How to get work done when you’re on the road

As a full time digital nomad, one of the biggest problems I face is managing to get things done whilst being constantly on the move. Whether I’m in a lazy beach town or a secluded nature reserve, I always have to find ways to discipline and motivate myself because there is no one around to hold me accountable. And though there are still many things lacking from my routine, I have still achieved a fairly stable workflow. Use my tried and tested life hacks to get things done and be productive on the road.

Spiti Road

Break it down, yo

The first thing you want to do, before you do anything, is to break down your whole life into easy to manage segments. It’s very difficult to prepare for a marathon if you don’t know how long the trail is and parts the trail is made up of.

When you are on the road, new and unexpected things are constantly demanding your attention, so without a clear work strategy in place in context of your overall goals, you can easily get carried away with the tide.

So first, split up all the areas of your life into broad categories and write them as titles in a Word Document.

For example, my categories are as follows :

  • Administration

  • Travel Website

  • Online Tutoring

  • Social Media

  • Personal Development &

  • Freelance Work

Then for each of these overall categories, make bullet points for the main things that need to be accomplished within them. For Travel Website, I included: write and upload all articles, edit and upload all photographs, edit and upload all videos, and technical work.

Now write down the particular steps you need to take for each bullet point. For “write and upload all articles” I wrote: put list of all titles in a document, write each article, select pictures for each article and put in separate folders, upload all articles on website.

This is now a complete list of everything you have to do from a birds-eye perspective, in reference to your future goals. Having this clarity in your mind is in itself a huge plus for your productivity so you don’t feel like you’re not getting anywhere.

This is an example admin section from my to do list. I generally like to finish admin all in one go if I have time, because it’s generally lots of small annoying things that I need to sort out one by one.

Do some time accounting

Now you’ve made your overall game plan, you need to strategize how this will fit into your daily life in order to actually achieve things. For this you need to do some time accounting and calculate how much time you need to complete each bullet point.

For example, if I know that I take 15 minutes to edit the average photograph, and I have 600 photographs in total, then the total time I spend doing that one bullet point is 40 hours. So I’ll write that next to my bullet point.

Now it’s time to work out how much time you need to spend on each bullet point every day, in order to achieve it by the desired date. So if I need all my photos within the next 7 days, I know I’m going to have to spend a minimum of 40/7 = 5.7 hours each day to get it done. I’d also keep a margin of a few hours in case I run over, so that means 6 hours a day to finish it by the end of the week.

Just knowing how much time you need to spend AND what the tangible outcome will be at the end of it in reference to your overall goal, is an incredibly powerful motivator. The power will come from inside, as opposed you trying to push yourself with only a vague idea of when the outcome will transpire.

By working backwards from the deadlines you set for yourself, you can prioritize more effectively and spend more time in the day on things that need the most attention. This makes it less likely you’ll overspend time on things that may be easier or interesting, but less important.

Structure, structure, structure

This is one of the most difficult things to introduce into your life if you live on the road. You’ll be waking up in different places every few days and won’t know what you’ll be doing tomorrow. But over the past two plus years of travelling, I can say it’s both necessary and possible to have a loose routine of sorts.

Again, the idea is to split your day into segments: morning, afternoon, and evening. As far as possible, I allocate specific genres of activities to different segments. For example, I time-block my morning for things I do for myself e.g. exercise and meditation.

Taking the mornings to feel the sunrise and take a swim in Padang Padang, Bali

Also, I will make a list of the things that I want to incorporate into my life everyday no matter where I am, and how long it will take me. For example, I need three hours in the morning to finish everything I want to do. So even if I can’t wake up at the same time everyday, I’ll make sure I slot it in somewhere before lunch.

For some things, daily goals won’t work. In this case specify a percentage success rate that you want to hit. For example, I want to wake up at 5am in the morning and eat dinner before 8pm at least 5 days in a week. If you make your routine goals more realistic than it’s easier to achieve them.

Find that balance

Part of being a traveler involves making adjustments and this requires mental and physical discipline. In total, you want to balance out your hardcore travelling time with your rest/work time, to make sure you actually get things done.

For days when I am out most of the time exploring, I will balance them out with a few days of total rest. For example, I’ll just find a place with wifi and good food, and sit there and do nothing interesting until I’ve caught up on what I decided to do. Chart out your days in Excel and label them as ‘travel’ or ‘rest’ accordingly.

My little house in KohPhangan, arguably my favourite place in the world to eat good food, heal myself, and catch up on work

I also try to find balance on a day to day basis, to make sure there is a period of at least a few hours everyday where I can do things for myself. For example, if I have been out the entire day, I’ll sacrifice a night of partying so I can stay in and catch up. If I have to go out at night, I’ll keep either my morning or afternoon free.

As a traveler, it’s very easy to meet people or get carried away with new activities. This is where you have to decide where to draw the line about what you give to the outside world and what you keep to yourself. To help you maintain balance, it’s good to keep a number of allowance days every week or month to dedicate entirely to your work.

Be constantly engaged

One of the easiest things to do when no one is towering over you for your work, is to just waste time. Because you feel like your time is your own, you don’t think before spending an hour going through your inbox or watching Netflix. Of course, these things have their place too but they should come after you’ve done what you need to for the day.

On the road, there are plenty of hidden opportunities to tick off a few points from your daily to do list. The smartness is in actively identifying them and motivating yourself to stay focused. For example, in periods of non-activity like sitting in a car or waiting for food, instead of browsing Facebook, use the time to do something productive.

Me taking out 15 minutes waiting for my dinner in Nusa Lembongan, trying to balance productivity and experience

One way to do this is to use a ‘fifteen-minute rule’ such that, if you know you are waiting for at least fifteen minutes, open up your laptop or phone and get working. These short bursts of productivity can go a long way in helping you achieving your end goal.

This requires that you make sure you have everything you need with you. I always carry my laptop, phone, charger and power banks wherever I go so that I can work whenever I choose. It’s not always possible to do this though – motion sickness is a real thing. But as a traveler you know life is totally unpredictable so sometimes you just have to suck it up and get cracking.

Choose your environment

One of the biggest factors in your ability to concentrate is the environment you put yourself in. As a traveler, it can be difficult to find quiet places to work and your accommodation may not be suitable. So be sure to research beforehand any wifi cafes or quiet places you can sit and work in.

If you know you have a strong need for the internet while you’re travelling, chart your itinerary such that you spend more time in digital nomad friendly places. Many cheap travel destinations like Bali, Thailand, Mexico, Chile, Vietnam, and Eastern Europe are now well-known for their large digital nomad communities.

Also, make sure that you are organizing in your immediate environment. Invest in decent accommodation where you can sit and work in silence. Spend a few minutes every morning cleaning your room up so that you feel motivated to sit and work there. Make sure your accommodation is close to required facilities like food and transport, to cut down on travel time.

Apart from all the modern day conveniences, I often find the best place to do something is completely in the wild. There’s nothing like opening your laptop on the top of a mountain with no internet connection and watch your mind take its own turn. Cutting off from society for short periods of time can do wonders to help you get back your focus and find new inspiration.

Sharpen your toolbox

It’s difficult to work on the road if you don’t have all the equipment you need. In foreign countries, it can be difficult to solve technical difficulties so it’s a good idea to come prepared. Bring extra batteries, charging cables – anything that you know is prone to getting lost or damaged.

Also be sure to carry the right equipment. I carry two 10,000mAh power banks and make sure I always charge them so I’m pretty much never stranded. I also carry a 1TB external hard drive and also back up all of my files on iCloud so I can access all my data. I also purchased the new MacBook which allows me to run heavy applications without stalling.

And Lastly, one of the most important things that makes my life easier on the road are my Sennheiser HD25 closed back recording headphones that I actually purchased for music production. Though I haven’t made any music yet, these headphones have changed my life. They block out sound and have retardedly good sound quality. My headphones help give me sanity in the most difficult of situations. 

My headphones stream the sounds of my soul

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