Digital Nomading: Lessons from the First Week-ish  

Posted on Jun 15, 2016 in lessons, ramblings
A row of houses in Porto

A row of houses in Porto

I’m currently writing from the Hacker Paradise co-working space in Porto, Portugal, surrounded by hard-working entrepreneurs and programmers.

While some of my peers here have been digital nomads for years, a couple of them made this their first trip abroad. I fall somewhere in between – I’ve been to roughly 16 countries and something like 36 U.S. states, but my only prior experience as a digital nomad was working from the U.S. Midwest for two weeks. (Does that even count?)

So this is my first time being a digital nomad from abroad. It feels different than being one in the States. There is a change in time zones, a new language to learn, new friends to meet and lots to explore.

We’re already into week two at Hacker Paradise, so here are some lessons I learned from my first week-ish working abroad.

Find a Productive Environment
It’s important to find a workplace that fuels your productivity. Some people here venture out to cafes while others stay back in their Airbnb room. I like being in our Hacker Paradise co-working space because I’m constantly inspired by how hard everyone around me is working. When I’m in a lull, I look throughout the room and it keeps me going. Plus, it’s a little embarrassing if someone sees your computer and you are mucking around Facebook, right? (Ha.)

Optimize Productivity
I know that if I am efficient throughout the day I can take the evening off and get out in the city. This reward motivates me to get my work done. In fact, fellow Hacker Paradisees Brad and Aaron spoke to the group about the Pomodoro technique, in which you work in 25-minute blocks of time followed by 5 minute breaks. They agree that if you are hyper-productive during your work time, you’ll have more time and the mental freedom to take healthy breaks and also get into the city.

Maintain a Routine
There is a difference between working abroad and taking a vacation. Working from abroad is just that – work. It is easy to get lost in the novelty of a new place, but I have found that maintaining a daily routine helps. I work slightly delayed hours here, starting around 10:30 AM rather than 8:30 AM, so that I have some more overlap time with my clients back in the States. Later in the evening I head out, and then I have an hour or two to relax in my room before bed.

Embrace the Culture
That said, it’s also nice to embrace the city’s culture. American culture all about rushing, being efficient and doing the next best thing. But here in Portugal they are about relaxing, taking your time and enjoying life. I’ve been trying my hardest to adjust to a later meal schedule (lunch is 1 or 2 PM, dinner is around 8, 9 or even 10 PM) as well as spend a good amount of time at those meals. The Portuguese take an hour or so for lunch and maybe two hours for dinner. I work my schedule around this each day and try to optimize productivity, as I mentioned earlier, so I can have time to embrace the culture.

Get Out There
Speaking of embracing the local culture – it’s important to get out and explore! Working from a new country is tough because you just want to go be active. To find the balance between work and play, I’ve realized it’s helpful to make some time in my schedule each day to get out and explore the city. For instance, some mornings I’ll go for a run, which feels like an adventure in itself. I also make time in my schedule to try out a new restaurant or see a local site each night.

Spend Some Time In One Place
To help mitigate that urge to explore rather than work, I think it’s also important to be in one place for a decent amount of time. If you’re only there for a few days, for instance, you may want to put aside your work to go adventure. But if you have a decent amount of time – I have four weeks – you can work by day and adventure by night, or however you set your schedule. There are differing opinions on this one, but it feels like spending at least a few weeks in one place would work best for me.

Take Time to Relax
It’s easy to go, go, go while being abroad, whether working or on vacation. But it’s also easy to get burnt out and be exhausted – you have constant activity, an unfamiliar language and new people. I’ve found that it’s key to take some time to yourself, time to relax, and time to sleep. This helps me be refreshed and ready to go each day.

Let Your Guard Down
Lastly, I’d suggest letting your guard down, Feel free to try to speak the language and make new friends. Take a risk and put yourself out there. So much good can come of it.

Is anyone else out there a digital nomad? What tips have you found to be the most helpful?