How to Get Things Done Anywhere: Top Productivity Hacks From Digital Nomads

Business.com / Entrepreneurship / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Digital nomads share their routines, tools and productivity hacks they use to get things done and stay motivated when traveling.

I have been traveling and working on the road for more than a year now. You may have read my previous article about traveling and bootstrapping my business while doing it. I am one of the digital nomads that refuse the idea of fixed address and a 9-5 job.

However, no matter how glamorous digital nomad lifestyle may look, you still need to work—there are bills to pay and food to buy. If you can't get things done in the office, it may not necessary will change once you start working from remote locations like coffee shops, restaurants, hotels and co-working spaces.

There is no magic pill that makes you a limitless productivity machine, so I've asked six digital nomads to share their routines, tools and productivity hacks they use to get things done and stay motivated.

Related Article: How I Traveled Around the World While Building My Business

Meet the Nomads

Marina Janeiko

Marina Janeiko is the founder of What's It Like, UX designer and a digital nomad. She has been traveling around four continents for the last six years working remotely and building products.

Jacob Laukaitis

Jacob Laukaitis is an online entrepreneur and an active digital nomad. For the past year, he has been working on ChameleonJohn, an online coupon company, and traveling for the past two years straight (he's visited more than 30 countries!).

Lubos Volkov

Luboš Volkov is a product designer currently working at Toptal where he leads the design team. Since Toptal is very well known for it’s remote culture, Luboš has the freedom to travel whenever he wants, but still can push his career to the limits.

Kavi Guppta

Kavi Guppta writes about technology and its relationship with business and culture for Forbes. He's also the creator and host of Modern Marketing, a podcast about the future of advertising for Contently. Kavi manages the content team at Strategyzer, a company that wants to reshape the way businesses think about strategy and innovation.

 Rodolphe Dutel

Rodolphe Dutel runs Remotive, a newsletter gathering 8,500+ remote workers every week. In early 2013, he left his job at Google and started his nomadic lifestyle. Rodolphe is currently working as a business developer at Buffer, a fully distributed 45-people team.

Pete Rojwongsuriya

Pete Rojwongsuriya is a traveling entrepreneur, founder of BucketListly and Travelistly, a UI designer at The Pete Design, and an amateur photographer at BucketListly Photos. He has been traveling alone for the past two years, basing himself in Bangkok and hopping from one country to another.

Related Article: 9 Daily Habits of Exceptional Entrepreneurs

How Do You Stay Motivated When Traveling?

Jacob: How do I stay motivated? I keep reminding myself that life is extremely short and that I will never get back every second I waste. So I try not to waste it and do things that matter. Speaking of work, I'm a bit of a workaholic, so I make myself finish all the work tasks before I go surfing, hiking or diving.

Life is Short; Jacob Laukaitis

Lubos: First, I need to say, that I truly love what I do. So I don’t need to push myself to execute, all the time I'm looking forward to sitting behind the iMac and creating new products. But one important aspect is that I don’t ever push myself if I feel that I want go out and explore the city, I go since I would not focus on the stuff anyway.

Pete: I don't have to work hard to stay motivated because the fact that I can be in the middle of all that is happening around me is already a motivation and an inspiration for me to continue what I do—so that I could continue to explore the world freely and at my terms.

Marina: I know that this is the question that generates probably the widest array of answers and opinions. Some people have trouble focusing when traveling, some people need special hacks to get productive, some people don't have this problem at all. I'm one of those for who it comes quite naturally.

Being on the road stirs so much productive thinking and reflecting on the state of things in the world that for me it naturally produces the adrenaline and energy to get things done. I'm more motivated when I'm traveling, and it's also because I realize how little time there is and how many awesome things could be done, so there is no time to waste.

Kavi: Travel in itself is the ultimate motivator. There's nothing more exciting than waking up in a new city or town somewhere in the world, and having the freedom to choose what you'll accomplish that day.

This morning I flew into Mumbai and settled into my Airbnb. The buzz of traffic outside my window was my soundtrack while I handled a couple of conference calls and weaved through a few tasks. Later this afternoon I moved to a coffee shop, edited a few articles while observing how other young people around me socialize and enjoy themselves in this city.

Tomorrow I'll pick another place to work and explore. I'm happy as long as I'm enjoying this planet and always creating.

Rodolphe: It feels to me that we all go through different chapters in life, and what might motivate you at a given time might be different from what use to motivate you before - changes happen even faster when you are surrounded by new cultures and people.

My main focus and advice for being on the road is to be kind to yourself. For instance, that means "it's OK" to have a change of heart that modify what you do. Developing a deeper understanding of how you feel, and what makes you happy today helps motivate you to pursue the right things, and build empathy in the process.

Meditation, journaling and going for runs help me clear my head. Seeing my friends and family often helps me stay grounded and nurture relationships.

What Are the Best Productivity Hacks You Have Discovered?

Rodolphe: My best tip is to go offline (I'm typing this interview offline). When you don't have the option to visit any site you want, you can get the best intuition on how to make the most impact today.

To me, that's using a Moleskine and a pen—making sure I only get connected when I have a clear idea of "what would make today a successful one". 

Opting-out of push notifications (phone and computer), turning your Wi-Fi off, time-boxing your efforts (Pomodoro technique) and working in different locations throughout the day helps me achieve it better.

Related Article: Tomato, Tomahto: The Only Productivity Technique You’ll Ever Need

Marina: Reserve the time for a good rest. Everything I said above can wait till you have had a good rest. It's easy to fall into a constant race - you go to see that awesome island in Vietnam, you join fellow startup people at this new coworking space in Colombia, you're going to the digital nomad conference in Berlin and meeting all the new great people on the way, you fly to San Francisco to pitch your startup and disappear from the grid at Burning Man, and then you also want to build a tiny house in the mountains of Colorado. This is the kind of race I'm often falling into and the same kind of race is happening in the heads of many other nomads I talked to. Don't forget to take a rest.

Jacob: I personally work most efficiently during evenings and night-time, so I built my work schedule around it. What's more, I found physical meetings extremely inefficient, so I cut down on those big-time and mostly conduct my business online.

Lubos:

  • Don’t Check Your Email Every Minute
    When, I’m not behind a machine I keen to check my email every minute, but that’s not how it suppose to work. If you really want to stay in the loop set up the rule that you will check out email once in two hours, that’s a great way to stay on track, but don’t get crazy while you are exploring new location. Also don't forget to turn off the notifications, you simply don’t need them.
  • Work at Night
    I have found out that perfect way to get stuff done is night time, since you can’t see out and there are no distractions, so go explore during the day, get back, have some good food and start making stuff reality.
  • Setup Schedule
    Worst stuff what can happen to you is that you don’t know what to do, and you spend a huge amount of time figuring that out. So make sure that all the time you have clean tasks list the day before you need to execute it. I usually make one right before I go to sleep so I know what to do next morning and I can start executing tasks right away with my morning coffee.

Kavi Guppta Quote

Kavi: I will point out that I'm not the biggest fan of 'hacking' life habits. Personal development is a slow process that requires a lot of patience, perseverance, and persistence. There are no shortcuts to productivity, and a lot of what helps me to be productive, creative, and efficient have come from a life long desire to be better at every challenge I take on.

My number one productivity rule: always do the hardest thing first. Productivity stalls when you spend the beginning of your working day tending to menial little tasks that have little to no impact. Emails, organizing lists of to-dos, or playing around with your calendar are good examples. It's all procrastination in disguise.

If you have 800 words to write tomorrow, do that first. If you have to exercise to keep yourself healthy, do that first.

Pete: It's all about time management and knowing your priorities. Most people don't know this but when you are traveling, there are plenty of down times you can use to work. For example, when you are moving from one place to another, or waiting for a flight or a bus you can work for a short session throughout the day and at the end of the day, it all adds up. I simply make the most out of lost hours.

I know the priorities of all my tasks. If it's urgent, I would skip a night out and work at the hostel until I go to bed. I also wake up quite early to get a coffee and work at a cafe before the day started. It's a good way to both see the city, watch the locals and get something done.

Another hack is to buy a local sim card so that I have internet access all the time no matter where I am. It's cheap and efficient and you don't have to rely on poor hostel's Wi-Fi. At one point, I had to work in a 200th Century church in Armenia because I was unable to find a place to sleep that night and we snuck into the church to find a shelter. Thank God there was 3G connection inside, so I had no problem working that night. Buying a local sim card is the best investment for digital nomads! 

What Tools/Services Do You Use to Get the Job Done When Traveling?

Pete: Gmail is the best and it needs no introduction for sure. I work from my Gmail every day and it has not let me down yet.

I also use Buffer to manage my social network presence for both startups I'm running. Since my timezones are all over the place, it's good to have an app that allows me to schedule tweets and Facebook posts in one specific timezone.

Google Drive is a life saver when it comes to documentation. Sending receipt to my client, managing work hours and backing up all important documents I may need when I'm abroad.

Google Keep and Wunderlist are also great for when I want to jot some notes down when I'm Skyping, talking to people, getting shower ideas etc. Google Keep for random post-it kinda stuff, Wunderlist for regular checklists and shower ideas.

Spotify, to mute out all the distraction from hostels!

Skype of course, do meetings with clients etc.

My Nexus 5, used for everything. Quick Skype call, quick email and best of all, Wi-Fi hotspot.

Jacob: I mostly use services like Gmail, Skype and Trello. To find new connections wherever I go, I use HashtagNomads—a great tool used by thousands of digital nomads all around the world.

Marina: Slack, Telegram, Toggl, Trello, TeuxDeux, Skype, Appear.in, Google Drive, Airbnb, Workfrom.co, Density.io, #Nomads.

Kavi: Trello is where I organize all the active tasks I'm working on. It's probably my favorite collaborative tool to use because I can update other team members on my progress, share iterations of articles and map out editorial ideas.

Google Keep is where I jot down anything that crosses my mind when I'm on the go. If an idea for an article or project comes to mind, I'll file it away in Keep and then flesh out the concept later on in Trello.

Newsblur is my content dashboard for all of my online reading. I've carefully curated a collection of websites where I consume all the information that inspires my work.

Rodolphe: My go-to tools include Evernote, Moosti.com, SoundCloud, Skype, HackPad, Google Docs, HipChat, Sunrise, Sqwiggle, Timezone.io, Feedly, and—surely my favorite—Buffer.

Lubos: While I’m travelling I try to keep stuff with me on a minimal level, since I don’t want care about too much stuff. So when I do travel alone I take with me  my passport, camera, credit card, basic clothes, Macbook Air 13’’ and magic mouse. That’s really all I need, the rest of the stuff you can buy in the place if needed.

Conclusion

As you can see from the answers above there is no one way to getting things done when traveling. Make sure you are planning your time, taking enough breaks and actually enjoying the lifestyle you've chosen. Hopefully, nomads interviewed in this article and their stories will inspire you to do a better job and achieve better results with less time wasted. If you have any questions about digital nomad lifestyle, you can always reach me on Despreneur or Twitter @tomaslau.

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