Staying Productive on the Road

What comes to mind when you hear the words “digital nomad”? Is it a tanned 20-something relaxing on a beach in southeast Asia, laptop perched atop the tiny table beside their lounge chair?

Or lounging beside the infinity pool of their rented apartment in Bangkok, as the case may be?

While there can be plenty of beach time involved in this lifestyle, I’d like to see a place where the wifi reached outside of the living room of the AirBnB, much less down to the beach.

For the majority of digital nomads, the bulk of our time is spent hunkered down in coffee shops, working and mainlining caffeine so we can maintain some semblance of coherence for the teleconference meeting that will be happening at 11AM east coast time when it’s 10PM for us.

Getting motivated to work when you know your colleagues are all asleep on the other side of the world is difficult. It’s so tempting to just go to the beach instead. “Oh, I’ll just work tonight when everyone else is awake, too” you think as you skip out the door, beach towel and sunscreen in hand.

This is a mistake. Tonight you’ll be exhausted from exploring and spending all day in the sun – your brain won’t want to focus on the tasks at hand. My #1 tip for living a successful remote lifestyle: Have a routine.


That’s my laptop on the table of our AirBnB in Copenhagen. Every day at 2PM, I’d sit down and start working.

A routine is absolutely essential while you’re on the road. No matter what country, timezone, or language you’re surrounded by, if you have a routine you stick to, you’ll keep on top of your To Do list and get to enjoy yourself at the same time.

The routine I try to stick to looks something like this:

  • Wake up around 8AM local time
  • Eat breakfast (this one is essential for me – I can’t function without food in the morning)
  • Do some exploring for the remainder of the AM hours
  • Have or make lunch
  • Head back to the AirBnB and settle in for the afternoon (morning on the east coast, which is the timezone my colleagues work in)
  • Work until dinner time, including participating in any calls on my schedule
  • Do some yoga to de-stress (I watch a lot of Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. She’s so lovely!)
  • Assuming there are no calls in the evening, go to dinner and maybe have a drink somewhere
  • Bed around 12AM

I’d like to be in bed earlier, but depending on the time zone I’m in, 12AM may be the end of the morning hours on east coast time. This means I need to be awake for any conversations with colleagues that might need to happen during their AM hours.

For me, afternoons local time are when I’m most productive. This is something I gradually learned about myself over time (with lots of trial and error). When I tried working in the mornings first thing, my brain refused to kick into gear.

Motivating afternoon light streaming into my “office” in one of our London AirBnBs.

I was too distracted thinking about what else I wanted to do or see that day, and it kept me from focusing on my work. I found that once I had gone out and done a few things, I was ready to settle down and get stuck in to the tasks at hand.

I build my schedule around any calls and projects happening that week and the timezone I’m in. I tell my colleagues about my availability in a way that helps ensure they don’t schedule calls at 4AM my time.

Figure out a routine that works for you and stick to it. If you try to fit work in between your explorations or vice versa, you’ll be exhausted and on edge, not knowing when you can accomplish what. Set realistic expectations for yourself and use your knowledge of when you’re most alert to make a routine that works for you.

And if you can, find a pretty spot to work from (like this deck I worked from on the Great Ocean Road in Australia) so you don’t feel like you’re missing out too much.

One last thing: Don’t try to match your schedule or work habits to your travel buddy if they’re not in sync.

For example, my partner prefers working in the mornings and working in coffee shops, both of which I hate doing. My brain isn’t awake until noon and the hustle and bustle of coffee shops is extremely distracting for me.

Knowing this, we each stick to our own work routines on the road together and make time for each other in the evenings. We’ve found a rhythm that works for us.

If you’re traveling with a friend or partner, figure out a schedule that works for both of you!

What does your routine look like on the road? Tell me about it in the comments!

Travel | Re-Pack | Repeat