Western society places significant pressure on the individual to both work hard and play hard. This extends from our education to our careers to our social life and beyond. This pressure takes a unique shape for digital nomads, who face pressure to be succeeding professionally in a way that justifies their lifestyle choice, as well as pressure to take advantage of all of the sights and adventures available to them in their travels.
The temptation to choose play over work can be extra tantalizing when you’re working remotely. Just outside that coffee shop or co-working space is a city filled with culture, a beach inviting you to soak up the sun, or a mountain range waiting to be hiked. After all, aren’t those things the reason you chose to pack up your laptop and fly to a new location in the first place?
There’s a delicate balance between accomplishing what’s necessary in one’s work life, and exploring what the world has to offer. While it can be easy for digital nomads to over-complicate how to navigate this balance, the answers often lie in simple wisdoms.
Keep your schedule sacred
Keeping a schedule is easy when your job requires you to show up on-site. You wake up, go to your workplace, and if you prove to be unreliable then your schedule will suddenly open up, as you’ll lose your job.
Similarly, if you’re remotely working full-time for a company then your schedule may make itself, as you’ll often have obligations such as meetings or hours in which you need to be actively collaborating with your coworkers.
This becomes more complicated when your boss doesn’t require you to be working at any particular time, or you’re freelancing or working on your own projects, in which case your daily work schedule is essentially up to you, provided you complete tasks by a certain date.
When the outside requirements of keeping a consistent schedule are absent then that pressure needs to come from within. This can be easier said than done if you’re in a new city and culture with a wealth of things to distract you.
One starts to slip into working in little spurts: an hour here, two hours there, saving the rest for tomorrow. It’s a slippery slope to working only small amounts every day, giving yourself zero days off and having the constant weight over your head that “I could be doing more,” a sort of productivity purgatory that fuels anxiety and discontent.
The solution to this sensation of “never quite on the clock, never quite off” is to go back to the roots and have a schedule that you keep sacred.
For me, this means working Monday through Friday, starting bright and early and finishing in mid-afternoon, and taking weekends off. Sounds pretty similar to a 9-5, right?
While we’re often attracted to digital nomadism for the freedom of movement and experience of new cultures and activities, when it comes to working and not just being a long-term tourist, it can be best to follow the wisdom of how humans have worked for millennia.
However you decide to frame your work time, having clear boundaries will help keep yourself accountable and give you permission to turn off and engage in your new surroundings when your hours are up.
Don’t say “yes” when you’re feeling a “no”
If you’re traveling and working as a digital nomad, then it’s important to know why you’re traveling and what interests you about the places you’re visiting. One can fall into the trap of wanting to do everything a location has to offer, feeling the pressure of social media and travel blogs that glamorize a seemingly non-stop stream of activities and beautiful locations.
There’s pressure beyond the internet as well, as you’ll meet other travelers who are busily and faithfully spending each day going through the lists of tourist sites, walking tours, beaches, and treks.
Part of cutting down on the myriad of distractions when traveling is to “know thyself.” Just because you’re in a surf town doesn’t mean that you have to surf. You don’t have to go to your umpteenth cathedral or temple just because you’re in a new city that has one. If the art in a particular art museum doesn’t interest you, then you don’t have to go. If there’s a cute colonial town three hours away that every traveler goes to, but you’ve already been to a dozen colonial towns, it might not bring you the same joy it brings others, and that’s ok.
It’s become a bit of a trope that it’s best to be a “yes” person, someone who says yes to every opportunity, invitation, and experience in front of them. Personally, I think it’s more important to know what’s worth saying “yes” to for you.
Sometimes when faced with new experiences you’ll need to try it out before you know, and this is when you’ll find value in pushing yourself and saying “yes.” Once you have this self-knowledge, however, your work-life balance will feel much more stable, even when you’re in a new location, if you’re willing to say “no.”
There’s a lot of noise about making the most out of your travels, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to block it out and focus on what truly brings you joy.
Have simple productivity habits
As a digital nomad you already have the extra stress of regularly planning your travel and accommodation, so it’s best to keep the way you manage your tasks simple.
I’m big on keeping it uncomplicated with productivity management, as creating the mindset that your productivity rests on a complex system of apps and tricks is bound to get you tied up spending more time organizing than accomplishing your tasks. For this reason, I like to use a simple checklist notepad or app, such as TickTick, for almost every task.
You get the little dopamine hit of crossing off your objectives without being tied down by a web of bells and whistles that can be created with complex apps and bullet journals. I also like using Trello and OneNote for organizing longer-term projects, but I mainly use them as sounding boards to get all my thoughts onto paper, and anything that needs to be accomplished ends up just going on my checklist.
Productivity management is definitely something that’s highly personal, and some people will prefer more organized systems than others, but I truly believe that there’s value in simplicity, and it can be easy to blame an unproductive day or two on your organization, instead of simply accepting that not every day will be as productive as the last.
You’ve probably noticed that most of these tips borrow heavily from work and recreational life that isn’t nomadic. Oftentimes there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, and while you may be working and traveling in a way that’s only been possible for a few decades, that doesn’t mean that the way you shape and organize your life will be fundamentally different. You’ll probably be at your most productive and happy when your life looks pretty similar to how it did back home, just with the added bonus of exploration and broadening your horizons. As the saying goes, “keep it simple, stupid.”
If you liked this article also check out, “7-Point Checklist to Enter Any Country like a Boss” and “Six Essential Travel Items for Comfort and Sustainability”.