Top 10 productivity tips for digital nomads

by Candice Rafferty, founder of Tassie Pure.

Many entrepreneurs like myself are born with the travel bug. Nowadays we take advantage of the Internet to be location independent, enabling us to live and work anywhere in the world. But staying productive as a digital nomad can be a challenge. Today, I’m going to cover my favorite productivity tips for digital nomads, but first let me tell you a little bit about me.

In my case, the journey first began 16 years ago when I moved to Beijing, China in 2000. From this humble beginning as an exchange student I discovered a passion for Asia that has never left me. Over the intervening years I worked in a variety of cities – Ho Chi Minh, Hong Kong, Hobart, Singapore, Shanghai, Amsterdam, Bangkok, Beijing – and professions: tour guide, visa officer, event organiser, magazine editor, communications director, social media manager and more.

What I have loved most about this expat existence is that I’ve always able to combine my passions for Asia, travel and writing/editing. To date I have had no desire to re-settle in Australia; my itchy feet usually lead me towards a new adventure, not homewards.

Moving between countries and companies for over a decade and a half has been great, but I took it a step further 12 months ago when I quit my secure office job to seek fame and fortune (just kidding!) on my own as a ‘solopreneur’.

I set out to fill what I saw as a booming niche market, supplying authentic and unique Tasmanian (my home island) products to the world. And thus Tassie Pure® was born.

I now work with over 50 local suppliers and sell a curated range of over 300 food, beauty, wellness and lifestyle items online via my bi-lingual (English/Chinese) online store –

Being an e-commerce business, I’m afforded ample scope to travel the globe whilst running things behind the scenes. And so in my ‘free time’ I pursue other forms of employment, namely freelance copywriting, editing and travel writing/photography.

  • Follow my travels and musings here:
  • Discover the world of Tassie Pure across social media as @tassiepure.
  • If you need a freelancer, please drop me a line at [email protected]

But enough about me, what about you! Have you decided to hit the open road?

At first, you are probably going to be flummoxed about what work to do and where to go, and rightly so. Once you move past that phase and have a plan in place, start to turn your mind towards another key area of the remote working life: productivity. This can be a tough challenge for anyone, even those working from the same office every day.

But if you do embrace a nomadic lifestyle and find yourself jumping between workspace every few hours, days, weeks, months, etc; how do you plan to keep on top of your work? Digital nomads like myself have a very unique productivity puzzle to figure out. To help you find your own feet in this brave new world, here’s my personal productivity advice to keep you sane and on top of your tasks:

My favorite productivity tips for digital nomads

1) Plan for tomorrow

Planning your daily — or better yet weekly — calendar and To-Do List for the next day the evening before will lead to superior results, less stress and fewer mistakes (what conference call?). Some good options are Google Calendar, Toggle, Evernote, Trello and even the humble desktop Sticky Note (Stickies). When you wake up you won’t need to scramble to check what is going on that day, you can jump straight into work. It’s efficient and timesaving. However, word of warning, avoid overloading your to-do list with too many tasks. As momentum is important for productivity, don’t have more than three key tasks pending at any time. In general, try to balance your workload as best you can, focussing on items that are important but not urgent, for example:

• Important & Not Urgent (planning, development, work) = 75%
• Important & Urgent (problems, deadlines, fire fighting) = 5%
• Not Important & Not Urgent (socialising, wasting time, social media) = 5%
• Not Important & Urgent (calls, emails, meetings, administration) = 15%

Whilst we are on the topic, give ‘single-tasking’ a try too. More and more studies are proving that multitasking really is a myth; the time lost switching between tasks adds up to oodles of wasted time and energy. You are far better off focusing on a single task for less time. Challenge yourself to truly focus on one task at a time, about 60–90 minute chunks is optimal. It will be hard at first, but you’ll end up getting much more done because you’ll be hyper-focused on the task at hand. That’s how I stay productive as a digital nomad.

2) Plan your workspace

As with planning what you’ll do, planning where you’ll do it or when is equally important. Review your To-Do List and decide where is the best place to accomplish each task. For example, group all calls in the morning or afternoon when you know you’ll be somewhere quite. When you have focused work to do, opt to stay home with fewer distractions. When you need some light relief, head to a local café to check email and post on LinkedIn.

3) Use time wisely

Waiting at airports, flying to a new destination and sitting on a train, bus or boat can all be used to work. In this way you can get valuable work done and then spend more time exploring once you arrive. This is an especially good technique for less interesting tasks, without WiFi to distract you, sit down and write you annual report, answer a few dozens emails, strategies for your next 12 months, and so on.

4) Limit emailing

One of the absolute best things you can do is… turn your email off! I know, this is rather revolutionary, but it is the one sure-fire way to turbo-charge your productivity as a digital nomad. I am not suggesting you go cold turkey, but rather set yourself scheduled e-mail periods, from 10–60 minutes, at various periods throughout the day (e.g., first thing in the morning, just before lunch, end of the work day). Only during these times can you check and reply. During these periods answer the most urgent emails and star or archive the rest for later in the day/week. The rest of the time put it out of sight and turn off notifications.

5) Work in spurts

Challenge yourself to get x, y and z done in 2 hours. To motivate yourself even more, pinpoint a list of the most important tasks on your agenda and challenge yourself to finish them before leaving a workspace or location (or plane taking off!). As mentioned above, working in 60–90 minute chunks has been proven to be highly effective. It’s also one of my favorite productivity tips for digital nomads. Setting yourself anywhere from 2 to 4 chunks a day, with 15–30 minutes breaks or a longer lunchtime in-between is a great system.

6) Work-life balance

One of the great benefits of remote work is that you can often set your own hours and get your work done when you’re most productive. Heck, it’s probably one of the main reasons people embrace this lifestyle, to escape the 9 to 5 retrace. Setting your own schedule is really helpful when it comes to exploring a new location. Take advantage of the daylight hours to explore parks and museums over lunch and do you work in the early morning and late evening. Don’t feel guilty for scheduling your work around a local bar’s daily Happy Hour or pop-up street festival.

7) Be kind to yourself

Make sure to allocate sufficient time to be kind to your relationships, your health, and your mind. These three will power your overall ability to be productive in the long run. If you are the type of person to forgo exercise for another hour of work, trying putting a schedule in place that forces you outside, even if only for a short afternoon work or lunchtime stroll. Make time to Skype with family and friends back home. If you are travelling with a significant other, make sure you have real quality time together when neither of you are glued to a phone or laptop.

8) Live local

Stay in an Airbnb or apartment with a kitchen so it’s easy to “sprint” when you want to work on something for a few hours straight. If you’re in a hotel without a kitchen, it’s harder to grab a quick snack or drink when you’re in the middle of focused work. Get your project done and then head out to explore the city! Plus, you can save some cash by not eating out all the time. You usually get a lot more bang for your buck in terms of overall space (bedroom, office nook) and facilities (washing machine, balcony) too.

9) Crowd source workplaces

When landing in a new city and looking for a great spot(s) to work from, with power, WiFi, decent coffee, reasonably-priced food, great vibes, interesting people, good natural life, comfy chairs and so on, check out some local message boards, social media or ask friends and friends-of-friends in advance. Googling a list of local co-working spaces is a good option too. And consider joining some Meetup groups with like-minded individuals to get to know where they hang out.

10) Try journaling

To find value in what you’re doing and stay focused — not to mention creating an invaluable memento to look back on when, or if, you ever settle down in one place again — try starting your mornings and ending your nights with a few minutes of journal writing. Many people have noticed a huge difference in their happiness and gratitude when they make time for this. It’s also an easy way to add a routine to an otherwise hectic life. There are a lot of free apps out there to get you started.

Bonus Tip:

Do not rely on WiFi exclusively, as soon as you can in a new country get yourself a local SIM card. This will at least enable you to take a Skype call, access documents and check your email at any time. These are usually very easy to acquire (7/11, airport, phone shop, etc) and you can opt for a top-up version rather than a plan. Just make sure you take an unlocked phone with you on the road and not one tied to your carrier back home. If you do not have one already, do not fret as a cheap and reliable smartphone for around $100 can be easily obtained in most countries nowadays.


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