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Sometimes I really suck at being productive while traveling full-time. I blame it on the golden age of Netflix. Season 2 of Narcos came out last week! How am I supposed to get anything productive done when Pablo Escobar is blowing up Medellin?
None the less, I still find a way to be semi-productive while traveling.
In the past two and a half years of full-time travel, we’ve traveled to all 50 states, a few Canadian provinces, and a ton of national parks.
Workwise, we’ve managed to film our first documentary, be featured on a lot of national media, write an ebook about working on the road, launch a #1 Travel podcast in iTunes, film a TV show episode on GAC, learn how to operate a camera and build our entire income around working with film clients, and now I’m currently launching a new software startup called CampgroundBooking.com.
I’m not saying we are productivity gurus. If you checked our Netflix queue, we’d look more like a teenage nerd who has watched every single episode of all the Marvel and DC shows (FYI The Flash and Arrow come back to Netflix during the first week of October).
But if I were to muster up some advice on how to stay productive while traveling, here are a few things I’ve learned over the past couple years.
Side note: Even though we live full-time in an RV, we also travel by plane often for work. I included some productivity tips for plane nomads as well.
1. Quit trying to multi-task.
“How many tabs do I have open?”
A few months ago I realized I had well over 20 tabs open in Google Chrome. This was a symptom of a much bigger problem — multi-tasking. I can’t do it. I know some people are good at it. I’m not.
I started being more intentional on focusing on thing at a time. This means not checking email or Facebook intermittently between writing a blog or editing a podcast. I still get sidetracked on a daily basis but have made a lot of progress.
The first step to getting better is admitting there is a problem. And believe me, we all have this problem.
Quit trying to multi-task. You probably aren’t as good at is as you think.
Movement doesn’t mean momentum and activity doesn’t mean progress.
2. Use a time tracker
After realizing I’m awful at managing my time, I downloaded a free app called “hours“. Hours lets me create project categories and subcategories.
For example, here are a few categories where I spend a lot of my time.
- Editing podcast episodes
- Writing book
- Client work
If I’m going to be working on a client project for an hour, I simply click the “client work” button and it starts tracking. When I’m finished or take a lunch break, I stop the timer. Surprisingly, I’ve been decent at keeping up with my hours now that I have an app keeping me accountable.
We don’t get paid hourly for any projects (which is the actual purpose of the app), but this helps me focus on one thing at a time. I made a mental promise to myself that if I said I would be working on a client project, I wouldn’t be checking Facebook or email.
I’ve been using the Hours app since May, here are a few things it’s taught me:
- I don’t work as much as I originally thought. I define work as “intentionally working on a singular project”. While I might have been sitting at my computer for 8-10 hours a day, a lot of those hours weren’t actually productive work hours. They were aimless — checking email, social media, and reading random trending articles.
- Tracking my hours motivates me to get things done more efficiently. A typical podcast episode takes me 30 minutes to remove “ums” and background other noise. Each time I sit down to edit another show, I try to beat my last time. Just like trying to beat the estimated ETA on your GPS.
- I’m terrible at gauging how long it takes me to get things done. My daily to-do lists used to be unreasonably long and I never got around to finishing all of them. This made me feel unproductive and stressed. I wanted to feel ambitious, but I was really just being unreasonable. Using Hours has helped give me a realistic timetable for all the projects I’m working on. I can a lot a reasonable amount of time for any given project and account for meetings, breaks, and random Netflix breaks.
Note: I’m not sponsored by or affiliated with the Hours Time Tracking app. It’s been a game changer for me and the only reason I use this app over others is that it’s free. ?
3. Use offline mode to strategize and work “on the business”
Occasionally on an airplane or when boon-docking our RV out in the boonies, we won’t have any service. This used to stress me out, but I’ve realized there is a lot of work that can take place in offline moments.
For example, it gives me time to focus “on the business”. If you’ve ever read The E-Myth, the author talks about the difference between working on the business VS. in the business.
Working in the business is executing on all the day-to-day tasks that allow your business to operate. Example: What do I need to get done today? What clients do I need to call?
Working on the business is long-term strategy and planning. Example: Are we making decisions that align with our long-term goals? What do the next six months look like for us?
The gift of being offline is to be distraction free and actually work on the business. It’s so easy to get sucked into email and tasks when you’re online. I’ve found offline is the perfect time to think big.
4. Take intentional time off to enjoy your travels
I struggle to take time off and enjoy new places. At twenty-five years old I feel like I’m in a crucial phase of my life. I need to hustle. I need to wake up early, stay up late, and constantly be on the move.
My biggest stress point of travel isn’t driving an RV through a busy city rush hour, but leaving behind my Macbook to go hike in a national park.
It sounds ridiculous, but it’s a real struggle for me.
Fortunately, I married a girl who tells me to shut up and enjoy the journey. Alyssa daily encourages me to take time off and enjoy the journey. Every time I take an afternoon off for a hike, kayak, or exploration of a new town, I never regret it. I come back to my work the next day feeling energized and inspired.
Taking time off to enjoy new places is my reminder for why we chose this life in the first place.
We didn’t leave Austin and our cubicle life to sit in an RV dinette 24/7. We left to explore, see new places, and operate outside our comfort zone.
I don’t believe we’ll ever have a perfect balance, but we strive for something close.
5. Find your quiet time (early or late)
Early morning people claim that waking up at 5 am is the best way to be productive.
Night owls say that 3 am is the golden hour of productivity.
I don’t think it matters when you do your work. But I’ve found there is a ton of value in being awake during a period of the day where the world is mostly quiet.
We live in a world of constant dings, alerts, and texts that are bombarding us at every moment. I’ve found my most productive time is on the weekends. During the morning time, I’m not expecting emails from clients, so I can focus on getting things done.
Find your quiet time to crank.
6. Try like crazy not to check Facebook or email first thing in the morning
It’s hard, I know. Our instincts want us to click on the Facebook or Email app as soon as we wake up. What if Jimmy Kimmel sent me an email and invited me to be on his show overnight? What if the offer was only valid for one hour and I had to respond immediately?
I’ve found that when I get sucked into the social media whirlwind in the morning it totally kills my morning productivity. It doesn’t put me in the best mental state to attack my day. Instead of focusing on what I’m going to create that day, I’m reading about Taylor Swift’s squad and wondering why I haven’t been invited to join.
Overconsumption of social media never makes us feel good. Creation and progress do make us feel good.
7. Don’t obsessively check stats
As a blogger and podcaster, I log into my ConvertKit and Libsyn dashboard more than I’d like to admit.
Stats are for vanity, not for creating.
Stats make me focus on the wrong thing — what people think of me vs. what value I’m providing or what I’m creating.
I’ve found the more I focus on page views on my blog, the less I’m working to create valuable content.
8. Use flight delays and RV fill up times (20 minute time periods) to respond to emails
Sometimes while we’re waiting on a flight or someone to fill up our RV gas tank (we’re in Oregon right now and they don’t let normal people pump gas), I try to knock out emails or respond to Facebook comments.
I used to get sucked into bigger projects during short periods of time. I would start working on a blog during a twenty-minute time window and then be stressed when we had to hit the road again and I wasn’t finished. This was counterproductive.
Knocking out a few emails during down moments is a great way to get a few small things done during travel days.
9. Front load work when you’re visiting a new place or friends are visiting
Earlier this summer, Alyssa’s family flew up to Canada to spend a week with us in Banff National Park. Since this was a one week vacation for them, they wanted to make the most of their trip. Alyssa and I used to working half the day and then playing half the day. But when you’re on vacation, you play 100% of the time.
Since we knew this would be the case, we front-loaded a bunch of our work before they came. This way, we could take off a few days and enjoy our time with them.
10. Constantly ask yourself, “Am I doing THE most important work?”
I stole this from The Four-Hour Workweek. It’s a very practical way to stay on track while you’re working. Throughout the day I’ll stop and ask myself, “Am I doing the most important work? Am I doing work that is going to bring me closer to my biggest goals?”
If the answer is no, I’ll stop what I’m doing and work on something more important.
11. Know the difference between growing your social presence and tinkering around on social media
I started a Facebook group called Make Money and RV that has close to 3,000 members in it. I love this community and take time to answer questions and build relationships with people in this group. This group has been a great resource for creating valuable content on my blog and podcast.
However, I’m only one click away from binge reading a series of the latest Hilary VS. Trump news articles. There is a fine line between using social media to grow your business and using social media to procrastinate.
12. Quit working once you hit your daily goals
Sometimes I will check everything off my to-do list and keep working. But I’m not really working, I’m half-working and half-watching Netflix. Really, I’m not being productive but I tell myself I’m working hard. How stupid is this? It’s a grey work area. I might get a couple emails sent out, but I’m not really working on anything of value.
I’ve started taking time off once I hit my daily goals. This way, I’m either working or I’m not. There is no grey area.
13. Listen to podcasts and audiobooks vs. the radio
Alyssa and I drive for a living. We aren’t truckers, but we’ve covered just as many miles as most truckers over the past few years. You can only listen to Taylor Swift’s Red album so many times before you break. Diving into audiobooks and podcasts has helped me fill our long drive days and still feel semi-productive. I’m learning vs. simply killing time.
14. Do work that scales
A tweet goes away in ten seconds. Most blogs are read for a week and then fall into the archives. Books can last for years, decades or longer. Youtube videos that are entertaining or valuable can generate views for years. One of the best ways to be productive while traveling is to figure out which work scales (aka can be automated and provide results when you aren’t working).
Last year I created a free seven-day course on how to travel full-time on $2k/month. The course is everything Alyssa and I learned during our first year of RVing on how to travel on a budget. Every month, 300-400 people enroll in that free course. Once they enroll, they receive seven emails that are sent to them over the course of one week. This course goes out, whether I’m sleeping, driving, or on a plane.
It works for me while I’m not working.
15. Get an unlimited internet plan
For two very sad years, we traveled full-time with 8 gigs of monthly data on Verizon. We hit up local Starbucks when we needed to Skype with clients and upload videos. It was a pain to find great internet at RV parks and on the go.
Earlier this spring we invested in an unlimited internet plan from Technomadia’s Mobile Resource Center and it’s made all the difference. We blow through ten times as much data, but we get a lot more work done on the fly.
Staying Productive While Traveling
Ultimately, a lot of the same rules to productivity apply whether you’re traveling or staying put. The opportunities to waste time are still as prevalent as ever. Netflix and Facebook will always call. It’s a constant battle to strike a balance. I haven’t figured it out, but hope some of these tips can help you as you’re trying to get work done.
Great tips, Heath. Staying productive is a challenge for many (most?) “solopreneurs” and it can be tougher when you’re on the road because there are so many great things calling for your attention. Focusing in on the really important work, getting it done, and then focusing on relaxation is so much more rewarding than constantly being somewhere between working and playing. 🙂
Absolutely agree Don! 🙂 thanks for reading!
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