Michelle is the founder and Editor in Chief of Day Job Optional, a blog that offers young women (and some dudes!) the training and resources to launch location independent writing careers (including her FB mastermind group). The site is officially 1 year old and has undergone major evolution.
Having freelanced for years, Michelle took her first ever full time job in 2015, which she quit in January 2016 so she could travel and work on her passion projects. Desk jobs don’t seem to be her thing 😉
In today’s post, Michelle is going to go through things that will help keep you productive even then your in an idyllic location. Michelle knows all about staying productive, even though I can’t see how she did judging by her pictures down below.
Anyway, I’ll let Michelle drop her knowledge bombs for today. And… Go!
I’ll never forget the feeling of cruising south on highway 307 in Mexico in a beat up taxi from Playa Del Carmen to Tulum. It’s a pretty quick ride, about an hour, but it meant the world to me. I’d quit my job two months before and was now knee deep in digital nomad bliss with the co-founder of my website, who sat in the cab next to me taking videos of our grinning faces on her GoPro.
We’d booked Airbnb’s throughout Quintana Roo and set up home-away-from-home offices in each abode, which sometimes meant working in a tiny cement room and other times meant swinging in hammocks on open air decks as we typed away.
Arriving in Tulum, a place I’d been dying to see since before it was nicknamed the “tropical Brooklyn of Mexico” since New Yorkers swear they always run into one another there, was simply a dream. Unlike the previous stops on our trip, I found myself stepping out of the taxi into a daydream-come-true.
To make a long story short, while I was in bonafide boss mode for the first leg of the trip with client calls, early project deliveries and even helping my co-founder talk through parts of her book, in Tulum I went into margarita-and-beach mode.
On one hand I thought, “Whatever, I’ve earned it!” But after a few days of backstroking in tequila and dancing cumbia all night at street carnivals, I had to snap back into reality. There was work to do!
Digital nomads get to spend their days in amazing places, travel the world, and set their own schedules… but when you’re still in hustle-and-grind mode, you don’t always have the luxury to indulge in your surroundings the way your average person would when arriving some place new on vacation. Even more importantly, living with a sense of false freedom is not going to help you in the long run.
If you’re running a business, building a personal brand or otherwise working independently as a traveling digital nomad, you’ve got to maintain a pro mindset to prevent transforming into Beach Party Barbie (or Ken).
Here are a few realistic, applicable tips to help you do that.
How to keep a pro mindset as a globe-trotting digital nomad
Be smart when selecting your tech
Do you have all of the apps and gadgets you need to get your work done from virtually anywhere? When you first dive into the digital nomad lifestyle you’ll notice that WiFi isn’t always readily available, phones lose charge quickly in isolated areas and your time zone no longer syncs with your top clients.
Plan ahead and prepare with solar chargers, meeting scheduling apps and other tools you might need. Remember: Even after years of traveling and working, you’ll still have a running list of things you need to perfect your workflow, so don’t beat yourself up for not having it right the first time.
Stay inspired, not distracted
Use the excitement of new sights, sounds and experiences to your advantage. While waking up at 5AM in your home city to get some work done may not have been thrilling, you can bet it will be in whatever dream destination you’re headed to next. Use that sense of adventure you get when landing in a new place by trying new things, being open to connect with other digital nomads, or sharing your experiences with your readers and customers through blog posts.
When you’re feeling inspired, you’ll notice that your work flows effortlessly and you’ll start to feel reinvigorated and excited about your projects again. Also be prepared for a steady flow of new ideas to accompany the sensory experience of new stomping grounds, however temporary.
Schedule in (mandatory) downtime
To avoid burnout and help yourself stay focused when it’s time to work, it’s crucial that you schedule time to enjoy yourself, too. After all, the essential reason for escaping the corporate grind is to feel alive, right? In Tulum, the white sands and aqua waters were a treat after I got my work done (most of the time—I’m a work in progress, too!).
I also had to get real about the fact that I love nightlife, and I knew I’d be out dancing until morning a few times during our stay in Mexico. As such, I planned a few unscheduled hangover days and made sure to plan my deadlines accordingly.
Want a pro tip on downtime? You need to shift your brain completely over to leisure a few times per day, so you give yourself a chance to unwind, refresh, and come back to the task at hand.
Be willing to get creative when things don’t go according to plan
As a digital nomad, once in a while you’ll find yourself in a bind. Let’s face it: you’re no longer walking into an office building at the same address anymore! A large desk? Reliable internet? A syllabus warm out’the copier? No more!
While this is a beautiful thing, it can also mean your creative problem solving skills need to stay sharp at all times. My digital nomad travel buddy and I once lugged our laptops from a hostel all the way downtown to a café for a solid afternoon of work. I opened mine to find that my battery had drained during “sleep mode” and there were no wall plugs in sight.
Instead of getting pissed, I sat down and challenged myself to write as much as possible in the limited time left on my computer battery. The result was an epic blog post that I probably never would have written otherwise.
Travel with people you jive with professionally (and otherwise)
This one is so huge for me, and I learned it from coworkers who reduced my productivity by being distracting, annoying, or somehow overtly mediocre: I simply can’t work at my full potential if the people I’m with don’t bring out my best.
For this reason, booking trips with peers who are also writers and are also working on their own side hustle or entrepreneurial dream has been key in making digital nomad excursions a professional and personal success.
A few tips for finding that ideal travel buddy? Pick someone who’s as picky (or laid back) about living arrangements, keeps a similar work schedule (ie: two night owls who can keep each other accountable for a solid night of writing = priceless), and has a similar work ethic.
…or, travel solo!
Even better than traveling with someone who inspires you? Traveling solo! I dabbled in this for the first time this year, and I absolutely loved it. Traveling alone, even for short lengths of time, helps you get to know yourself in a brand new way. It also allows you to completely focus on your work and set your own schedule, without the agendas of would-be travel buddies.
At the end of our Mexico trip, I woke up in denial of my flight back to Miami. I decided, before even getting out of bed, that I would let my friend leave without me. I sacrificed a cheap flight, booked another hostel on my own, and enjoyed a few extra days of writing by day and live music by night. It was one of the most profound moments of the trip for me.
Just be grateful
While working on the road and battling everything from swarms of mosquitos to mild food poisoning, it can be easy to forget how lucky we are to be living the digital nomad dream. You know those ridiculous stock photos of people sitting on the beach with their laptops out, gleefully staring at the horizon? We’re the real-life version of that. And while people may laugh at those photos, they envy the lifestyle they represent: location independence, freedom, travel!
When I get stressed, tired, and impatient with this dreamy way of life, I try to remember to stop and express some gratitude for the opportunities I’ve been given. The vast majority of people won’t ever live this way. Some of them don’t have the option to, some of them just don’t know it’s possible. Knowing this, I definitely don’t want to take it for granted.
Know your “why”
I’ve saved the best tip for last because, in my opinion, you might as well be a drunk tourist floating out to sea, without it.
Pretty palm trees aren’t enough to justify a life that can bring just as much stress as it does freedom. You’ve got to know why you’re doing this if you’re going to make it last. During those difficult moments when you’ve lost motivation, are tired of bad plumbing in foreign countries and don’t know how to speak the language as well as you’d like to (or cannot, for the life of you, find the right power adapter), you’ve got to turn to your “why” for sanity.
So, why are you a digital nomad? Why don’t you want a cushy office job? Why don’t you want someone else to be your boss? Dig deep, beyond money and immediate gratification like beautiful scenery and adventure. What is it that’s keeping you going each morning when you wake up and crack open your laptop for another day of hustling?
Figure that out, write that down, and keep that close. It will serve you time and time again along this wild ride.
After freelancing for seven years (with several nomad-tastic years in between), these are the things I’ve learned from experience. And hey, these rules also apply to those who maintain their location independence in the comfort of their own homes! Just switch out the beach for Netflix binges, and it’s basically the same. *wink*
So, fellow digital nomads, whether you’re setting up shop in Bali or working out of coffee shops in Costa Rica, I invite you to check in with the points above and keep it pro even when you’re living in a dream. You’ll find that being a professional in paradise is both satisfying for your entrepreneurial spirit and beneficial for your bank account.