The Ultimate Guide to Staying Productive While Traveling
The Ultimate Guide to Staying Productive While Traveling
The good news is that there is a world of adventures and experiences that await you, the tough part is that you now need to learn how to stay productive while traveling.
Once you hit the road as a digital nomad you are no longer a tourist. You can’t sleep in until noon, and then spend the rest of the day frolicking to all the different sites of the city you’re in.
I mean, you can definitely do that some days, but not every day.
As a digital nomad and remote worker, you need to work while you’re traveling as well.
I have been working remotely and traveling now for two years, and I have learned a few lessons when it comes down to doing it right.
Below you will find some of the best tips I have received, or learned the hard way, in order to stay productive while traveling and crushing my professional goals.
Establish Your Geographic Familiarity Zone
Your Geographic Familiarity Zone (GFZ for short) is the area around your hotel, new apartment, or AirBnB, and contains things like grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, etc.
This is one of the first things you should do when you arrive in a new city that you will be calling home for the next period of time.
In order to establish your GFZ, grab your fully charged smartphone (or map) and head out of your new digs.
You want to mark a radius around your place, start out with half a mile but if you are staying in a place that is less populated you may need a wider range.
Keep in mind that if you are staying in the country this may not be the best tactic for you.
Once you have a solid half-mile radius around your new apartment established on a map, start exploring this area. While exploring make note of any grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants, coin laundry, or any other site of interest.
I recommend marking these in your Google Maps app. Head over to Your Places, and then the Saved tab. Here you can create different category lists to keep all your favorite places.
Another top tip for Google Maps is to download the map of your area in the app so you don’t need to use data. It takes just a few seconds but is hugely helpful if you don’t have the best connection.
An important thing to note here is that when you are looking for coffee shops make sure you test their WiFi speeds. I personally use the Ookla Speedtest app on my phone.
Knowing which cafes have good WiFi and which don’t will save you tons of headaches later when you head out to a cafe to work for the first time. There is nothing worse than getting to a new place only to open up your laptop and find that their internet speed is from the 90s.
Knowing where the closest good coffee shop for work, or well-stocked grocery store is, will save you hours later on.
Establishing you Geographic Familiarity Zone won’t just save you tons of precious time during your work days, it’s also a great way to get to know your new location.
It’s a lot of fun!
Step Up Your Accommodations
Let’s talk about AirBnB quality here. I remember when I first started backpacking around Europe.
I was basically broke and would sleep just about anywhere. I just didn’t pay much attention to the quality of the AirBnB or hostel just as long as it was cheap and had a clean bed to sleep in.
As a remote worker this is not a good idea.
Sacrificing comfort and set up in order to save some money is not always the best move.
When you are booking an AirBnB always look for a place that has good WiFi (if it’s not in the listing ask the owner to send you a screenshot of the speeds) and looks like a place where you can recharge. This will ensure that you can work there and stay productive.
Whenever possible get a private place. While having a private room at a shared AirBnB is better than a hostel in terms of productivity, having your own place is a whole different ball game.
It means that if you want to work from home and not go to a cafe or coworking space you can do so without having to do so from your bed.
Another thing to consider asking your AirBnB host, especially if you will be staying somewhere for a longer period of time, is what the bed is like.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve booked the perfect place only to find that the mattress was made of jagged rocks.
Bad sleep is terrible for your productivity so taking a few minutes to find out if the mattress is soft or hard (whatever your preference is) isn’t a bad idea. It’s not a perfect system since this is hard to confirm from afar, but it helps.
As a side note, if you are staying someplace for a while and the bed is bad, a quick fix is to get a mattress pad.
They aren’t always cheap (you can find a good memory foam one for about $50) but if they make sure that you are sleeping comfortably and recharging every night you will make the money up in the amount of work you crank out in no time!
Design The Perfect Mobile Office
Just like working at a place with terrible WiFi is frustrating, traveling and working with a badly designed “mobile office” can also be frustrating and bad for your productivity.
A good mobile office should have everything you need at your fingertips, be comfortable to work at, and still remain light enough so that you can throw everything in a small pack and not mind walking around the city for a few hours carrying everything.
Everyone has a different preference when it comes to a mobile office but here is what comprises my mobile office:
- Backpack to carry it all: I use the Tortuga Outbreaker 21L. It’s light, comfortable, and compact.
- A laptop (of course): I have a 2015 13in MacBook Pro and love it.
- Laptop Stand: I use the Nexstand which is affordable, light, compact, and will make sure that you are not hurting your neck.
- Keyboard and mouse: since my laptop sits on the stand I can’t use the ones on it so I have a wireless set from Apple. You can sometimes find a refurbished set for close to 50% off.
- Notebook and pen: My favorite is a large, squared, Moleskine and Zebra F-301 0.7mm pen (yes, I am very serious about my pens.)
- Headphones: I can’t work without some good tunes and I hate wires so I love my AirPods.
Some optional things I use depending on the situation:
- Tablet: I recently found out that I can use my iPad Pro as a second monitor via an app called Duet. If you use two monitors at home and want to have that same capability while traveling I highly recommend checking it out.
- External Hard Drive: I don’t always carry my Seagate 2TB Hard Drive with me but it’s very useful if you do video or music work in order to store your files there instead of it taking up your computer space.
- Pencil, Eraser, Highlighter: these are good to have but not always necessary. I use the Pentel GraphGear 500, Pentel Retractable Eraser, and Accu-gel Bible Highlighter (doesn’t bleed through thin pages).
I told you I take my writing utensils seriously!
Now that we have some of the preliminary things taken care of let’s dive into the meat and potatoes of this travel productivity guide.
Create a Weekly Plan or Schedule: The Rule of Productive Threes
Have you ever had a day when you really put in the time and cranked out a lot of work only to look and realize that you didn’t really get anything of real importance done? That’s why at the start of every week I use the Rule of Productive Threes to create a plan.
Every Sunday, sit down with pen and paper and come up with the three most important things you want to get done in the coming week.
Then, using that as a goal post, come up with the three most important tasks for every day that you need to do in order to complete the three weekly goals.
It’s easy to put in a lot of hours and check things off a list, but that’s not being productive, that’s just being busy. Being productive means that every day you are getting a little bit closer to your goals.
Using the Rule of Productive Threes you ensure that you are always working on what you should be in order to meet your goals instead of just working on things to stay busy.
Use Your Biological Prime Time Effectively
The Rule of Productive Threes will help you prioritize your tasks by making sure you know what’s most important, but when should you actually work on those tasks to be the most effective?
In his best selling book The Productivity Project, productivity expert Chris Bailey talks about something he calls your Biological Prime Time (BPT for short). Your BPT is the time during the day when you naturally have the most energy and focus.
We all have different flows, and some people feel a rush of energy early in the day, others late at night, and some a mix of both.
By finding out when your BPT is you can schedule your day so that you are working on your most important tasks during your BPT. That way you know you are giving those tasks your very best.
In his book, Chris Bailey suggests cutting out caffeine, alcohol, and any other energy disturbing substances for a few weeks, and then taking a note of how much energy and attention you have every hour of every day for three weeks.
Using this information you can then create a graph and scientifically see at what time of day you experience your Biological Prime Time.
Now, I don’t know about you but I can’t cut out coffee for that long.
So, instead I looked at what most people experience as their BPT and it actually aligned with what I thought mine might be. Mornings and late afternoons.
More specifically for me this means 9am-12pm, after that my energy drops and I get easily distracted, until the later afternoon around 6pm and 8pm when I get another rush of energy.
The only thing to note here is that if you do creative work, like writing a blog post, most experts agree that this is always best done first thing in the morning.
This doesn’t mean that this is the only time when you should work, but that’s when you should work on your most important tasks. Your BPT needs to be protected and guarded like a princess in a medieval castle.
Mark it on your calendar and as much as you can make sure you are working on those top 3 task during this time.
When you are not in your BPT you can work on less important things or just take a break. There’s nothing better than crushing some work, and then when your mental energy drops heading out to explore a new location or sightsee.
Break Down Big Tasks Into Small Ones
As an office worker, you always have a manager or boss breathing down your neck to get things done.
This might not be the coolest situation but it is effective at making sure that you are gettings things done.
When you start working remotely however that boss is removed from the picture. Often times you will even find yourself working asynchronously, or at different times than the rest of your team, and this makes it much easier to procrastinate on tasks.
According to Chris Bailey there are six traits that make it more likely to procrastinate on a task, those traits are:
- Lacking in personal meaning
- Lacking in intrinsic rewards
Unfortunately, our most important tasks tend to be difficult, frustrating, confusing thus unstructured, and yes sometimes even boring. So what ends up happening is that we procrastinate on our most important tasks!
Luckily, now we know what traits make a task easy to procrastinate on, so we can address this and reduce the chances of that happening.
While we can’t change everything about a task, every task can be modified in order to remove at least a few traits.
I suggest starting out by breaking down large tasks into small ones. Ideally, the tasks should be so small that you can get them done in no more than ½ an hour, or 1-hour maximum!
What this makes you do is think through the tasks and come up with a plan which immediately makes it more structured.
By breaking those tasks down you are also decreasing the difficulty since it’s not one large task anymore. When you add structure to something and make it less difficult, you will also lower the chances of it being frustrating.
So, by simply breaking down large tasks into small ones we were able to address 3 out of the 6 procrastination traits which can go a long way to making it less likely that you’ll procrastinate.
Use the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique was developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo and is named after the tomato timer (in Italian “pomodoro” means tomato) that he used as a student in university.
The equation for this technique is pretty straightforward:
1 pomodoro = 25 minutes of work + 5 minutes of rest
After 4 “pomodoros”, or 2 hours of work, you then take a longer 30 minute break. This technique directly ties into your ability to avoid procrastination.
That is why in a best case scenario you should aim to break your tasks down to a point where they each take about ½ an hour to complete, because that is equal to 1 pomodoro.
If you can’t break it down any further and it takes you an hour, then it’s equal to 2 pomodoros.
This technique allows you to set goals for how long a task will take. For example, you can say that you will finish a spreadsheet in 1 pomodoro and that is your goal. This creates a sort of competition with yourself and forces you to stay focused while also making a game out of it and reducing the effects of one of the other procrastination traits – boredom.
Master The Art of Working in MicroBursts
One of the most difficult things about working as a digital nomad is working while traveling. By that I don’t mean by traveling in general, I mean literally working while you’re in the process of traveling from one location to another.
This should be avoided as much as possible since often times it doesn’t create the best atmosphere for focus, and does not lead to good outcomes if you are working on high level things. However, it’s perfect for low level tasks.
When you sit down to work you usually have a bit of a “priming process”. This is like warming up before you exercise. You can’t just sit down and immediately start cranking out top notch work, it normally takes a few minutes to get into a rhythm.
Work MicroBursts occur when you have low priority tasks (or what Chris Bailey calls “maintenance tasks”) that you have already broken down to as small of tasks as possible. By breaking them down you make them require less priming time, and since they are less important they tend to require less focus.
These tasks are perfect to work on while traveling because you can easily compete them in between flights, or even while leisurely looking out the window.
Slow Down Your Travels
Here’s the thing, I can provide you with a hundred tips on how to stay productive while traveling, but the truth is that no matter what I tell you it will still be really hard. That’s why one of the best things you can do is to slow down your travels.
Slowing down allows you to have more time in every location. You won’t feel like you need to cram seeing all of Barcelona in 3 days while also crushing it at work. You can easily work all day and then spend an hour or two exploring the city if you are there for 2 weeks.
With a few weeks at your disposal you can also start establishing routines which are one of the best things you can do for your productivity.
You can also buy groceries and stock up a kitchen as opposed to eating out which is one less thing you need to worry about and also easier on your wallet.
Slow travel also has a lot of great plain old travel benefits. Being in a place longer increases the chances of you meeting people and making friends, which can be one of the most rewarding things about travel.
Many AirBnB hosts also have weekly or monthly discounts so booking a place for a week or more can have some nice financial benefits as well.
Stop Trying to Fight The Shortcomings
Working while traveling as a digital nomad isn’t perfect. You will run into a lot of problems that most office workers don’t need to worry about.
You will need to establish routines every new place you visit which is tough on your productivity. Working remotely though is also amazing!
You will have the opportunity to see and do things that most people only dream of doing. You have more power over when you work and where. Not to mention never having to get dressed a certain way for work.
Is it a perfect way to live and work? No. But for myself and many other people the pros far outweigh the cons.
One of the best things you can do is to stop trying to fight the shortcomings, but just embrace them as what they are. Realize that you now have benefits that you didn’t have before that outweigh those shortcomings.
When you embrace the shortcomings you can also start to think about workarounds and ways to reduce those shortcomings and perfect your routines and lifestyle.
In the end, working while traveling is not perfect for your productivity, but it doesn’t have to be bad for it.
By developing routines and best practices for how you work while on the road you will find that your productivity will improve with every passing day.