the challenges of work and travel

The challenges of work and travel [PMP #125]

The life of a digital nomad sounds great. Working and travelling simultaneously sounds awesome (and it is) but it’s not without its challenges.

This episode of the Paul Minors Podcast is sponsored by TextExpander.

I’m writing this post from our Airbnb in Brooklyn, New York. We’ve been here for about a week and it’s great to be working in another country again. In preparation for this trip, it’s been challenging working out how I will balance work on my business with taking time out to enjoy the trip.

There's a common perception out there that you aren't successful unless you're working from a beach somewhere. In this post, I’d like to share my thoughts to give you an accurate idea of what it’s like working for yourself while travelling. And down below I’ve listed some tips that I’ve picked up along the way.

The life of a digital nomad is fun but not without it's challenges. Here are some tips to help balance work and travelClick To Tweet

Work and travel

Work and travel is a lot of fun. It takes you out of your comfort zone and is very different to your normal routine. In a way, it forces you to be more productive.

It was actually during a 6-month trip a few years ago that I transitioned from salaried employment to working on my own business full-time. You can read the full story here. When I look back at my life, I think of time in terms of before and after this trip, as it was such a pivotal moment for both Hayley and me.

So here we are, in New York for just under 3 weeks. We then plan on heading up to Montreal and Toronto. Then a quick stop in Calgary and finally a week in San Francisco before flying home. We’ll be away for about 6-7 weeks in total.

Except this time, it’s different. Now, instead of travelling while starting a business where I had only a few commitments and clients. Now I’m running an established business. I have numerous clients and big projects on the go and I have 17 people sitting in my pipeline waiting to engage me for work. Not to mention, this time we have a 6-month old baby with us.

So the challenge I’m facing is, how do we travel for 7 weeks while balancing all this work and still having enough downtime to enjoy the trip?

I can’t just stop everything for a few reasons:

  1. I don’t get paid for time off. When you receive a salary, you can take time off with certainty that you’ll get your normal salary paid to your account like you normally would. For freelancers and consultants, if you stop working, so does the money. Fortunately, I receive revenue from the sale of my products and some affiliate deals which definitely helps to reduce the pressure.
  2. I have an obligation to my existing clients. These are projects I’ve been working on for a few months and I can’t just disappear for 7 weeks.
  3. If I didn’t start any new projects during our time away, I would get back home in 7 weeks and have nothing to do. Due to the nature of my work, it can take a few weeks (and often longer) to drum up business. My business is like a machine. If I turn it all off now, it can take a while to get going again.

And regardless of all the above reasons, I wouldn’t just stop working because I enjoy my work. If I literally did nothing for 7 weeks, I think I’d get bored after a week and start to go crazy. The stimulation keeps me sane.

But it does means I have to be smart with how I plan my time.

Tips for a more productive trip

Here are some things I’ve picked up along the way to have a successful working trip:

Establish your routine. Before you go, work out what sort of hours you need to work. To do this, you’ll need to take stock of all the projects you have in progress right now and determine what you need to do during the trip and what can wait. I’ve set aside time each afternoon to work on necessary projects and clients. I decided on afternoons as the time works well for clients in Pacific time, Australia and New Zealand. I’m working less than my normal hours but have tried to find a few hours each day to keep things ticking over.

Be flexible to change. Regardless of the routine you decide on, be open to change. You want to enjoy your trip and take time off to relax, so don’t hold yourself to too high a standard. During our stay in New York we decided to leave early as there was a measles outbreak in the suburb of Brooklyn where we were staying. Because our boy Jay is only 6 months old he was at risk so we decided to change our flights and leave early. Having the flexibility to move my work around (see time blocking) was incredibly useful.

Set expectations. Before you go, talk to any colleagues or clients you need to about what they can expect in terms of response times and availability. That way there are no surprises.

Prioritise your most important projects. Because you’re probably not going to do a normal workload, you need to decide which projects to pursue and which ones can wait until later. I’m a people pleaser and always try and find a way to work with everyone (this isn’t always a good thing). I work with clients for as little as a few hours up to a few months. Now that we’re away, rather than trying to accommodate everyone, I’ve chosen to prioritise projects that are more worth my time. Some of the projects and ideas I’ve come up with I’ve decided to defer until I’m home in New Zealand when I have more capacity to do them right.

Use automation and systems. Keep yourself organised by using a task list, calendar and any other necessary tools to keep track of all your work. Even though we’re on holiday, I’m still using my calendar on a daily basis to plan work and when we’re going to go off and do things. Using a combination of Pipedrive and Asana, I’m able to keep a clear track of where I’m at with all projects and prospects. I really couldn’t live without these tools as it means I can easily pick up on a project where I left off a week or two later without having to go back over hundreds of emails to work out what to do next. And finally, using Zapier, I have automated mundane and tedious tasks saving me massive amounts of time.

Check out my How to become a “virtual consultant” program to learn more about how to systemise your virtual business.

In closing

If you haven’t yet experienced a working trip, I highly recommend giving it a go. Obviously, not everyone can just take 6 weeks out to go overseas. But if you can negotiate a remote work arrangement with your employer or if you’re self-employed, consider taking a working holiday.

It’s a nice way of getting out of your normal routine, experiencing a new place and testing your productivity skills.

If you have any work/travel tips, please let me know in the comments!