For those of you reading and are unfamiliar with the term, a digital nomad is a relatively new way for the internet to bucket together people who work and travel at the same time. Personally, I think it is the lamest term currently on the internet, but here we are. Now that that's out of the way...
I've been working and traveling for about 2.5 years now, and have had my fair share of days (sometimes weeks,) of being completely unfocused. Let's take a look at the picture below. Feet up, beer, beach, sun, and sand. Looks great, right?
No. When you're trying to get work done, this is not an ideal situation.
I constantly fight for a balance of responsibility, deadlines, and quieting the inner voice that says I'm enjoying everything too often without balance. Who wants to get their computer out and work when it's hot, sandy, and you're slightly buzzed on cheap beer? No one. Finding the ability and motivation to put my feet back down, not order a second beer, get my computer out, and focus has been a long process of personal discovery in many different environments, not just the beach.
I hear you, everyone has focus issues, whether you're in an office or on the beach. But I'm going to write specifically tips on how to find focus for digital nomad since, personally, I’ve had to experiment and figure out over time how to balance the freedom of my homeless lifestyle with the reality that I still work and am not on permanent vacation. Hopefully I can impart a bit of my learnings onto you so that if you decide to work while traveling, it doesn’t take as many frustrated 2AM’s and scrambling to finish a project.
Create your zone
Figure out how to create a space around you where you work best. Some people are able to work in crowded coffee shops: I am not one of those people. I’d rather prop myself in my dorm room hostel bed with my headphones on and use a book as my mouse pad. Or, if there is a common area in the hostel, I’ll pick a quiet corner with a table or desk and face away from the room (ideally at a wall or window). You will have to try everything from coffee shops to co-working spaces to your bed to on the floor in a corner to see what works best for you. Sometimes I’ll wear headphones and won’t be listening to anything, but usually headphones deter anyone from coming over to talk to me.
Structure your day (or two) the night before
Plan out how you want your following day(s) to happen. This definitely depends on the people you end up meeting on the road, what you want to do, and the size of the work project you have. Usually, I’ll try to wake up early (even if I’m out late), explore the city or go see what I want to see, then work for the afternoon or for a few hours before dinner. In hostel life, there’s usually a lull in activity between 3PM and 7PM where the hostel is quiet with very few people around. If I arrive somewhere that has a full day trip, such as historic tour, I will try to finish more work on the previous day, or schedule it for the following day.
I always try to structure my work around my life, not my life around my work.
Only take projects you can handle
While backpacking, I stopped taking on large website redesign projects. They took too much of my time and I hated that, inevitably, I would miss out on some activity or another in order to stay on schedule. I will, however, take these projects if I am stationed somewhere for a month or two, need the cash due to poor budgeting somewhere along the way, have solid time blocks, and the internet connection is above par. This is again a personal preference. I’ve met quite a few developers who still take large projects, but work for a solid 6 hours every evening on their projects, usually not participating in any evening social activities.
When you work, actually work
Unlike being in an office, no one cares how long you’re sitting at your desk when you're working while sitting on the floor halfway across the world. I’ll often think about projects or ideas while exploring and having fun with people, and when I sit down at my computer, I’m then ready to actually work. I rarely putter around thinking while sitting at my computer. When I sit down to work, I work. I close all other computer windows, I keep my phone in my bag, and I work. This is also why I try to get paid by project rather than by hour... but that's a whole separate blog post.
The sooner you get it done the sooner it’s done
I really enjoy spending entire days exploring or doing activities with new friends that I’ve met. The less time I spend working, even though I do enjoy my work, the better. I became a freelancer so I could backpack the world and I always remind myself that if I stay focused and get it done, I can get back to my main goal: Backpacking and experiencing the world.
Remember, don't be afraid to take vacations. Just because you're traveling doesn't mean you aren't entitled to a few weeks off working too.
Structuring your travel life with your work responsibilities is frankly often a pain in the ass. With a world of distractions out there, it’s important to figure out what works for you to create that environment for yourself (at least when you have a project ongoing.) If you’re doubting you can do it, the only way you’ll know is to try and fail, not be too hard on yourself, and try again. If it's your dream to travel and work simultaneously, you'll find a way.
I hope my experience helps and if you have any tips yourself on how to focus, leave them in the comments!