Living and working as a digital nomad can be a challenge when it comes to time management, but there are many tips and tricks you can learn to help you with that.
I’ve been a digital nomad since 2009 and a soon after starting out, I realised that I had to improve my time management skills.
My time management skills weren’t that bad, but I found that being more systemic would help me a lot.
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Why I got into time management as a digital nomad
I was working as a freelance translator when I started out as a digital nomad, with some regular clients and a good amount of work coming in.
I soon found out that combining travel to unfamiliar places, online freelance work and a social life can be tricky.
Researching destinations takes a lot of time and meeting people when you travel to a new place can also take some time. I needed to find a way to do it all without compromising.
That’s when I started teaching myself about time management, productivity and motivation. It was a long and fascinating process. I experimented with different methods, theories and tricks, and eventually formulated a system that works smoothly.
I love sharing that knowledge. This is the first article in a series of short productivity and time management tips to help you sustain the digital nomad lifestyle.
How to plan your day in 3 steps
The first step is incredibly simple: put in your calendar anything that has a specific time.
For example, you’ve just arrived at a new city and you want to take a guided walking tour, which starts at 10 am tomorrow. That goes in your calendar.
If you’re going to a show in the evening, or if you’re meeting someone for lunch, or if you have any work-related deadlines – these are all things that should appear in your calendar.
Even if you think you’ll remember them – write them down anyway.
The second step is equally simple: Things that do not have a specific time should be added to your task list.
Don’t put those tasks in your calendar, as they will distract you from the things you need to do that day (the ones that have a specific time) and make you feel overwhelmed by things to do.
This somewhat unusual approach to running your calendar comes from David Allen’s seminal book Getting Things Done.
It’s worth getting used to this method, it will make your life easier in so many ways.
How to use time windows when you plan your day
The third step is also simple, though it requires a little more thinking.
When you plan your next day, look at your calendar and wherever you see a time window – fill it with tasks from your task list.
How do you decide which tasks to choose? Consider your priorities, how much time you have, and your level of energy. This way you make sure that the tasks you select are the most appropriate for that time window.
Of course, if you’re working on your laptop, you want to make sure you have it with you during that time window, and that there’s wifi available nearby.
Why it makes sense to plan ahead
As a digital nomad, when you combine travel with work, you won’t always be sitting at a desk or find yourself in the vicinity of a laptop-friendly cafe or a coworking space. You want to plan ahead.
Each evening, look at your calendar for the next day and identify the time windows that you can use for work.
Remember, at this stage your calendar already shows you the things you want to do at a specific time, e.g. a guided tour or some other activity.
This way you can decide whether to take your laptop with you when you go out, or maybe decide to only do tasks that you can do on your phone, without carrying a laptop around that day.
Assign the relevant tasks to the appropriate time windows the night before. That way you will save yourself any time-wasting hesitations on the next day.
Planning ahead saves you not only time, but also a lot of mental energy. Decision making in general can take up too much energy that you can otherwise dedicate to other things. In psychology this is called “decision fatigue“.
Being in a foreign country already requires a lot from you in terms of decision making. At home you are used to how things are and many day-to-day actions are more or less automated.
Abroad this isn’t always the case. You do have to invest more effort in getting to know how things work around you.
Even small decisions can contribute to decision fatigue. For example, deciding which train to take, when you don’t know the public transport system very well; or where to buy your food, when you don’t know the local shops yet.
So make life easier for yourself by making less decisions and plan the night before.
Of course, you can always change your plan the next day if you need to. You can be flexible, but it’s good to have a plan as a base and then make adjustments if necessary.
- Things that have a specific time go in your calendar
- Other things go in your task list
- Fill in the time windows in your calendar with tasks suitable from the task list
- Plan ahead to save yourself both time and mental energy
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