By Sophie McAulay, Unsettled Peru and Medellin Alumni 2018
There are plenty of perks to the digital nomad life, and working remotely in general.
Being your own boss. Starting and ending your day when you want. Working from the couch… or the bed, the kitchen counter, the side of a mountain with a breathtaking view of the valley, or a hammock in the middle of a remote island in Bali. Well, at least attempting to work from a hammock (it’s a lot more uncomfortable than it looks.)
For the past four weeks, I’ve made the most of some of these perks while coworking in Lima, Peru and then again in Medellin, Colombia. I’ve embraced morning surf lessons with fellow Unsettlers; taken an evening walking tour of Baranco, the city’s bohemian art district; tried to comprehend the Spanish version of a downward dog at a yoga class; and visited the desert oasis of Huacachina for some sandboarding on the weekend.
But don’t let Instagram photos and glamor fool you either: as rewarding as the lifestyle can be, it’s also a challenge. It’s up to you alone to ensure you stay motivated, and not get distracted by your new and constantly changing surroundings.
Finding ways to make your work days more productive means you can make more of your off hours, and instead of stressing about all that needs to be done, you can be out exploring, adventuring, and meeting new people. That’s what this life is all about, right?
Since it’s never easy to go it alone, here are some tools (from my own experiences) that can help you be a more productive remote worker.
For tracking where your time goes...
The internet is full of possible distractions, so it’s scarily easy to waste time. RescueTime assesses how much time you spent on your computer and what you were actually doing, then sends you the results, helping you to understand your daily habits. For me, the simple fact that I’m tracking my tasks helps keep me accountable and focused - I don’t want to be kicking myself when my results tell me I wasted hours on social media.
If you’re working across many different types of tasks or clients, time tracking can be a great way to ensure you remain profitable. I use AND CO to track how much time I spend on each kind of task, which helps me to plan ahead when scheduling similar tasks in the future. It also gives me visibility over which tasks I need to get more efficient at. Plus, it has an invoicing feature that pre-populates invoices based on the time I’ve tracked (and reminds me when they need to be sent out!).
For focusing on one task
If you’ve never heard of the Pomodoro Technique, I’d suggest giving it a try to see if it works for you. Using this timer, you focus on one task for 25 minutes and then are prompted to take a 5-minute break.
If you’re anything like me, you work with many, many tabs open at the same time. But this can be distracting, not to mention inefficient when you’re constantly clicking through to the wrong tab. To combat this, I use the One Tab extension for Chrome (also available on Firefox). When the number of tabs I have open gets overwhelming, with the click of a button it sweeps them all into one tab where I can access them later.
We all have our digital vices; whether yours is Instagram, Youtube, or your favourite blog, you can use the Freedom app to block these distractions during work time. And for those who are in danger of circumventing your self-imposed restriction by picking up your phone, the good news is that freedom can sync blocks across all devices.
For staying connected
The essential tool for working from anywhere is, of course, good WiFi. This app crowdsources WiFi passwords for locations all around the world. You can use it to find your office space for the day or search for WiFi passwords when in transit.
Tip: Multiway travel plugs
Invest in travel adapters that work in all countries, so you don’t have to carry different ones for each location. I’d recommend having a couple, so you’re never left without power if you leave one in an airport or your apartment.
For trip planning
If you have a Gmail account, it’ll automatically add your confirmed flights into the app so you have the details in one place - no more searching through that crowded inbox. From there you can click on each trip to discover things to do, ready-made itineraries, places to eat, and local information you need to know (like, how to get tax money back at the airport!). You can also save places you want to go to, and it’ll automatically sync with your Google Maps. Plus, it keeps all your past trips in one place -- great for me to remember the flights I need to include in next year’s tax return!
One of the biggest time suckers when you’re traveling is planning for your next step. The Hopper app has saved me time on research. You simply enter destinations you are looking to go to and it keeps track of flight and hotel prices for you so you don’t have to do all that research. It’s really helpful for combating the decision fatigue that comes with constant travel - you’re simply told when it’s the best time to book or if you should wait for a better price, so you don’t have to waste time wondering.
For choosing an efficient workspace
I find working from a coworking space incredibly motivating. It minimizes the never-ending distractions that you can find at home, and watching others working hard makes you feel you want to as well. Plus you’ve got built-in colleagues to chat with during lunch time. Desk Near Me allows you to find an appropriate space and book it online.
Don’t waste time searching for the best work spaces with actual functioning WiFi. Workfrom lists the best places to work remotely in cities all over the world - including coworking spaces, cafes, libraries and more.
For finding your way
There’s something romantic about being lost in a new place; taking a wrong turn can lead to all kinds of wonderful discoveries. But when you’re working in a new city and suddenly need to find a supermarket to top up your phone credit, it’s incredibly frustrating to get lost along the way. Get the Maps.me app on your phone to help in these kinds of situations. It features free maps for anywhere in the world, with step-by-step navigation. You can search for local businesses, hotels, attractions, and food and drink, and even save your favourite places.
I’d also recommend spending a day before you start work mapping out the places that you’re likely to need - like supermarkets, your local gym, your office space, and your accommodation. Get to know the routes in between each of these places so you don’t waste time on wrong turns or searching for the places you need on days when you need to focus on work (can you tell I figured this out the hard way?).
For tracking your to-do list
Asana is a useful tool for keeping track of all your ‘to-dos’. Starting a new task is as simple as pressing ‘Enter’, so it’s great for when you need to add items on the fly. You can then assign due dates and even followers if you’re collaborating with other teams. I’d recommend getting both the desktop and the mobile app - although there’s a small cost for them, they are super beneficial and easy to use.
Evernote helps you capture and prioritize ideas, projects, and to-do lists. You can plan, keep records, and manage projects from any device - even offline. One of its best features is the ability to clip web pages online and organize or search for them on all your devices. I save travel ideas, articles I want to read later, and inspiration I want to refer back to on here.
For communicating with locals
Need to book a meeting room in your coworking space? Get there faster by speaking the local language. Even learning some simple phrases for the country you’re in will allow you to have more genuine relationships with locals. Babbel offers 15-minute lessons in 14 different languages to get you off to a good start.
For mental health
Moving from city to city is an exciting way to live, but it can also be stressful and at times, and lonely. Meditation can help you look after your mental health, as well as stay more focused. Headspace makes it really easy to learn how to meditate. I’d highly recommend getting the paid version, as it features 30-day packs for all kinds of things, from creativity, focus and productivity to stress and sleep.
If feelings of loneliness or stress ever become too much for you, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional about it. The good news is you don’t have to find a new one in each city. Talkspace provides online therapy from licensed therapists. You can do it from anywhere, and it often costs much less than traditional therapy.
For saving your passwords
All of these tools and programmes, as well as the others that you use for your work, add up to a huge number of passwords to keep track of. Save time searching for passwords by using this master password software that collects them all for you.
For taking productive breaks
Everyone needs breaks in their day to stay productive. But if the idea of taking a break makes you feel even more stressed, consider how you can make your breaks feel productive. I find listening to podcasts - even when they aren’t even remotely related to my work - often inspires my creativity or helps me make new connections between different ideas. Plus, you can wander around the city while you listen. The Stitcher app lets you add your favorite podcast shows to a playlist and save them for easy access.
Make the most of your surroundings
One of the biggest benefits of being a digital nomad is the opportunity to be surrounded by inspirational people from all walks of life and professional industries. Don’t underestimate the value of taking an extended lunch break to chat with a fellow digital nomad. You never know what you might learn - and taking time away from your work can be a great way to inspire a more productive afternoon.
It’s also important to schedule regular days off from work. Setting aside time for exploring your local area or taking a short trip out of your host city will help reduce your inner FOMO on days you’re stuck in the office. And after all, you should take advantage of the benefits of being able to travel while you work.
In the end, staying productive comes down to your internal motivation. If you really want to make the lifestyle of a digital nomad work, you can do it. Just set yourself up for success from the outset with some of these helpful tools.