Although the location independent lifestyle epitomizes freedom, it also requires a ton of discipline and flexibility in order to get work done. Here are some tips on how – and where – to focus on productivity while travelling. Whether you’re a digital nomad working on the road, or needing to check in on work while on vacation, these tips are for you.
How do you work with any degree of productivity while travelling? It’s hard enough for me to get anything done at home. But on the road? I’m a mess. – Tim
For me, work productivity while travelling is all about getting in the zone. Once I’m there, I can crank out an amazing amount of work. So, how do you get in the zone? Well, it’s different for every traveller.
PRODUCTIVITY WHILE TRAVELLING: THE WHERE
Here are some popular places where travellers like to crank out some work on the road.
Working on Transportation
Many travellers claim they get their best work done on planes/trains/buses. I suspect much of this has to do with being in a relatively distraction-free environment, namely without WiFi!
Me…not so much. Buses (and even some trains) are out because I battle motion sickness. Also, if I’m writing without internet I need to have done the preliminary internet research necessary to craft my prose. And, depending on the trip and timing (for example if I’m on a red-eye flight), it’s better to sleep than stay up and work. Lastly, I tend to prefer to enjoy the journey with some music rather than sit in an ergonomically challenging spot and try to work.
Having said that, if and when I do pull out my laptop, I do find that working on transportation provides a relatively distraction-free environment to crank it out.
I’m a solitary cat, and a very self-disciplined one at that, so the idea of paying to work in an office full of other entrepreneurs is lost on me. Having said that I’ve yet to try it, so I could be missing out on what are apparently some amazing networking and collaborative opportunities. Later this year I expect to try out some co-living co-working spaces, so perhaps I’ll be a convert.
A travelling friend of mine maintains a Priority Pass membership to access swanky airport lounges whenever he flies. He intentionally arrives at the airport hours in advance and builds trips with long layovers so he can check out the lounge, and ultimately, get some solid work done. Airport lounges come equipped with comfortable seating, power points for charging items, WiFi access, business services (like printers and phones), food, drinks, and more. Perks vary by the lounge, but can include showers, sleeping areas, free massages, spa treatments, and more.
For more information, check out the following posts:
It’s worth noting that you can get a Priority Pass by cashing in your hotel points (for example, with Marriott, Hilton, and Club Carlson); another way to enjoy the perks of airline lounges without shelling out cash.
Need some quiet space with a bit of ambiance? A library might be right up your alley. Many libraries also have WiFi access, and can provide a wee lens into the cultural landscape of your current destination.
I’m not generally a cafe person; communal workspaces tend to distract rather than inspire me. But some people swear by them!
WorkFrom is a crowd-sourced website that identifies the best cafes around the world to work from. Members provide intel on WiFi speeds, access to power points, available seating, etc, so you know where to go to get stuff done. Their online community can also help you connect with other remote workers along the way (maybe they’re in the same cafe as you!).
PRODUCTIVITY WHILE TRAVELLING: THE HOW
These 11 tips will ensure you’re getting the most work done efficiently so you can ultimately maximize work productivity while travelling.
Pay Attention to Ergonomics
Does your place of accommodation have a desk with a properly suitable chair? Great! But most places don’t. Even if you do have a desk, your chair might not be the right height. Use pillows or cushions to create an optimal working space.
And if you don’t have a suitable desk, beware of working on the bed! It’s far from ideal, and is begging for back and neck strain.
Take Breaks and Walk Around
Regardless of the ergonomics of your workspace, it’s important to take breaks. You’ll be more productive if you work for about 30 minutes, followed by a five minute break. This gives your body a chance to limber up, and your mind a chance to clear.
I drink a lot of water while I’m working, which forces regular breaks (to pee). Other people set a Pomodoro timer to keep themselves on track.
Some people love the ambiance and energy of working in cafes and coffee shops; others find it distracting. I generally fall into the latter camp, but occasionally setting up my office in a public location provides a welcome change of scenery and inspires new ideas. And while you’re travelling, it’s a passive way of immersing in the local culture at hand.
Keep on Task with Productivity/Time Tracking Software
There are many programs that help you get the most out of your work time. I personally track my time using the free Toggl app. I don’t have a complicated business that involves time-related billing of clients, so for me it’s about remaining accountable to myself and staying on task, and ultimately seeing how productive I was at the end of the day/week. (Hint: I never end up “working” as many hours as I feel I’ve worked! Those little breaks add up).
Other programs you can check out (free and paid) include Freshbooks, Time Doctor, Rescue Time, Paydirt, and Freedom. And if you have problems with self-control (Facebook is calling!), then try out the Timeout or SelfControl apps.
Book Travel Carefully
Sometimes the cheapest point-to-point trip isn’t the most conducive to work productivity while travelling. Consider a train journey that leaves at a respectable hour (as opposed to 5am), has no connections, and good WiFi along the way. Even if there’s a price difference, ask yourself how much the increased productivity while travelling would be worth to you and decide accordingly.
Before you leave for the airport on that long-haul trip, plan out the work tasks you can perform enroute (which is usually without WiFi). If you need to do some preparatory online work, get it done before going offline. And always, always leave the house with fully-charged devices.
Prepare for the Worst
Expect to be seated next to a screaming baby on your next flight. That way you’ll be prepared with noise-canceling headphones or earbuds to listen to music, or at the very least you’ll be pleasantly surprised if there’s no screaming baby.
Travel With Other People Who Work on the Road
Most travelling companions might not understand your need to balance work with play if you have an online business or digital nomad lifestyle. If you travel with like-minded people who have similar responsibilities, you won’t feel guilty for having to spend an extra day working instead of sightseeing.
Working with a Team? Keep Everybody on the Same Page
Tools like Basecamp, Asana, and Trello are great for collaborative efforts that span the globe.
Choose Your Work According to Your Environment
If you’re sitting at the gate waiting for your flight to get called, maybe diving into a labour-intensive project isn’t good timing. Instead, catch up on some reading, or something else that requires less time and concentration.
Know When to Stop
A key rule of productivity while travelling is knowing when to stop. Putting in hours for the sake of working doesn’t equate to getting more done. If you finished that project you planned to do on the long-haul flight early, reward yourself by flicking on a movie or catching some Zs.
What the Community Says
I asked the travel community how and where they maximize work productivity while travelling. Here are two curiously creative answers:
At home. I can put on specific shows on netflix/hulu that I don’t mind and also don’t really have to pay attention to. Having something to ignore helps me focus. Libraries are too quiet. That’s why I enjoy reading at bars. – Robert
I bring my hammock with me everywhere I go, and it’s by far my favourite place to get work done. I’ve already had it up in a variety of exotic locations such as a hostel room, small apartment, house, and of course between plenty of trees in forests, yards, over streams, porch posts, etc. It’s much more comfortable than most beds and so incredibly versatile and useful, I love it! – Kyle
Dear Nora, digital nomad, travelling, work productivity, Working on the Road