Staying productive and focused when you work location independent can be hard. To maintain financial stability, you work on many different projects simultaneously. You don’t have a fixed number of working hours per day (flexibility does have its cons at times), and you try to balance travel with taking care of your kids. Scheduling, keeping an overview and maintaining your productivity are therefore crucial. When you have a few hours to work, you need to kill it. No time for slacking! Keeping your focus and motivation might be an even bigger challenge if you are in a different timezone than your clients.
Productive, efficient and focused
I found a way to be productive, efficient and focused by using only free tools and easy-to-implement productivity and motivation systems. I’m happy to explain my method, so you can use this strategy and become a successful digital nomad as well.
By the way, my system can also come in handy if you work from home or are a freelancer hassling jobs for several clients.
After reading this blog post, you know:
- which tools to use and how
- how to prioritize
- how to schedule realistic
- how to keep your focus
- how to stay motivated
- what to do when you feel overwhelmed
Dump all your to do’s in one place
The first thing you should do is find a single location where you can drop all your to do’s. I use the free version of Evernote. For all the projects I’m working on (at the moment, 5), I’ve made a notebook.
I also have multiple notes with headings like ‘To do’s Project X’. You can bookmark these notes (it’s called ‘Add to Shortcuts’), so you can easily access them through the menu bar at the top of your Evernote dashboard. For me, it looks like this:
Evernote for all my ideas
I also use Evernote to collect ideas and interesting articles.
With tags, I order my notes within a project (notebook). For example, for this website, I have a notebook called ‘dnwk’, and in it, I collect interesting articles about working remote (tag ‘work remote’) and road schooling (tag ‘road schooling’). It’s that simple!
The Evernote web clipper is the perfect add-on for easily adding webpages to your Evernote notebooks. I definitely recommend you using this tool!
Synchronized with smartphone
If you use your smartphone frequently (which digital nomad doesn’t’?!), then install the Evernote app and place a widget on your first screen. Go to settings (the settings icon in the right corner) and select ‘Shortcuts’ in the first drop-down menu.
Now all your to do’s for every different project are together in one place and you can access them both on your smartphone and laptop.
It is in Dutch, but in the first drop-down menu, select ‘Shortcuts’.
The result is something like this:
Evernote widget on your smartphone, for easy access to your most important notes
Stay organized while working on several projects
Once you have all your to do’s in one place, it’s time for scheduling. I use Google Calendar. It’s free and – just as with Evernote – it synchronizes both on your smartphone and laptop. For using Google Calendar, you need a Gmail account, but I think there’s a fair chance you have one.
Google Calendar for easy scheduling
In Google Calendar, you can make multiple calendars. This is what you should do:
- Make a calendar for every project
- Give every calendar a short name (I use abbreviations) and a different color, so you can easily recognize them (not 6 shades of blue, but yellow, green, red, etc.)
- Start adding to do’s — but first, you need to know some things about scheduling realistic
My Google Calendar looks like this at the moment:
A peak in my Google Calendar. I have a monthly view, but you can also use weekly or daily. And on the left are my projects. I can also check my husband’s calendar. Most of my tasks are in Dutch by the way.
The next question is: how do you know which to do’s you should add in your calendar every day? There are a few prioritizing systems that can help you stay focused and productive.
1. Eat that frog
Start your day with the task you dread. When completed, your day will feel productive already. If you only have to do’s you like: good for you! Start working on the one that is the most urgent or the one that requires the most focus, because early in the day, you’ll have the most energy and best concentration.
2. Eisenhower quadrant
Divide your to do’s in
- not urgent+important,
- urgent+not important,
- not urgent+not important.
When done, prioritize accordingly with urgent+important on top.
3. The 1-3-5 method
Choose 1 big task, 3 medium tasks, and 5 mini-tasks to do on one day.
In my opinion, “1-3 method” is better: choose 1 big task and 3 smaller tasks. The one big task is probably the task in the urgent+important quadrant, and it might even be the frog from eat that frog, so get it done first thing in the morning. Use the other 3 smaller tasks to fill the rest of your day.
I prefer 1-3 because I would never have enough time to finish 9 tasks a day. I always have the feeling there are not enough hours in a day. Martine Ellis had a great podcast about this, and she recommends selecting a max of 3 tasks for one day. In my experience, 1 big task and 3 small tasks are doable, but obviously, it depends on your available work hours per day.
The bottom line is that you should schedule realistic. It is the most important step in becoming a productive, efficient ánd motivated digital nomad. Don’t think you can finish a particular task in two hours if you always need four. If you do, you’ll feel exhausted and frustrated at the end of every single day.
There’s only one way to come out of this frustration: by scheduling realistic.
You see a theme here right? 😉
Step 1 in scheduling realistic
The first step is tracking your time. This gives you a better idea of:
- your number of working hours
- how long tasks take
You might think you know how many working hours you have, but let me ask you: if your kids are with your partner/nanny/daycare for 4 hours, do you really think you have 4 working hours?
Setting up your laptop, getting a coffee, going to the toilet, it all takes time. And how about the time you need to start a new task? It might be a couple of minutes, but it adds up.
Tip for tracking your time
For scheduling realistic, you need to know how much time you EFFECTIVELY work. And then you need to know exactly how much time you need to complete a certain task. It is useless to hope you can do it faster the next time. You might, and then you’re lucky. Celebrate that extra time with relaxing or go on to your next task. But if you did not finish the work quicker and you counted on it, you’ll get back in that negative spiral of frustration and stress.
If you’ve never tracked your time before, you should be very specific in the beginning. Use a tool like Toggl and add task descriptions. Do this for a few weeks, and you’ll learn so much!
5 Google Calendar tips for better scheduling
Now that you can schedule realistic, you can use the productivity systems mentioned to fill your calendar. Some more tips for efficient use of your Google Calendar:
- For recurring tasks, make one event and put it on repeat.
- If you don’t have specific time slots in which you can work, don’t schedule tasks for precise times, but add them for the whole day.
- If a project has priority, only tick that calendar in the left menu, so you can quickly see which tasks are more important.
- Use the abbreviation “DL” before the task description for signifying that you have a deadline on that day.
- If you know that finishing one task will take several days, you have two options:
- divide this big task into multiple small ones and schedule these small ones as separate events spread out over several days,
- or make one big task and set it to cover several days.
Keep your focus
You have a realistic schedule with a list of to do’s. The next step is to work with focus.
You start with shutting down your smartphone, social media, and email notifications. Then, sit down and tell yourself ‘now I’m going to work on x’. This may seem stupid, but it works. Staying focused and motivated is a mental thing, so be firm with yourself.
Use the Pomodoro technique to keep your focus. This means 25 minutes of hard and efficient work, and then a 5-minute break. During that short break, you might come up with better ideas or a solution to a problem you couldn’t find. And when returning to your work, you have a new sight on what you were doing.
How to stay motivated as a remote worker?
No colleagues, no boss that looks over your shoulder, and no fixed working hours to say ‘okay I’m done’ at the end of the day. How then do you stay motivated when you work from anywhere? Two things will help:
1. Visualize your dream
The most significant ‘trick’ is imagining your dream. If you have a specific idea about what you want in life, for yourself and for your family, you can work toward reaching this goal. If I feel demotivated about a frog I don’t want to eat, I think about our higher goal. This gives me the boost I need to get the work done.
So take a moment and ask yourself: what is my higher goal? What do you want to achieve for you and your family? Think big! And then only do things that can make this dream come true. This will keep you going.
2. Reward yourself
Another great way to stay motivated is by ticking off tasks you’ve completed. It is a bit of a mind fuck because you can also delete them from your Google Calendar, but seeing the list of completed tasks will give you an energy boost.
You can also reward yourself with other little presents, like relaxing in the sun for a while or getting a snack. The downside is that you’ll be fat in no time. Also, once you sit down and relax it is even harder to get back to work. That’s why I recommend you to stick with rewarding yourself with a nice row of crosses.
When feeling overwhelmed
You probably know the feeling that you have too many things on your to-do list, too little hours in the day, and your motivation and focus are long gone. Visualizing your dream only helps until a certain point. When you feel overwhelmed (and this may happen often), go back to your Google Calendar for a quick and dirty cleansing.
Start with this week and delete all the tasks that are not important and not urgent (see the Eisenhower quadrant mentioned earlier). When in doubt, move the to-do to your list of tasks in Evernote. In that way, it’s still there, but it’s not haunting you through your calendar.
Reschedule realistically – again – and again
At the end of this cleaning process, make sure you only have 1 big task and 3 mini-tasks on every day that you have time to work. Remember, be realistic! If you know upfront that you won’t have a lot of time on a certain day (e.g. because of traveling, sightseeing or taking care of the kids), then schedule 1 mini-task. It sucks, I know, but there are only 24 hours in a day, and there are plenty of other things to do besides work.
Your feelings of being overwhelmed and frustrated will likely be gone once you have made a more realistic schedule. Prioritization is thereby essential, so stick to doing what’s most important.
What to do when you didn’t finish your tasks?
In the best case scenario, you’ve made a genuinely realistic schedule and finished every job on your calendar at the end of the day. Whahaha LOL. Even when being realistic, there will always be surprises. Some tasks take more time than you expected, there is an issue with the WiFi, a client has an urgent job, or you unexpectedly need to take care of your kids.
If you have some tasks left on your to-do list, move them to another day. It’s a pity, but there is no other solution. Do keep in mind your prioritization, so maybe some tasks can be deleted or moved back to your long list of to do’s in Evernote.
Scheduling is an ongoing learning process
Staying focused and motivated, scheduling realistic and keeping your productivity; it’s all a learning process. You’ll feel frustrated, overwhelmed or stressed at times, but if you go back to the techniques and methods I just presented, you’ll do fine in no time.
Also, this method works for me, but maybe not for you. It’s personal, so pick the helpful tips from this post and make good use of it. In the end, it doesn’t matter if your to do’s are in Evernote and Google Calendar, or in whichever tool you may prefer.
For all the peeps feeling overwhelmed by all these tips and systems, here’s an overview of the most relevant information:
- Collect all your to do’s in one place (e.g. Evernote)
- Schedule realistic – only 1 big thing every day!
- Track your time so you can plan realistic
- Focus on what’s urgent and important (Eisenhower quadrant)
- Start the day with eating the frog
- Keep your dream in mind when feeling demotivated or when you lose your focus
- Stay productive with the Pomodoro technique
- Be firm to yourself in committing to the things on your schedule
Did you find some useful tips and methods here? I would love to hear your feedback!
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