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What I learned being 0% productive as a Digital Nomad

The Good, The Bad, and the Lessons Learned.

John Paul NarowskiJohn Paul Narowski

I’m in a hand woven hammock, swaying in the breeze as waves kiss the beach. The three three things floating through my head are: where to go snorkeling, should I get another beer, and how to deal with this cargo ship sized guilt lodged in my chest. I came to Thailand with noble intentions – to be productive, while traveling aboard.

I was failing.

But I was sure I could do this. What did I miss?

Timezone Differences

Despite my best intentions, I didn’t get much work at night. I somehow thought I could play during the day and work at night. Nope. I was so drained from the day’s festivities, that the thought of working beyond 8pm instilled dread in my heart.

I decided to communicate with my team a single time per day (start of theirs, end of mine) instead of trying to work the same hours. This ended up becoming quite a positive change. So I got my timezone nailed, but now I don’t even know what to work on.

Keeping Productive

If tasks aren’t bite sized, even starting can be overwhelming. This is true in my normal habitat, but when you stick this monkey in a new cage, with coconuts instead of bananas, it’s that much more difficult.

I’d find myself staring at a blank computer screen, trying to force tasks into being through willpower alone. After about a week of this, I started breaking everything down into bite sized tasks, that could be executed based on my energy level – easy, medium and hard tasks.

This resulted in a positive and lasting increase in my capacity to get stuff done. Boldly face hotel changes, power outages and bumpy flights!

Departure from Routine

Routine is my guiding force. Without it, I’m a lost puppy. While traveling, it’s usually the first to go.

POOF!

There goes your desire to exercise, or eat beets.

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Underestimating Adjustment

My super powered brain, and steel clad will should be able to adjust within a few days right? Wrong. Sure, I recovered from jet lag within a few days, but it took me 2 full weeks to return to my coveted routine.

The sweet and spicy waft of chicken kabob street meat is enough to derail even the most Spartan of us.

Do yourself a favor, and be OK with a longer period to get adjusted to your new work schedule. Allow yourself to enjoy the sights!

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Bad Internet

Being in a hot, sweaty, fanless lobby is not the ideal place to host a productive conference call. Ignore the proud declaration of ultra-fast internet on the AirBNB review, it’s a bold faced lie.

You might want to stick to places guaranteed to have good internet (like the mainland). Hello…Hello, can you hear me now…hmm, I can hear you…? Sound familiar?

The Good Parts

Ok, so I might have hyperbolized the title a bit. It wasn’t nearly all bad. I DID find my rhythm, it just took a few weeks longer than anticipated.

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A Time to Reflect

After my fruitless struggle with adjustment, I decided to focus on the 10,000 ft view instead. This proved to be much easier and a more effective use of my time. Being so far outside of normal life, I was able to see things with new eyes. I spent the first week pondering what I wanted in life, and what changes I needed to make to get there.

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Stress Tested My Company

Being thousands of miles and a full day away from your team, you quickly find your bottlenecks. Until this trip, I hadn’t really seen how things would go with me out of communication. Overall, it was a very positive experience.

Upgraded My Communication Game

When communication is limited to once a day, clarity is an absolute requirement. From now on, I will operate under this assumption regardless of where I am. This forces clear thinking, writing and communication. Half baked tasks or poorly written emails just won’t cut it.

Unwound My Fiendish IPhone Obsession

I didn’t get a data card (which in hindsight was probably a mistake) but a positive that came from it was that I couldn’t check my phone 1,232,000 times a day. Because I was up when everyone back home was sleeping, I knew there wouldn’t be a juicy text or Facebook update waiting for me.

The result – I actually got stuff done. What a surprise eh? Another positive habit I’m bringing home with me.

A Few Suggestions

Here are a few things you can take with you on your next trip. Don’t burn your hands like me. Sail through your first work/travel experience, and report back what you’ve learned!

Get a Local SIM Card

It takes the smallest amount of planning – then your travels are powered by the interwebs. I thought I’d man up and navigate the way we did in the 90’s…don’t. In the short time since the invention of Yelp and GPS, the human race has evolved out the ability to navigate naturally.

Stay at Each Place for at Least a Week.

Travel days are death for productivity. If you have to, travel on the weekend. The longer you stay at a single spot the easier it is to setup shop, and sink your teeth into a routine soaked coffee shop muffin.

Know your Limits

Get real. You’re not going to work from 9pm to 3am. Instead, plan for how you’ll communicate in the limited time overlaps you have.

Try a Minor Timezone Shift

While going halfway across the world certainly pinpoints your communication weaknesses, it can also be very stressful. You might consider a more time zone friendly location. In hindsight, I wish I had taken a few trips to places with better internet in a similar timezone. You know, for training wheels.

All in all, this has been an incredibly positive experience. I feel empowered with new tools and a global mindset. I’m never going back to the “travel abroad once every few years” mindset. It’s important to scare yourself frequently, and keep fresh in your life.

I’d love to hear what you’ve learned? How have you improved your productivity while traveling? Don’t just share the good, I’m also very interested in hearing the bad.

I’ve been hacking at various business ideas since I was 16. I’m a full stack developer and love crafting user experiences. I’ve been nose deep in code since I put the legos down, and built several successful businesses in the process. I’ve lost some hair, gained some experience and throughly enjoyed the journey.

Comments 3
  • Anthony Ongaro
    Posted on

    Anthony Ongaro Anthony Ongaro

    Reply Author

    Awesome post! I’ve found similar things when traveling but haven’t been anywhere to fully establish my “at home” level of routine. Where are you in Thailand? Chiang Mai?


  • Anthony Ongaro
    Posted on

    Anthony Ongaro Anthony Ongaro

    Reply Author

    Nice post man. I’ve found the same things in trying to get into a routine abroad. Where are you staying in Thailand? Chiang Mai yet?


  • Dave Needham
    Posted on

    Dave Needham Dave Needham

    Reply Author

    Great post! I think there are also some merits to simply unplugging. And if you start with the intent of “working” while across the world, those are some good tips to keep in mind.