Across The Board

Updates, inspiration, and musings from the folks behind Trello.

How To Stay Productive While Working And Traveling

woman in woods

Whether you are thinking of going remote from your own home or from a remote island country, here are some important considerations from someone out in the remote work wild:

I’ve been running a full-time freelance writing business for nearly five years, all while traveling around the world. I’m currently in Berlin, Germany, where I’ll be living for a year. It certainly isn’t easy to strike the work/travel balance (hint: anyone who says they don’t waste time on social media is full of it). Not to mention, there’s not much room for trial and error when you need to make money to survive.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about staying productive while working remotely.

Find The Work/Travel Balance That Works For You

Working remotely while on the road changes the way you travel. If you’re a digital nomad, there’s no such thing as galavanting off to secluded islands without WiFi for the week anymore – at least not without lots of advance planning. You have to take the good with the bad.

It’s also easy to fall into the guilt trap of thinking work hours are always 9-5, Monday to Friday. This doesn’t work for me. I’m a night owl, and my mind is most switched on in the evening. When I have to schedule work around other time zones, I make sure there’s plenty of overlap in case my client needs me. But I am rarely active until the afternoon, and it’s taken some time to mentally adjust to this schedule. The same goes for working the typical workweek. Sometimes it’s okay to take a Tuesday off…it just might mean I’ll have to work on Saturday.

Keep a diary log when you finish deadlines, or when you’re feeling most alert, and note any patterns that arise. Are most of your projects getting completed in the evenings? You might be a night owl, too.

where i've been

Some of the places I've traveled as a digital nomad.

Put Your Business First

As much as it’s important to enjoy your lifestyle, keep in mind you wouldn’t have this freedom if it weren’t for some sacrifices.

Time zones are a pain, but being accommodating to your client is an absolute must. No time to schedule a meeting other than at 11 PM? Showing people you’re dependable solidifies their trust in you. You don’t have to bend over backwards to please people. But you do have to show you’re willing to get the job done.

Saying “no” to well-meaning friends and family is also a challenge, especially if they think you’re not really working and you’re just sitting on your couch in pajamas all day scrolling through Facebook. Learning to say “no” to invitations has been the ultimate test. The sooner you learn to do it, the better.

Villa_in_Mallorca
Finding a work/life balance means you're able to enjoy time with friends more. Here we are dining in a villa in Mallorca, Spain.

Stay Organized

If you’re a creative type, you might know how difficult this can be. Creative minds seem to thrive on chaos. Establishing habits and being organized is a catch 22. I left the office world so I could break from routine; however, I’ve found there’s a joy that comes with establishing a semblance of a schedule amidst long-term travel.

My Trello account consists of six different boards: Pitches, Ideas to Pitch, Travel Plans, Content Schedule, Social Media Schedule, and Publications to Watch. I am entirely dedicated to updating these boards, and meeting due dates is bliss. Literally nothing is more satisfying than clearing a board.

travel plans board

When it comes to the actual travel side of things, I have email folders dedicated to flights and accommodations. My Travel Trello board lays out all my upcoming plans so that I don’t screw up and overbook myself. Then I use apps like TripIt to forward my reservations to myself so that I have ‘em all together.  

Greece card

The Day-To-Day

Berlin, following the co-working space trend, is full of new spaces to explore, as are many other cities with big start-up scenes. Even my tiny hometown of St. John’s has an excellent co-working space.

Many spaces are now recognizing the need to offer flexibility for workers, so you can often find co-working spaces with packaged options for people on the move (14 days per month, etc.).

coffee and computer

One of my favorite remote "offices."

Personally, I absolutely love the co-working space movement. It forces me out of the house, and most spaces offer a little bit of a social atmosphere, combined with weekly educational seminars. Not to mention there’s always the chance to secure more freelance work.

I love the call–a-phone feature in Skype, but it’s heck of a lot cheaper to buy a SIM card in the country you’re visiting, and multi-country SIMs are now becoming a thing (especially in Europe).

Know When To Turn Down Projects

Perhaps the hardest lesson of all: you don’t need to accept every job that comes your way.

Yeah, I know. It’s easier said than done when you’re starting out and scrambling to survive on pennies. But think about it: if you’re focusing all your energy on the work that doesn’t pay well, or the work that is meaningless to you, are you potentially depriving yourself of the good gigs?

Saying no is hard sometimes, but know your worth. And your abilities. Taking on too much will drown you.

living-in-berlin

Be Transparent In Your Dealings

Try to be upfront with your clients about your lifestyle. Let them know you’ll be available to them whenever possible, but you won’t be around 24/7. Let them know about delays, or unexpected hiccups. Remember, there’s no way to predict such things from happening. But they do anyway. Honesty is a good policy to have.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes miss the office, and having co-workers, and having a bit more stability. But I’m in no rush to go back. Working while on the road isn’t for everyone, but the rewards are worth it. The key is to find that balance.

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