Digital Nomad Productivity Tips: 9 Options for Better Work-Life Balance

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Becoming a digital nomad is an attractive work model. It gives you time to do as you please, indulge your wanderlust, and improve your work-life balance. However, it’s not a permanent holiday. Improve your work and travel schedule with these digital nomad productivity tips. 

Digital Nomad Productivity Tips: 9 Options for Better Work-Life Balance

When you’re meeting like-minded people from around the world, living in some of the planet’s most beautiful locations, and soaking up each moment, it can be easy to forget that the digital nomad lifestyle is not all about play. But at some point, you have to buckle down and get to work. By maintaining a proper work-life balance as a digital nomad, you’ll not only earn income to perpetuate the lifestyle you want but also find your way to a rewarding career without the grind of a traditional 9-to-5 work schedule.

To work to your full potential in one of the top digital nomad cities around the world, follow these productivity tips for digital nomads.

1. Get the Right Laptop

You have to spend money to make money as the old mantra goes. In the world of digital nomads, this statement is spot-on, especially when it comes to your equipment. Subpar or outdated computers, tablets, batteries, and other electronic devices can cause major headaches, especially in places where you don’t have a backup plan such as a library or internet cafe.

The first thing you need is a reliable laptop. If you’re nervous about which options to select, don’t worry. All you need to do is compare this list to the laptops you’re considering:

  • A fast-enough processor. Search for at least an Intel Core i5 processor to handle several programs running at once.
  • MS Office. Google docs can handle the workload, but if you’re offline for days or weeks at a time, Microsoft Office is a lifesaver.
  • Nvidia 1050 or higher graphics processing unit. This isn’t a necessity, but if you plan on editing video or photos with professional quality software, it’s a must.
  • Minimum of 8 MB RAM. This enables your computer to run faster with multiple programs open. For video and photo editors, you’ll notice a huge increase in performance with 16 MB RAM
  • Plenty of storage. You’ll be surprised how fast data adds up for pictures and videos. One minute of 1080p footage is 128 MB. Look for at least 1 TB of drive space, and if you have the extra cash, spring for a solid-state drive for increased reliability and performance.
  • Lightweight. Aim for around 2 to 4 pounds for maximum portability and to avoid luggage weight limits on flights.
  • A durable frame. Plastic housing isn’t great for travel, so search for a carbon fiber or metal frame.
  • Battery life. The longer the better. Search for a computer with at least three hours of battery time and hopefully more.

If you don’t want to worry about the specific requirements you need with a PC, the Apple Macbook Pro is a digital nomad favorite. It’s durable and quick enough to do most, if not all of your tasks. Obviously, you’ll also want to weigh nonessential preferences such as color or resolution, but these are superfluous compared to these other necessities. Your budget also plays a role in your choice, but even if you get the bare minimum of each of these requirements, you can probably find an option for around $500.

2. Tack on the Accessories

Now that you have chosen a laptop, don’t render it useless by failing to add on the right accessories. A portable laptop charger can be a lifesaver. Although it’s a bit cumbersome, you’ll be thankful you had it when you’re feeling inspired and can’t find an outlet.

Noise-canceling headphones are another nice touch, because when you’re working, sometimes it’s better to tune out the world. Oftentimes, you just need a touch of silence or some light music to get your creative juices flowing.

If you’re editing videos and photos, make sure to pick up an external hard drive. These units come in plenty of sizes and allow you to connect your files to different types of devices via a USB to mini USB connection.

3. Up Your Internet Game

When you’re traveling as a tourist, you might buy a roaming or international package from your phone service provider; however, that’s bush league in the digital nomad world. The good news is you can save money traveling abroad on both prepaid internet and phone plans. All it takes is a bit of research and a new sim card.

Check out the phone plans in your country and you’ll usually find no-contract options that give you local or international calling and a few gigabytes or more of data. In Southeast Asia, this runs as low as $5 a month; in more expensive places such as New Zealand, expect to pay around $50. The interesting part is that either one of these is probably still cheaper than your monthly rate back home.

If you’re planning on going to more remote areas, pick up a mobile broadband unit. These portable units can access the internet from just about anywhere, which gives you a reliable connection in a pinch. When you’re in a city and need reliable internet, hotels, libraries, and cafes (Starbucks is almost always a winner) are worth the price of a coffee and scone.

4. Set a Concrete Timeframe

The digital nomad lifestyle comes with a seemingly endless amount of real-world distractions. Throw in social media, news, memes, and the digital world into the mix, and you’re set up for failure without a plan. If you’re constantly distracted, you might want to try the Pomodoro technique:

  1. Choose a task you want to get done.
  2. Set a timer somewhere between 25 to 45 minutes.
  3. Turn on your hyper-focus for the duration of the timer.
  4. After the timer goes off, indulge yourself in social media, news, or a snack for 5 to 10 minutes.
  5. Repeat.

This technique is an effective way to maintain focus while rewarding yourself for a job well done.

If this method isn’t your style, you may want to try a set schedule. By waking up at the same time, working the same hours, and following a routine every day, your mind and body get used to the workload and maximize productivity. Including some time in the middle of the day to check out a new tourist site, a restaurant you’ve wanted to try, or a workout can also be beneficial.

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5. Prioritize

Whether you’re trying to build an online business, increase your freelance client pool, or something in between, prioritization is a must. The digital nomad world can throw you a number of curveballs, so choosing the most important task is integral to your success.

For example, if you’re working one morning on a big project and someone asks you if you want to sit front row at a European soccer match, go to a Beyonce concert that evening, or anything else that’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, don’t pass it up. If you put your most important projects first, you may not even miss a beat. Don’t be the person who fails to use their digital nomad lifestyle to do amazing things just because they didn’t prioritize. Always be up for kickoff and that jelly (if you’re ready for it).

6. Find a Proper Workstation

As much fun as it would be to curl up in bed for an eight-hour workday, you may find that you’re not nearly as productive. Working where you sleep often results in two-hour sessions of Candy Crush, intermittent catnaps, and other sorts of tomfoolery. Sure, it’s nice to read the news and check your email in the morning, but after that, it’s time to find a proper workstation.

The good news is that the “proper” workstation is in the eyes of the beholder. Some people work well in a traditional desk setting like you’d find at a co-working space or library, while others are inspired by the sights and sounds of the city from a park bench or cafe. If you’re used to a work-from-home setting, an AirBNB might feel right up your alley. The most fun and intriguing part is discovering where you lie on that spectrum. Find the perfect place, and you’ll ooze productivity.

7. Watch Out for the Coffee Blitz

Coffee is an awesome substance. Those little caffeinated beans give you a jolt of energy in the morning and can carry you on through the day with inspiration and vigor in the right doses. However, many digital nomads fall into the curse of drinking far too many cups of joe. This can cause restlessness, a drop-off in work, and other unsavory side effects. Drink it too late, and coffee can also throw off your sleep schedule.

Although it’s tempting to buy coffee after coffee if you’re using the internet at a cafe, set a limit on how many you can have, and shut it down within four hours of your bedtime. This will prevent a restless sleep, save you money, and enhance your productivity.

8. Keep Networking

Just because you’re fresh to a city doesn’t mean you should stop networking. When you’re researching your next place to set up shop, Facebook is a valuable resource. Expat groups in cities around the world allow you to meet people just like you for networking and social events. Plus, they’ll let you know what the scene is really like instead of learning about it from websites that cater to tourists.

When you network abroad, you can dramatically increase your productivity. Do you have a new client with more work than you can tackle? Need advice on something outside your area of expertise? A new digital nomad friend can be your knight in shining armor. Plus, it’s a great way to find work and business relationships down the road.

9. Balance Work and Fun

When you have a normal 9-to-5 job where someone else sets the hours, it’s easy to get burned out. You can’t take time off when you want for spontaneous trips, sleep in, or do other social activities.

But with the digital nomad life, you’re free to do as you please. Unfortunately, this can spell big problems for the uninitiated or those who lack focus. In many instances, this will weed out the people who lack the ability to sustain a digital nomad lifestyle. That said, it’s also a pitfall for seasoned nomads. Many times, nomads will go all work for a few weeks and then all play for a few weeks more. Worse yet, they may not have a schedule at all.

When this happens, you’ll burn out proportionately to the workload you have. When you’ve overindulged for weeks on end, getting back to the grind is difficult, especially if you need money to keep a go-go lifestyle or pay off your credit card bills. Balance is the key, and although everyone’s different, a plan goes a long way to maintaining your business and your sanity.

Becoming a digital nomad isn’t just a work decision. It’s a lifestyle change. However, not everyone’s cut out for making their own work schedule, finding their own clients, and building a profitable enterprise on their own. By increasing productivity, you can improve your chances for success and turn the digital nomad life into a brilliantly unpredictable mix of work and play.

Do you have additional digital nomad productivity tips to shareConnect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to tell us about your interest in the digital nomad lifestyle or how you are already living the dream of working and traveling. We’d love to hear from you!

iStock Photo Credit: 1. hiphotos35; 2. Nuthawut Somsuk


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