One major problem Digital Nomads face is how to be productive on the road when your “office” setting is constantly changing. We try out new cafes every day. Some have blaring Miley Cyrus music (one can only hear “Wrecking Ball” so many times before wanting to take a wrecking ball to the people around you). Some have painfully slow internet. Some cafes are full of obnoxious young entrepreneurs who are oblivious enough to play their music from their laptops without headphones. (Public service announcement: this is never acceptable in any culture when anyone is within earshot. If you do this, I hate you. “I forgot my headphones” is no excuse.)
So how do we maintain our focus and keep up productivity on the road?
Utilize the Pomodoro Method
Kevin got me hooked on the Pomodoro Technique. I’ve been drinking that koolaid for a month now and will never go back. When utilizing this method, you structure your work-time into 25-minute work blocks called pomodoros. Before each 25-minute block, make a clear list of tasks you’ll work on. After each 25-minute pomodoro, take a 5-minute break to stand up and stretch a little and check email or Facebook. After four consecutive pomorodos, take a longer break of up to a half hour.
I love this method for several reasons. First, it helps me work on tasks I’m not super excited about. When there’s a light at the end of the 25-minute tunnel, I’m more likely to keep my nose to the grindstone and less likely to blow work off in favor of stalking family and friends on Facebook (that’s right, I’m watching you). Second, it helps break an unmanageable to-do list down into doable chunks. Focusing on just one topic per pomodoro helps me focus on the task at hand. Lastly, because Kevin and I are both using this method, we are less likely to interrupt and distract each other. Fellow koolaid drinkers know that you have to respect the pomodoro; knowingly interrupting someone’s pomodoro is not ok.
Subscribe to focus@will (and use good headphones!)
I cannot recommend focus@will highly enough. The free version is so-so, but the paid version (which regularly is available at discounted prices… just wait and they’ll try to entice you via email with a discount once you subscribe to the free version!) is phenomenal. They offer ten different “neuroscience based” music channels designed to help you focus on work, with everything from Baroque Piano to Alpha Chill. With the paid version, you can use their nifty timer to help time your pomodoros, and you can even rate your productivity of your last “focus session” then use that information to learn which type of music best promotes your top-notch productivity.
Kevin with his Sony Headphones
It’s also important to have a good pair of headphones to block out sound around you. Simple earbuds aren’t quite enough in most of the cafes we frequent where the “Let it Go” song from Frozen blares from the speakers at least twice a day. We highly recommend these Sony Headphones – they’re probably the best bang for your buck out there. If you like feeling like a total baller, go ahead and order the velour ear cushions, they really do make a big difference.
Become your own project manager
We have weekly planning sessions every Sunday to lay out our work tasks for the week. Our preferred planning tool at the moment is Trello, a free, online task tracker. It only works when you’re online unless you pay for the premium version, but that hasn’t been too bad. Trello allows you to track and assign due dates to tasks for everything from bathroom remodel projects to work projects, dividing them into “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done” lists and setting due dates.
Get a phone data plan with tethering
I don’t think this is a real option in the United States, where the damn cell phone companies seem to be so vehemently opposed to opening themselves up to data tethering. However, in most other countries this is a great option. For folks not familiar what tethering is, it allows you to create your own personal wifi hot spot using your smart phone, and hook up to that hotspot on your computer. Essentially, you can create your own wifi network wherever you go using your phone data plan.
We have cell phone service in Thailand through DTAC, one of the two major local service providers. They allow tethering, which we’ve used at cafes with abysmal internet speed. It has also been handy during power outages, because we still have cell phone service even if nearby wifi routers are down. (Power outages in Thailand happen fairly often and are no longer surprising to us.)
Glasses are my work hat
I’ve been running a psychological experiment on myself, similar to the Pavlov’s classical conditioning experiment where he was able to train a dog to salivate just by ringing a bell. That sounds kind of bad – I’m definitely not comparing myself to a dog, but I have had some success training myself to get into work mode when I wear my reading glasses. I have these glasses that I specifically use only when I’m working on my computer. Putting these glasses on is like putting on my work hat and getting down to business. I don’t wear them reading, I never wear them just walking around, and I remove them during Pomodoro breaks when I might be surfing Facebook or Reddit.
This is kind of a quirky habit, but I’m convinced it helps my brain know when to focus. You should try it and let me know how it goes! It doesn’t have to be glasses – maybe you go into work mode when you wear your headphones, oooh maybe you literally wear a work hat! Perhaps you remove your watch when you’re getting down for some serious work time, or maybe you even do something crazy like removing your shoes. Heck, your trigger could even be that you always eat chocolate when working, just don’t blame me for the weight gain.
We want to hear from you!
Do you work in obscure places? Where’s the strangest place you’ve worked? Safe travels, friends!