Picture the scene:
It’s early morning on a beach in Cape Town, South Africa and I’m sitting with my laptop drafting this blog post.
For the first time since I launced my website I thought I’d try working like this – like you see in sunny, happy photos of digital nomads – and I can’t say it’s working that well for me.
But surely it’s idyllic, I hear you say …
Oh yes! Cape Town is stunning and I’m having a fantastic month here – and I’m so fortunate that I can bring my coaching and VA businesses with me. This spot at Scarborough is magnificent, with Misty Cliffs just around the bay (living up to it’s name despite the clear blue skies) and early surfers already out to catch the waves.
But there are a couple of things about all this that ARE difficult.
Firstly, I was always curious about how people actually used their laptops and tablets on beaches – in the sunshine – because it doesn’t work for me. I can never see the screen well enough for a start if I’m outside in the sun! As it is I’m sitting in deep shade with a large font size set and viewing the page at 200% and I’m still struggling.
And how do you keep the sand out of your computer?
So working on a beach is probably not how I’d choose to work anyway, but there IS an awful lot to be said for what Marianne Cantwell calls ‘free ranging’ or what others refer to as being ‘location independent’. I don’t tend to use those terms to describe what I do when I explain it to people – I just say I’m freelance and self-employed and that I work wherever I am.
It’s something loads of people dream about, of course.
Working from home, being our own boss, picking and choosing when and how we work and what work we do all sounds great. Which it is. When it works out.
Barbara Winter calls it being ‘Joyfully Jobless’ and it’s true that by breaking out of the career cage we’re no longer tied to the 9 to 5 or going in to an office every day.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there are downsides to this way of working.
Like why I’m working at all when I’m actually supposed to be on holiday! Well, that’s because I accepted some work that then got delayed and because it’s time sensitive I’m doing it now. It’s not actually taking much of my time and I’ll soon be free to enjoy the rest of my day.
Whether you’d like to take your laptop on the road or just work from home, here are 4 things I’d definitely flag up:
- Organise your time/work schedule
Writing this blog while I’m away is a bonus for me and something I’m choosing to do, because that is one of the joys of this lifestyle – you can arrange your workload to suit yourself to a large extent (deadlines permitting). However, unless you work completely independently of anyone else you’ll have to fit in with other people and their schedules too.
For instance, some people work much better in the early hours of the morning or late at night, but unless you work alone you’ll need to do certain activities during normal office hours – like phone calls, emails and collaborative tasks. Though be aware of potential issues if you work across different time zones.
And don’t forget that working from home can mean you’re endlessly distracted from your work by all those other things that suddenly need to be done – from the washing up to catching up on box sets, cooking to collecting the kids. The temptation may be to just multitask your way through the day but you know how I feel about that, don’t you?
- Don’t cut yourself off
Marie Forleo makes a very good point:
“While the laptop lifestyle has tremendous benefits, one of the hidden dangers can be feelings of extreme loneliness, depression and isolation.”
So you have to work at building your support networks, at getting out and meeting people, networking with like-minded business owners who understand what you do and why. Look for events and Meetups in your area and try them out until you find the ones that suit you.
I got to know the guy who opened a deli and café just around the corner from me, at almost the same time I was starting up Wednesday Teatime – I’d call in for a great flat white and a chat about how things were going for us, spend some time working there to escape the confines of my kitchen table and even met my first clients there.
Remember there’s a double benefit to networking: you’re also marketing yourself and what you do (and people buy more from someone they know and trust).
- Act ‘as if’
However you describe yourself remember it’s still a ‘job’, it’s still how you earn your money and pay the rent. Take it seriously and act the part (including to yourself).
Build a routine for your work. Get dressed. Go to your ‘office’ (even if it’s just the kitchen table) and create a place that is clearly a WORK space. It’s far too easy to get distracted otherwise.
And don’t let friends and family encroach on your time. Sure, meet up for lunch or coffee like you would if you were in the office – but keep your boundaries clear or you’ll be working into the night to catch up. Or sacrificing time at the weekend when everyone else is having their down time (see point 1).
- Be clear
Both my businesses are the kind where there’s an expectation that you’re available all the time – and in the digital age it’s easy to look as if you are. We can schedule all kinds of things in advance, automate systems and so on; we can even employ someone else to do some of the work for us while we’re away (which is another reason I’m working at the moment). As well as being a coach I still do freelance administration and project management, working as a VA (virtual assistant) so that OTHER people can get their time on the beach.
You need to be very clear with yourself (as well as your clients) when you’re working and when you’re not. Having your smartphone always to hand can mean you’ll never be ‘out of the office’ – unless you choose to ignore emails and calls (or make sure those work ones get an auto-reply to say you’ll get back to them on the next working day or that they go straight to an appropriate voicemail).
So, if you’re a free ranging freelance nomad how do you manage things? I’d love to know!
Just before I go, here are a couple of useful links:
- Why be a modern nomad? A blog from I Heart Intelligence
- Hobo With A Laptop has a great directory with lists of job opportunities and the like.