Traveling the world and running a business at the same time seems like a glamorous lifestyle: You can work from anywhere you want, make your own schedule and be your own boss.
But the characteristics that make it desirable also turn it terrible.
After all, with complete freedom to choose between exploring far-off lands (and people) and sitting in an Internet cafe doing SEO chores, participating in conference calls and writing emails, who would choose to do the latter tasks? Not many people.
Given the option, you would probably close your computers and go exploring with those beautiful Scandinavians who just invited you to the beach.
The digital-nomad lifestyle may seem appealing, but there’s nothing glamorous about freaking out because your Internet connection in a small town suddenly went out two minutes before an important conference call or product launch.
Yet it's possible to find a balance and successfully run a business from the road, relying on time management and careful planning.
All this might sound intuitive but striking the right balance isn't easy. It takes work to settle into a routine when you're constantly changing locations and time zones. It took me a long time to get into a routine. It’s easy to decide that work can wait when you have people imploring you to join them at that new festival.
When I first left to travel, running a business on the road was never my intention. I just wanted to travel. Starting a blog was an afterthought so when it started to gain traction, I was reluctant to give it more of my time. I just wanted to travel.
My business grew more slowly than it could have because I wasn’t optimizing my time. I once went offline for a week so I could go sailing around the coast of Australia, thereby missing four interview and guest-posting opportunities.
Travel always has come first for me but I have longed to have my cake and eat it, too. So after my company endured years of mismanagement, I finally developed a routine for running a business overseas.
There's a way to balance everything out. It requires discipline, but by developing a schedule around your own rhythm, it can be accomplished. Here are my five secrets:
1. Know your optimal working hours.
This is the most important part of running a business overseas. You need to know when you work best and are the most productive. By knowing yourself, you can plan out your day for maximum productivity.
I work best in the mornings. Therefore I do as much work as possible before lunch, then head out to sightsee and enjoy happy hours. I save my "busywork,” such as emails and comments, for after dinner when I want to do a few things before heading out for the evening.
2. Create a schedule.
Maintaining a schedule on the road is tough since you're always moving. But creating one, even if you can’t adhere to it all the time, will enable you to batch your work onto certain days, make your to-do list more manageable and free up time for all the fun stuff that comes with traveling.
3. Take a day off from the road.
Dedicate a day to work. Develop a routine whereby every few days, you sit down and only focus on work. This will help you catch up on things and free your mind from thinking about emails while you're out sightseeing.
Your mind can’t be in two places at once. I found that out while in the Galapagos once, when all I could think about was work, prompting me to enjoy the trip a lot less than if I could give it my undivided attention.
When I returned, I knew something had to change. I decided then that I would devote every fourth day solely to work. This has let me focus on where I was and be a lot happier while still getting work done.
4. Just say no.
This operates on two fronts: First, say no to things that don’t help your core business. It’s easy to say yes to interviews, guest posts, phone calls and the like, but when you're traveling and working, every second of your day matters.
If something won't push your business forward, don’t say yes simply out of courtesy. Learn to say no.
Second, learn to say no to people you meet on the road. They are probably traveling on vacation and not at that moment running a business like you are. They have a ton of time and will always be trying to encourage you to go out. Resist. There will always be another night to party. Staying in one night isn’t the end of the world.
5. Plan ahead.
I’m a planner and a list maker. This allows me to prepare for periods when I might not be able to go online or I am too busy enjoying life. Keep a calendar, plan and use the days dedicated to work to stay on top of your schedule. Don’t be reactive: Be proactive. Use every moment.
Through planning, I’ve been able to stay ahead in my work and go offline with ease. When I traveled through Africa a few years ago, I didn’t worry about my website. I had prewritten blog posts and scheduled messages on Facebook and Twitter so if I couldn’t get online, my content would still be updated. Planning ahead can reduce stress.
Using these four techniques, you can develop habits to help block out distractions that can deter you from reaching business goals. It’s harder to maintain discipline on the road but not impossible. Have your cake and eat it, too.