Digital Nomad 101: Tips to Stay Productive When Working Abroad

Working a stone’s throw from the seaside sounds ideal until you realize that you have actual work to do. So how do you stay productive when the entire point of being a digital nomad is to travel to distractions?

You’ll need to develop strategies to help you stay on task and still prioritize time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Whether you’re still in the daydreaming and planning mode of becoming a digital nomad, or you’ve been working all over the globe as you’ve always wanted, try some of these suggestions to keep you productive and live the dream.

1. Prioritize Work, Prioritize Relaxation

Merely hoping you have time to run to the beach while spending all your time working is not living the dream. You will burn out, just like you would a traditional job. So, utilize that planner (digital or physical) and plan out what your tasks are for the day. Then pencil in whatever activity you’ve been looking forward to in the area. You’re there for a reason, enjoy it! That is after you’ve completed a specific set of tasks or a project!

The delayed gratification will make you feel like a rock star and the realization that you made your evening at the ski resort happen because you completed your job will help you relax and enjoy.

2. Group Similar Tasks or Chores into Chunks

You check into your seaside cabana, and you want to head into the local pub and forget the huge project you have to start. You know it’s hard to refocus once you get off-track, so you may want to rethink that plan.

Instead, take a little time to list the significant parts of the project. Write out the majority of what you need to do and assign yourself “chunks” to complete each day. If you see that those chunks are going to take you past a deadline, you’ll already be prepared and be able to adjust. Adjusting with time to spare is much less stressful than trying to cram in everything just before the deadline.

3. Use the Pomodoro Technique

A variation of “chunking” your tasks is the Pomodoro Technique. If you’re struggling to stay focused on your work, applying this technique could get you past the frustration of spinning your wheels.

The basics:

  • Decide on a specific task you need to complete
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes
  • Your goal is to check off four 25-minute intervals before taking a break
  • If you do not have four check marks, take a 3- to 5-minute break and begin another 25-minute interval
  • After you’ve completed four check marks, take a 15-20-minute break
  • Repeat until the task is complete

The beauty of this technique while working abroad is being able to commit any part of your day to work, and then being rewarded by completing your “workday” in your reward destination. Not everyone can say, “If I complete this project today, I’ll go to the beach/skiing/hiking.” You can!

4. Have A Routine In Place

Every time you move to a different location, implement a routine. Even if you’re not a fan of them, research has shown that creating a habit helps to keep you productive. Athletes, business moguls, and political leaders all implement routines to ensure they’re in the proper frame of mind to begin their tasks and stay focused. It’s our brain’s way of saying, “Let’s do this.”

For example: when you arrive, go straight to your room, unpack, and get your workstation organized. Sit down, return phone calls, texts, and emails, and plan out the next few days. Now is the time to break that big project into chunks.

If you prefer, do something fun right away. You’ve been looking forward to being in Belgium, visit the Royal Palace. You won’t be able to concentrate on work until you see it anyway, so enjoy! Afterward, get down to business. Unpack, get your tools organized, network with your people, and plan.

You know what works best for you. But do the same thing in every location. Ideally, a routine involves 2-4 items that you complete the same every time you arrive at your destination. Once you’ve forced yourself to do the same tasks in several locations, day and night, you’ll find that it has become a routine.

5. Use Tech to Up Your Game

If you prefer handwritten sticky notes and lists, by all means, use them. But we have many digital tools at our disposal. When you work anywhere, you need tools to work anywhere. PC Magazine has put together a great list of apps developed just for productivity.

Google has also integrated all their products, which means that just with your free Google account, you already have access to a variety of tools. Scheduling, contacts, emails, voicemail, all can be consolidated into a simple workflow. Wired tried them all and compiled the best.

Likewise, Apple products all sync and should be used to their fullest extent. Check them out here; there are plenty of tutorials and resources to cull.

6. Sleep Well – Don’t Skip This One, It’s Important!

You need sleep to be a productive human. And while ensuring you get 7-8 hours of sleep a night when you’re in a new exciting location is not easy, it’s imperative. According to the National Institute for Health, lack of sleep can contribute to a host of disorders, including unproductivity. When your body is sluggish because of fatigue, your motivation is nonexistent.

Do not underestimate the power of merely committing yourself to sleep at regular intervals. Your mom was right (but we won’t tell her).

7. Prepare for Disasters

Okay, so not just natural disasters, but real disasters: internet outages, laptop crashes, cell phones getting left in your Uber. Real disasters! When tragedies strike, we’re tempted to give up on our plan, which for those working abroad, only brings on further stress (like lack of income).

Buy insurance for your cell and your laptop, and back them up regularly. If you’re using specialized equipment related to your work (such as cameras, video equipment, etc.), protect them and back them up every night.

Upload serial numbers, receipts, and pictures to the cloud and directly to your insurance company. Additionally, create a savings account (preferably interest-bearing) to cover the cost of new equipment, should you lose or damage your primary. When insurance pays you, repay your savings account.

There are few things to interrupt your productivity more than lack of tools. Having that plan B in place means if something happens, you have to deal with a hiccup, not a full-blown emergency.

8. Keep Your Goals in Front of You

When you are enjoying a stunning location abroad, struggling to work when the cabana boys/hula girls are beckoning, here is one thing to remind you to stay productive: This is your job. All of it. The beaches, the mountains, the fascinating places, the abundant beauty you place yourself in the midst of every day, the deadlines, the dedication to this way of life. This is your job.

You wouldn’t jeopardize this dream because you procrastinate. You want this life. You chose your vocation, so you could choose your location (sorry, didn’t mean to rhyme, but if it helps you remember your goal, repeat it often). You do have to work for this digital nomad life. Nothing comes easy.

Stay focused on why you’re doing the work you’re doing – because you want the life you’re living.

Posted 6 years ago on 22 March 2018

About Parker

Parker Benjamin is the owner of DMAD and has been writing for the web for over 10 years. He is passionate about design, Wordpress, travel, language learning, fine dining, and online marketing. Note: Some links on this site are monetized by affiliate programs - see disclosure for more details.

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