8 Productivity Tips for Digital Nomads

I’ve been working remotely from over the world for 7 month already. During this time, I lived in 7 diferent Asian countries. All that time I worked remotely being a so called digital nomad 🙂 Today I’d like to share with you 8 tips for digital nomads I discovered during this time that make my everyday nomadic life easier.

Have Constant Working Hours

Even if you are a freelancer and don’t have constant working hours, plan a time slot during each day when you actually work. I find it best to be a single time slot during a day and the same slot every day. If you prefer, you can try working for a few hours in the morning and then a few extra hours in the other part of the day, but it doesn’t work for me 😉

Working remotely requires you to be very well-organized. It’s not hard to mix up work and private life, so constant working hours are very important to separate them.

If you cooperate with clients or teammates, it’s also easier for them to communicate with you knowing when you’re available.

It might seem encouraging to work for 2 hours in the morning, then go to the beach and promise yourself to finish your job in the afternoon… Been there, done that. I don’t recommend 😂

Plan Tasks for Each Day

In most cases, as a digital nomad, you don’t have a boss or someone who assigns tasks to you. Even if you do, in the end, you sit alone in your hotel or apartment room with no one to punch you and push to work 😁

Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Well, not necessarily… At the end of the day, you need to get your job done. Good planning is one of the crucial tips for digital nomads. You should learn to be productive. The first step is to plan your work and to know what you actually have to do on a given day. This also helps to self-push yourself to actually work, despite having a tempting beach nearby 😉

I always recommend to write stuff down and plan your tasks using a suitable and easy-to-use tool. Personally, I use Nozbe for that, but it can as well be any other tool that you feel comfortable with. I believe that as digital nomads we don’t use offline paper notebooks anymore for tasks management 😉

Seeing a list of a few tasks for the coming day tells you that you actually need to do something.

Use Do Not Disturb Modes

When your boss or team leader is not looking over your shoulder, why don’t you spend some more time on Facebook or Instagram? I often do find myself opening an interesting website like that just to check what’s happening and “accidentally” spending 15 minutes there… Sounds familiar?

From all the tips for digital nomads I can give you, I find two particularly revealing. The first one is disabling all notifications on your smartphone. Simple as that – just disable them for all apps you have installed (maybe except phone and calendar apps if you use them). Instead, plan some reviews of your email, tasks apps, Facebook and Instagram a few times a day. Thanks to that, you’re not disturbed when working. I also found a Wind Down mode which my OnePlus suggested to me after the recent Android update:

Android (OnePlus) – Wind Down mode

It allows you to configure your phone to enable a grayscale (which is apparently good for using the phone before sleeping) and Do Not Disturb mode during defined hours. It might be a great idea to enable it while working. There’s also a similar feature for iPhone.

The second tip for eliminating the disturbances when working is disabling or restricting access to non-work-related websites. I’m using a Rooster for Chrome extension. First, a light way in which you can use it is just to install it and see on each new browser tab you open how much time you spent on given websites today. It can be eyes-opening during your working day 🙂 The more hardcore way of using this tool is to define a time limit for each website. If you spend more time on a given site, it yells with an alarm. Can be helpful if you can’t manage it yourself 😉

Have a Separate Place for Working

I literally mean it. If you work from home, hotel room or apartment, find yourself one physical place from which you work. If you start working in the second part of the day as I do (because of time zone differences – more about it below), you might do something not related to work in the morning. Even now, I’m writing this blog post before starting my actual work. I find it helpful to sit on a different chair when I start working. Really, it helps 🙂

I try to always have a single physical place (like a chair in a given position related to the table) in the place I live in only for working. Even if switching from blog posts writing to working is only moving a chair to another side of the table, it allows me to enter work mode. It’s like coming into an office and sitting by your corporate PC 🙂 Just try it yourself and let me know if it does the job for you!

Change your work environment

Apart from having a constant place for working, it’s sometimes very useful to change the environment in which you work.

I normally work at the place we rent for living. We tend to stay in a given city/country for longer – normally at least 2 weeks, sometimes a month or more. When looking for accommodation we always find something with a table and a chair with a back. We don’t want to be dependent on co-working spaces or cafes.

However, after working from “home” for a few days in a row I see that my productivity decreases. I start going around, visiting all these interesting non-work-related websites more often and just getting angry with Rooster yelling at me 😂 When such a day comes, we normally plan a visit to a cafe for working, at least for a few hours. Having people around looking at me makes me suddenly much more productive 💪 I wanna look like a real digital nomad, so I can’t have Facebook open when they look! There must be some crazy code at my screen so I look like a hacker 😁

Working in a cafe in Da Nang (Vietnam)

You can also try going to a co-working space. I’m not a big fan of them, but co-work can be a very good place to socialize and also focus more on your work.

Be prepared for different timezones

Being in your home country and occasionally traveling, you may not realize how timezones can affect your life. And I don’t mean having a jet lag from time to time 😉

Most of my life, I used to work in the mornings, normally for 8 hours a day. When we started our round-the-world journey in June 2019 and finally moved to Southeast Asia, the timezones came into play. The time difference between Poland (where the client I currently work for is based) and SEA is 6-7 hours. I have to be in quite a constant contact with my teammates and our final customer (also from Europe). Because of that, I had to change my working hours and start work at 12 PM (noon). It totally changed how I organize my days now and how I manage my productivity.

Don’t treat different timezones as a bad thing. Just make proper use of them and plan your days accordingly. I imagine it might be even harder if you do some freelancing and have many customers from different parts of the world. Or maybe it’s easier in such a case because these customers are used to an asynchronous and distributed working style? 🤔 Let me know in the comments if you are in such a situation!

Embrace yourself for unexpected issues

There might be dozens of tips for digital nomads, but unexpected always happens. Especially if you are used to having a fast, stable Internet and uninterrupted electricity 🙂 When working while traveling and often changing places, you need to be prepared for unexpected issues that you don’t normally think about being home.

In Southeast Asia, power outages are a normal thing. No one cares if there’s no electricity for 3 or 4 hours. Well, except you who needs it for work 😒 Be prepared to control your emotions when such a thing happens. You will quickly find out that there’s no one to blame for that – even if your AirBnb’s listing mentioned constant electricity access 😁 It’s better to accept it and focus on a solution. Go to a cafe or a co-working space during this time. Always have your laptop’s battery and a power bank fully charged.

The same applies to the Internet. We often found ourselves booking a stay for a few weeks and then realizing that the Internet is very bad… Sometimes I couldn’t even comfortably take part in an online video meeting that we have with my team every day. At first, I was getting very angry blaming myself or hosts of the guesthouses we stayed at for it. I was sometimes driving a scooter through the island to find a place with good Wi-Fi. With time, I learned to accept it 🙂 Now I always have a mobile Internet data package ready for such cases. If it fails, I simply say sorry to my teammates and they understand. The world doesn’t end if you miss one meeting 😉

Learn to Communicate Asynchronously

Last, but not least – communication 😉 Working in a physical office makes it easier to find someone and talk to them. Even working remotely, but in the same timezone, it’s easy to call someone directly.

However, being a digital nomad assumes that sometimes you’re not in time sync with your teammates or clients. Amongst many tips for digital nomads, an important skill to possess it asynchronous communication.

If you communicate via standard means like email or text communicator, write simple and straightforward messages. It should be understandable, not too long and focused on the goal (getting an answer). Emphasize that you are expecting concrete answers which will move your work forward. You can even say that if you don’t get the answer, you’ll be stuck with work.

It’s important to prepare others that when they answer your question with another question it doesn’t help you. Asking asynchronously means that you leave a message now and are expecting an answer later. Later – this is an important keyword here. You may leave a message when you finish work and are expecting to have an answer when you start to work the next day. Your colleagues might be asleep this time and you’ll have to wait another few hours for them to be online again. It takes time and practice to get it right, but it’s worth working on it 🙂

The good thing about asynchronous communication is that the exchanged messages do not require an immediate answer. That’s the goal, but as I mentioned above you need to set up some boundaries on when you expect to get the answer to not block your work. I also really like the idea of task-based communication. If you use a task management system at work you can try communicating as Nozbe guys do.

Do you have any other tips for digital nomads you can share? How do you make your days better organized? Let me know in the comments!

.NET full stack web developer & digital nomad
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IT Infrastructure Management
IT Infrastructure Management
1 year ago

Thank you so much for this article! This was exactly what I needed.

It consultancy Australia
It consultancy Australia
1 year ago

I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Exceptionally well written!