Work/life Balance is a much talked about concept recently and for good reason because of the impact that it has on productivity, health and quality of life. We are at our best when we have the right balance between work and play and excess in any way makes us either stressed and tired or bored and idle.
There have been countless blogs and books written about finding the right work and life balance for you. However, most of these writings are directed towards the conventional 9-5 lifestyle, which is a world away from the life of a freelance digital nomad.
When it comes to the digital nomad lifestyle, the idea of work life balance is just as important. In some ways, achieving the right balance when you are a freelancer is so much easier, because you have the complete freedom to make your own schedule. However, that freedom can also make it harder to stay disciplined and get all of the work done when there is no boss breathing down your neck. As well, when you add in the factor that you are a travelling digital nomad and you are trying to see the world at the same time, it can become even more difficult to juggle.
So far in our digital nomad lifestyle, we have learned a few things about work-life balance while travelling the world. They can be summed up with this phrase:
Travel Slow, Work Fast
It’s simple, but it works. We travel slow enough so that we don’t miss anything and we try to work as quickly and efficiently as possible so that we can maximize the hours in a day.
You only get 24 hours in every day and there is not much you can do about that. What you can control is what you do with those hours so that you can get the most out of them. One of the ways to do that is to work faster and more efficiently. Really productive people don’t magically create more hours in the day; they just know how to get stuff done faster without all of the time wasting in between.
When there is a big world out there and lots to see, every extra hour that you spend procrastinating in front of your computer and plodding along with your work is an hour that you could have spent lounging on a tropical beach, walking around ancient temples, going on a boat tour or taking a hike in the jungle. Procrastination is not your friend in a digital nomad lifestyle.
Whenever I find myself slipping into bad working habits, I end up kicking myself afterwards because it usually means that I miss out on something fun that I could have done if I wasn’t so inefficient. If I daydream, work slowly and get distracted, the work that I have to do doesn’t disappear, I just have to cut into my fun time to get it done.
So how can you work more efficiently so that you have more time for yourself to do the things you like? It doesn’t mean rushing through your work or doing an inadequate job. It doesn’t mean doing less work. That is not a sustainable habit, especially as a freelancer, because your livelihood rests so much on your reputation.
Work Fast: My Productivity Techniques
The trick is finding out the little tweaks that you can make to your own work habits that will help you to get more work done in less time. This will be different for everyone of course, so it is up to you to figure it out for yourself. As an example, here is a list of things that we have figured out over the past year and a half which have been proven to help me work more efficiently:
• Waking up in the morning and starting at a certain time is important, otherwise it is too tempting to sleep in and have a slow and fuzzy start to the day. As a freelancer, it’s easy to sleep in and work from bed in your pajamas, but it’s a dangerous slippery slope to not getting anything done.
• Coffee is important too. I drink it as a mental trigger to myself that it’s time to focus and get some work done. You might have your own “work time” drink or snack.
• Over a year ago now, Lee helped me to design a Google Docs spreadsheet which tracks the articles I am writing, how much money they are worth, when they are due, etc. I can create a ‘Worklog’ of articles I need to finish on a particular day and track my earnings daily and monthly. When he created this system, my productivity nearly tripled. Keeping track of your work is crucial to improving your productivity.
• I divide my day into small goals. For example, I commit to finishing a certain number of articles before lunch time. This helps you keep on track throughout the day.
• I use an online timer app to track my time when working on articles. When I am writing, the timer is going but if I get interrupted by anything else the timer is paused. I know exactly how much time I am working (or wasting!). Try it sometime so that you can identify the distractions which are slowing you down.
• My timer also helps me to see how long I am taking to complete a certain task. I know how long it takes me to write the average 500 word articles and if it is taking too long, I can ask myself why. Was it because it required a lot more research, or because I got distracted looking at pictures of cute kittens or checking Facebook?
• Big headphones are helpful for me as well, as they block out all sounds around me and let me get completely immersed in the “zone” when I am writing. Music makes writing more enjoyable and helps me to focus.
• I have recently begun using an online To-Do list app where I can write down all of the extra small tasks that I need to do throughout the day, such as responding to emails. Previously, if one of these tasks arose during writing time I would either break my concentration away from writing to do it (slowing down my work) or I would tell myself I would do it later and then forget about it. Now I just quickly throw it onto my daily list and make sure that it gets done by the end of the day.
These are the little tricks that I have found work well for me in the battle against my own laziness and procrastination. Of course, I don’t always win the battle and I have my bad days sometimes, but it is a continuous learning curve to improve your own productivity. Your habits and work preferences might be different than mine, but the power of organization, setting goals and creating an ideal work environment will be useful for everyone.
Travel Slow: “We’ll Just Stay One More Day…”
The digital nomad lifestyle is about finding the right balance between working and traveling. There is no point traveling the world if you are going to spend the whole time in the hotel room working on your laptop. You want to be out there exploring, walking, taking photos, meeting people and having fun. One of the things that we have learned is that we need to travel slow enough to have enough time to create the right balance between work and travel.
We never really have the problem of not having enough time to explore our destination, because we always stay in each destination until we feel satisfied with it. We know that the work doesn’t go anywhere, so we fit in our sightseeing around it and stay as long as that particular destination requires, whether that is three days or two weeks. We keep our schedule deliberately flexible so that, aside from visa restrictions, there is nothing holding us back from staying longer if we need to. We are notorious for booking one night in a hostel and then extending our stay every morning for two weeks.
We often see holiday-goers race past us, with an action-packed schedule of three tours booked per day and a party every night. We have to remind ourselves that we are not on a two-week blow-out holiday but we are living on the road full time in a sustainable way. We might only treat ourselves to special tours, expeditions and attractions only every week or two and keep our expenses down, but this way we can continue traveling for years.
That’s not to say that we don’t go out and do plenty of fun things. Once you have mastered the art of maximizing your productivity you will realize that you can get quite a bit done and still have a lot of free time. Let’s say that you are awake from 8am until midnight, which is a total of 16 hours. If you can condense the freelance work that you need to do into six hours per day, this means that you will have 10 waking hours in which to do anything you please.
Because I am freelance, I know that I can place those work hours throughout my day wherever I want them to be in order to take advantage of the travel destination that I am in. For example, when I am at the beach I like to work for a couple of hours in the early morning, take some time off for lunch and enjoying the water and the sunshine, then work for another few hours during “siesta” time around 3pm when it is too hot to be outside. I can then finish around 6pm or 7pm and be ready to go out for dinner. In a different place, or on a day when we have different plans, I can adjust my work schedule to fit.
Achieving Your Work/Life Balance
“Travel Slow and Work Fast” is our strategy for achieving the right work/life balance in our digital nomad lifestyle. It allows us to get things done while still enjoying our time on the road. What ways have you found to achieve your own work/life balance? Share them with us in the comments.