Back in 2013 Carmen and I jetted off on a six-month holiday that turned into nearly four years of travel in the Americas and Asia.
Our time away from our homeland of Australia was instrumental in us developing Red Platypus, winning work from clients all over he world and pursuing our dream of balancing work and life and enjoying it all.
However, when we returned home in 2016, this finely balanced split was tipped over during the Christmas, New Year and Australia Day period when the whole country takes a few months off to watch cricket, eat snaggers, drink Chardonnay and laze about on the beach.
It was very heaven, but when it came time to get back to work, we found it tough to get back into the swing of things. Our balance had gone totally out of whack.
So, we had to remember how to restart the engine that had propelled us.
The big thing with how we pursue this digital nomad life is making time to do the work, and taking time to have fun – which is especially important now we have a young daughter we want to spend quantity time with.
After a summer of too much fun, it’s now vital that we carve out time for work, yet also maintain the good stuff.
The way we do this is through time management. And these are the things we strive for:
8 tips for effective time management for travellers
1. Stop with the blame!
I can never get enough done because I have too many children, too much work, too much cooking, too much cleaning… blah, blah, blah the list goes on.
As soon as we start accepting that we all have 24 hours in the day, just like everyone else, and that we’re all busy, we’ll stop making excuses for ourselves and start to become more productive.
Make the time to do it. Even ten minutes of focus a day adds up.
2. Remember Parkinson’s Law
Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
This is why it’s so important to give yourself deadlines for everything you need to do. If you don’t, it could take you the whole month to do it.
But if you shorten your deadline and decide to complete the same task by the end of the week, you’ll take a quarter of the time to complete the task.
So start setting yourself deadlines (the tighter – within reason – the better) and start getting things done faster. And be specific, as the clearer you are with your deadlines, the more successful you’ll be at meeting them.
3. Tell other people your deadlines
Carmen wrote an e-book on digital nomadism. She interviewed people to feature in the book, and told everyone when she was going to have it out.
By declaring it publicly, her deadline became very real.
If she hadn’t of told anyone about this due date, perhaps she could’ve keep pushing it back without making herself feel guilty.
But people expected that book to be out when it was promised.
Uh-oh. Suddenly Carmen had to whip her butt into gear. And she got it done.
4. Kill the distractions
We once decided that we’d go for a whole week without looking at Facebook. That pact lasted around two hours.
The problem is that we’re often distracted without even noticing we’re getting distracted. We could be writing an in-depth article and getting very much caught up in what we’re doing, when we decide to fact check via Google.
Next thing you know, we’re watching videos on YouTube and a whole hour has disappeared in front of our eyes.
So shut off the internet as you focus on a task, and eliminate any distractions, knuckling down to get the task done.
5. Use the Pomodoro technique
This is almost standard issue for digital nomads – and we first learned about the technique from the amazing blog Making It Anywhere.
It’s simple, it works, and the only thing you need is a clock with an alarm.
Choose your task. Set 25 minutes onto the timer, hit start and work with total focus on that task. No Facebook, cups of tea or other trivial distractions. Just work your butt off for 25 minutes and when the alarm goes off, take a 5-minute break.
Congratulations! You’ve just done your first Pomodoro, named by its inventor Francesco Cirillo after the tomato shaped kitchen timer he used for motivation.
There are all kinds of ways to do it, check out the website.
The Pomodoro Technique is what Carmen and I turn to when we have to get s%^t done. I have found it works with both creative and technical work – I used Pomodoro technique when I wrote and edited my first fiction book, and also when I wrote long business articles for a freelance client.
Our aim is to split our days in half, so mornings are dedicated to blog and freelance work and afternoons are free for cultural and creative pursuits – the perfect work and life balance. And using Pomodoro technique helps us churn through the work we have to do so we can do the things we want to do.
In fact, I wrote this section on a Pomodoro.
Ok, break time, back in five…
6. We use our power hours
I have never kept normal 9 to 5 working hours. My decade in the media was a mix of either insane early starts, afternoon shifts or overnight graveyard watches.
And news is all about the hourly bulletin, working your butt off from the moment you get in the door to the final second of the broadcast. So when it came time to leave that behind and work on the road, I had no idea how to actually work in a normal fashion, or when I was most productive. My work rate was determined by deadlines and the ever ticking clock.
Take the unforgiving minute away, and I was left with a very interesting question – when should I start my work every day? After all, I was free from an office, commuting and meetings. So, morning or night? 8am or 2pm? What kind of structure could I have?
I figured all of this out through trial and error in the long periods when Carmen and I house sat and could focus our energies on working. I stayed up late in Wisconsin, got up early in Washington, worked through lunch in Colorado and took siestas in Dominica.
Then I settled on the morning model of 8am to midday as the time to do my most important, pressing or desirable work. In the afternoon slump I do the less intense stuff like admin. Carmen also found she’s the same, so that’s another thing we’re a good match with.
But our designer travel buddy and friend Kristin (she designed our new look website!) is a total night owl, and when we lived together in Oaxaca, Mexico we all did work in our own ways.
Carmen and I would be up with the sun doing yoga and getting stuck into our morning work while Kristin slumbered, and when we went to bed she’d burn the midnight oil.
This yin and yang of working hours kicked up a lot of jokes but in the end all that mattered was that work got done.
Outside the normal boundaries of a typical 9 to 5 working day, we are free to find the hours that suit us, rather than what suit a company. As long as you get the job done, who cares?
7. We design our days
The best part of being a digital nomad is setting your own agenda every day.
At my previous job I had a lot of autonomy, but most things were absolutely non-negotiable. Start time, finish time, when the news bulletins went to air, how long certain things needed to be put in motion – so many things were as finely calibrated as a clock, and the effect was that the shift would suck you in and spit you out no matter what.
But now, I have no structure other than what I design.
It’s very liberating and means I can do what I want, when I like. But certain things are still non-negotiable, like client deadlines and publishing dates for blogs.
So to make sure I get things done, here’s my best-case scenario day design for tackling work on a full length work day when we don’t go sightseeing:
6am – 8am: Get up, work out, shower, shave, eat breakfast, read something cool.
8am – 10am: Creative stuff first. Novel, short story, research, editing, whatever. This way I get creative stuff done instead of letting other things get in the way.
10am – 12.30pm: Client work.
12.30 – 1.30pm: Lunch and reading.
1.30pm to 4pm: More client work, and when I feel the slump coming on, do admin work.
4pm – 7pm: Creative stuff again, usually blogs for Double-Barrelled Travel or travel writing for another site. Go for a run or a walk.
7pm – 10pm: Dinner and chill, or dinner and write some more. Or go out.
Now this day doesn’t happen all the time. It’s the perfect day I strive for and when Carmen and I stay in one place for a while it’s the one that takes over, and when I put enough of them together some good work emerges.
That’s the beauty of working for yourself in your own environment. You make the rules and set the deadlines. And you are free to make your day in whatever way pleases you.
8. Remember, it all comes out in the wash
This is one of my favourite sayings. To me it means that in the long run everything works out.
As a couple that combines work and travel, we have a lot of things to juggle and sometimes it gets pretty dicey.
The best answer I can give to the question “how do you find the time?” is that we just do. I don’t think that’s any different from anyone else.
Finding time for business and pleasure is all part of the fun and games of being a digital nomad and I wouldn’t trade it for the world – I want to travel it instead!