A lot of nomads have already written about how they started the lifestyle.
Most of them will tell you that they were sick of their 9 to 5 days so they quit their jobs. They started something online from scratch or transferred their skills into an online business and that was that. There are the “5 tips to becoming a digital nomad” articles, there are the “how to become a digital nomad” articles, there are the “how to find your first digital nomad projects” and so on. But there is one thing they are not telling you. Working on your own doesn’t just happen. Sure, some of your hurdles will be related to finding projects or keeping clients or growing your business. However, you will have a bigger hurdle way before you get to those: imposing discipline on yourself.
When we were kids we did things because mom made us. When we were in school, we did them because teachers were scary and our grades were important. At work we did them because bosses, colleagues or any other external pressure. As a digital nomad or freelancer no one is going to push you to do anything. It’s just you and yourself. And if you are lucky like I am, your partner who might give you the occasional nudge.
It’s all about little habits with big impact
Have you stopped and looked the daily routine of your most productive days? What about your most unproductive days? Do you even have a routine?
Routine is part of discipline. The word may be really unsexy to digital nomads or freelancers who most likely want to escape it or what it stands for, but be advised, the routine of independence is different from the routine of employee life. Unfortunately productivity doesn’t just happen. There isn’t a time of day where productivity kicks in and you become The Flash. You day still has 24 hours and it is your responsibility to appropriate them accordingly.
Little habits for great discipline
Discipline must start somewhere. For now, I have two very simple ideas on how to flex your discipline muscle: your sleep schedule and a daily task (or more if you’re feeling rebellious).
Sleep schedule – make it coherent
You cannot ever achieve discipline and freedom with irregular sleeping patterns. The human body just doesn’t work that way. No matter how different our sleeping patterns are, most of us need a fixed amount of sleep in order to work at full capacity. If you don’t believe me believe science. Bad or little sleep messes up cognitive functions. Precisely the functions we need to do good work. Haven’t you noticed how slow and prone to error is work done when tired? As a digital nomad or freelancer there probably isn’t someone to check and double check your work. What you do reaches your client directly.
There is no golden recipe for sleep related productivity. As far as digital nomads who change time zones, there are some tricks to help your body adapt to the new time. We’ll get back to you on that one. For now, as far as routine is concerned, there are 3 types of productivity species (human ones):
- The early birds
- The night owls
- The songbirds – those who feel energetic both in the morning and in the evening and usually need a nap around noon
If you’re not sure which you are, you can try them all on for size.
The early bird
Try at least 2-3 weeks in a row to wake up around 6 or 7. Waking up at the same hour is more important than going to bed at the same hour. If you manage to get out of bed at 6 a couple of days in a row, at some point you’re gonna be so tired that sleep will come naturally sooner than you were used to.
If this doesn’t work for you, try the songbird way. Wake up early in the morning, do your things, take a nap at noon (30-90 minutes), do some more work and go to bed late at night. Some people simply have two sparks of productivity during the day. If you are one of them this might just be the secret to getting more things done during a single day.
The night owl
If you feel you work better at night, go for the waking up late in the morning and going to bed late at night regime.
The most important thing is to find your best productivity hours and stick to them. This will bring a lot of order in your life and less anxiety. And don’t cheat with snooze. Those articles about how bad snoozing is for your body are right. They are talking about discipline too.
Gold mine productivity tip:
My half and I have struggled with snoozing for a long time and we came across a simple trick form Mel Robbins that worked for this and everything else we found hard to do. It’s the simple 5 second rule. You count backwards from 5 to 1. At 1 you just get out of bed. It’s a trick, but it’s a very effective one. Here’s the whole idea explained:
Daily task – turn a conscious action into a reflex
Pick a small thing you’ve always wanted to change, like a small activity, and do it every single day. This helps your brain adapt to changes easier. Digital nomads and freelancers aren’t famous for Xeroxed days. This is why when a new task comes into their lives they need to push themselves to do it. Or they just forget and remember it one day before the deadline. Then they panic. No good. New tasks always require you to decide to do them, with consistency aka discipline. Unless you’re the love child of responsibility and logistics every new “to do” will mean forcing yourself and constantly reminding yourself to do it. Don’t rely on reminders on your phone. I have seen those fail in all their glory. Train your brain instead. Make it flexible to new tasks.
Here are some easy examples to make an idea what training tasks I’m thinking about:
- Make your bed. The second you get up, make the conscious decision to straighten the sheets, put on the covers, whatever. Just don’t leave it undone.
- Take out the trash. Tie it to other daily activity, like leaving for work (for those of you still employed) or taking the dog out or going out for bread or finishing your coffee.
- Do the dishes. Yeah, most people have dishwashers. But if you consider a digital nomad lifestyle, the comfort you have at home may not always be available. So every time you cook or you eat, wash the dishes immediately after. This habit will help you avoid the frustration of having to do something you don’t like when you would rather go surfing or play with monkey.
- Make a “running out” list. Instead of spending half an hour checking everything around the kitchen and pantry before going to the store, put whatever is almost finished on your future shopping list. Even if now everything is available at the corner store, in other countries you might move to shopping could be different. It’s kinda frustrating to get home only to realize you forgot something basic/important and have to go back. Not to mention the waste of time. Digital nomads, keep this in mind. You’ve probably been through this already.
- If you have a dog, take him out at the same hour every day. This is even more important for digital nomads travelling with their dogs. Your dog needs routine too and too many changes at once might result in behavior issues.
- Have at least one meal at the same hour every day.
- Fill this list with whatever else you want to turn from decision to reflex.
As a conclusion
All these things that make up a routine bring an element of stability in your life. As a digital nomad or travelling freelancer the culture will be different, the food will be different, people and hours will be different, but you will have something that is steady and doesn’t change. Unless you want it to. As additional help, you can set reminders for the task you choose and when they go off, you get up and do the task. Decide to be disciplined and your independence will come easier.