount of sleep and rest your body gets directly impact how efficient your mind can function. Ever sat in front of your laptop for a few hours and realized you didn’t get much done? Having a well-rested mind makes you more productive, and you find yourself taking less time to get things done. It is not just about getting enough hours of sleep but also the time you go to bed.
Personally, I noticed that when I sleep after 3 am, my next day is almost a goner. Not the hungover type of gone, but my brain simply doesn’t function as effectively. Despite catching 8 hours or even 10 hours of sleep, my mind will not hit the optimal level of productivity (oh well, age catches up with everyone). If I sleep early before midnight, there is a good chance my mind functions better even with just 6 hours of sleep. This means an extra 2 hours each day.
Everyone has different preferences and patterns, which is partly influenced by how you grew up as well. Some people are used to taking afternoon naps and power naps throughout the day, while others function well with a long night rest. Therefore, find your pattern to see what works best for you.
Managing your sleep patterns can sometimes be hard to follow, especially when you are traveling around. However, it is good to know it so you can adjust whenever possible.
A good way to start testing this out is simple to listen to your body. From there, you can shift your sleep time accordingly to see how your body reacts.
The Pomodoro Technique
Pomodoro Technique is one of the most popular time management systems for all workers. This technique follows the approach of focusing on one task for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break. Each break allows you time to relax and refocus for the next interval. You can choose to take a 20-30 minutes rest after 4 Pomodoros.
This method breaks your workday down to productive short sprints where you devote all your focus to the task at hand. It aims to create a sense of urgency, help avoid distraction, and increase productivity. Keeping an intense focus on work is certainly more manageable in short intervals than a consecutive long period.
Learn to Forgive Yourself
There are times when I feel bad just because I didn’t get anything done on a particular day, and this is one area that I have to improve on
Productivity tips can be useful, but even nomad entrepreneurs have off days when work is simply not productive. Don’t be too hard on yourself when this happens. Life doesn’t always have to be in constant acceleration.
I find turning to gratitude helps. Appreciate how lucky we are to be able to lead a nomadic lifestyle. Then make use of the various mental and practical work approaches above to maximize your time when your mind is ready to go!
Wondering how you can work and travel? Here are the common jobs and businesses that digital nomads engage in.