Work-life balance is incredibly important to each and every one of us. The maintenance of your mental health, your physical health and your inner sense of wellbeing, is something that is vital to you reaching your full potential. We know this, but we still overlook attaining balance in our lives, downgrading it in our priority lists in favour of more seemingly pressing matters like securing clients, building extensive professional networks, and facilitating those winning collaborations that take our businesses and work lives to the next level.
Being committed to achieving your goals is commendable, but a poorly balanced life can lead to relationship problems, health problems and maybe even the dreaded ‘burn out’ which whispers through the remote working community. Nobody wants to talk about it, but it’s a very real issue. We don’t talk about it because we’re proud; we shout from the rooftops about our decision to leave conventional working lives behind as we enjoy all the visual delights the world has to offer, taking in more culture in one year than some people do in a lifetime. But at what cost? Now don’t get me wrong, the purpose of this article is not to lecture or whine and complain. We are about the solution rather than the problem, so whilst we will be briefly discussing some of the major challenges that we face as a community, we’re going to focus on giving you some ‘keys’ that will help to unlock a balanced life that stimulates your natural creativity and ensures that you draw the very best from this lifestyle.
We have spoken to a variety of excellent people to pull together the most top quality information for you with input from Gail Kinman who is a Professor of Occupational Health Psychology based at the University of Bedfordshire has been studying work-life habits for years and years. I’ve also had a chance to catch up with Tomas Laurinavicius who is a lifestyle entrepreneur and blogger from Lithuania, and has been enjoying remote living for a number of years and recently spent several months traveling with the Tribe. Johannes who is the founder of NomadCruise.com has some top tips to give us as well and last but never least, I’ve also caught up with Diego Bejarano Gerke who is one of our founders at WiFi Tribe to give us the lowdown on how travelling in a community can alleviate some of the pressures that we’ll be talking about as well. By the end of this article you’ll be full to the brim of intellectual and practical knowledge to apply to your own journey.
So get a cup of tea, relax and take it all in.
Key #1 - Know Thyself (and thy Stress Triggers!)
I am extremely passionate about people enjoying their lives and embarking on a personal journey to live life to the full. We want to hold the remote working banner high as a sustainable way to live, but if we too, have inadvertently become slaves to our computers, slaves to the next contract and wrapped up in a different kind of rat race, then we’re no further forward than our corporate counterparts. Now a little bit of temporary stress is not going to do you too much harm; it’s natural to come under pressure at certain points in life. But prolonged periods of stress will eventually have a negative impact on both your physical and emotional health.
As remote workers, one of the main issues which is known to us and was highlighted by Professor Kinman was that technology never sleeps, and we live in a culture of being ‘constantly switched on’. Kinman said that although the remote life we all lead is exciting, the danger is that sometimes we don’t actually feel that we need to switch off until it’s too late and you’ve already gone crazy. We throw ourselves into this way of living with no idea about what our stressors are; we’ve not taken time to address our deepest fears, concerns and limitations that could prevent us from approaching the nomad life in a balanced way.
So what happens, is that while we are on our adventures, our stress points come under fire, we don’t recognise the triggers in our minds and in our bodies, and we explode in some way. Now imagine, that we’d taken the time to search ourselves and figure out that when you are feeling angry for example, it’s because you’re anxious about your next contract. Or you notice that your back starts to become stiff or is hurting and you know it’s because the last time that happened you had so much work on, you didn’t even remember to eat, you weren’t sleeping and you hadn’t actually relaxed in days, weeks even.. (I would NEVER forget to eat, but I know some of you folks are out there!)
Knowledge is power. If you know what your weak points are, you can prepare for them.
What does that look like? Well your back twinges and you sit up and pay attention. Have you taken on too much? Is your diary completely out of control? Are you anxious for a proper reason or do you just need to organise your thoughts better? Is that work you’re doing, really worth how much it’s drawing out of you; is the whole thing a fair exchange across the board?
Knowing yourself and the kinds of circumstances that cause you to become stressed is a big part of this journey to work-life-balance. The beautiful quote above from Tomas sums it up in a way that speaks to a person’s soul. Know yourself. Master yourself. Knowing what you need to stay healthy and balanced is the top priority which is why we’ve made it the first key.
Ways to know thyself include, meditation, mindfulness exercises, journaling your thoughts and your feelings. I’m a writer so I always find a level of comfort in taking the mess of my mind and splashing it down on paper or computer paper, whatever works. But perhaps you’re a deep thinker and you just need to be somewhere quiet. Tomas had this to say: “my past experiences burning out remind me that work-life-balance is vital. To keep myself sane I meditate, keep a journal, read, write and workout. These things help me keep my mind and body in shape. I use the Oak app for meditation, The Five Minute Journal for journaling…”
However you do it, it’s an essential part of avoiding burnout because prevention is better than cure, and it is easier to maintain a healthy mind and body, than it is to drag a mind and body out of a desperate pit of mental and physical exhaustion.
Key #2 - Limit Worry
Worry can be controlled, and our ability to control how it affects us will directly impact our ability to achieve balance in life. The nomadic remote working lifestyle can lead to constant worry; you’re thinking about where your next contract is coming from, staying flexible for your existing and potential clients, working across different time zones and delivering work of a high quality. And of course, add to that all of the worries that you would have working for in any job or company.
Here’s the science behind it: Constant worry and negative thinking patterns are known in the industry as ‘rumination’. It can cause a wide variety of negative physical and emotional effects in a human being. Kinman reminds us that worry can elevate a person’s heart rate and their blood pressure. Stress and worry also activates the prefrontal cortex in our brains which stops us from being creative. For a lot of us, the jobs we do are rooted in some kind of creativity so if our prefrontal cortex is activated for a long period of time, we are going to find ourselves very quickly trapped in a cycle of stress and anxiety.
So how do we deal with it?
Well not all worry is bad. Don’t get us wrong, thinking about work is not in itself a bad thing but how you worry does matter. So if you’re in bed and you’re worrying about the tasks you have to do for the next day and it’s regularly sucking the joy out of everything, the technique recommended by Professor Kinman is to have a ‘designated worry time’ where you write a list of all the tasks you need to do, and you have a set time to think about that. Then you put it down and get on with your day. At the end of the day for example or a couple of days later, look back at the list of stressors and take stock of things; chances are quite a few of the things that have been stressing you out would have sorted themselves out; either the task got completed, or in the natural course of your daily life, you sorted out that thing without even thinking too hard. What this exercise will do over time, is train your brain not to give way to worry and panic as you prove to yourself that most things we worry about either never happen, or we sort them out.
Now then, if you have a million and one tasks to do in a day and no time to do them, Johannes recommends that you learn the art of delegation. “Learn to delegate as soon as possible. Get a VA so you have loads of time to focus on the things you can do best and grow your business.” Get someone else to help you lift the burden and thereby negate the need to worry yourself into an early grave.
If hiring somebody isn’t an option, then get ruthless with your tasks and don’t be afraid to say no to things that aren't right for where you are at!
Key #3 - Take Time Out
Taking time out, means you take time out. Close the laptop. Put your phone on a “do not disturb” setting and do something entirely non-work related. Tomas and Johannes love a bit of sport and working out so they both recommended that kind of activity...aiiieeek. Me and gyms aren’t friends but they are right. If going to the gym or playing a sport is not your thing, then try things like colouring for adults, going for a walk somewhere beautiful. What it needs to do, is take your mind off of work so get out there and do something.
Professor Kinman confirmed that it doesn’t need to be something spectacular, but the little bits of respite you get away from work need to be regular and sustainable, so if you aren’t used to this idea of self-care where you take an active approach to scheduling in time for yourself, then start small. Maybe go with 15-20 minutes of meditation and 30 minutes of colouring, or a 30 minute walk at lunchtime; just think about easy tasks you can immediately incorporate into your day and build from there.
For co-founder, Diego, WiFi Tribe was actually no more than that at first. He was looking for a way to bring back balance to his life, and a big part of that was simply to take quality time off. For him, that meant being more adventurous – doing activities that would be engaging enough to keep his mind fully in the moment. “The Tribe has become my adventure accountability buddy. Being surrounded by people that want something similar for their lives, helps me make adventuring a solid habit, whether that is exploring a renowned restaurant in Medellin with fellow foodies, or quad-biking down a desolate beach with a gang of adrenaline-junkies.”
As an added bonus point, taking time out can also mean that whilst you’re at work, doing a task that just refuses to come together, Kinman suggest that instead of getting really stressed out, try doing a different task, like an organisation task which uses a different part of your brain; it sort of acts like pressing a reset button. Then go back to the task you were doing. That should keep stress levels down and productivity levels up. And no...before you ask, looking at social media for your own personal enjoyment does not count.
Key #4 - Get your working environment right
The reason I say this is because when our working environment is not configured to our needs properly, we become less productive. When we are less productive, we achieve less and the to do list very quickly becomes too long and very burdensome, which then adds to us getting stressed out and falling into the trap of pushing our self-care to one side as we try to catch up with everything. From speaking to the experts about this, there’s a couple of main things that go into getting your working environment sorted; location and equipment.
One thing that remote workers need to do, even though they aren’t in a conventional office environment, is intentionally experiment with various working set ups and find locations that suit them. Diego Bejarano Gerke, co-founder of WiFi Tribe, had an interesting viewpoint to add to this discussion;
Perhaps you’re staying in a hostel right now and that may be working for you, which is cool, but what Diego is getting at is that your location matters. It’s the first step to building a working environment that actually draws productivity out of you and how it will look is different for everyone.
Professor Kinman suggests that renting a coworking space is a good idea, not just for the companionship side of things, which I’ll discuss later on, but also because when you’re around productive people, it inspires you to be productive as well. In complete contrast, though, you might work best by the sea or in the jungle in a calm, tranquil, serene kind of space. Diego, for example, likes working in a nice cafe. He gets his nice comfy chair, nice coffee, and that works for him. I’m a Brit so I normally get loads of stuff done when I’m tucked away in a corner of my local pub, with a mug of hot chocolate in my hand and my music in my ears. When I want to be at home I sit at my desk with my lamp, my water, notepads, and it’s a designated space for working. For more help on creating a work sanctuary wherever you are check out a previous article here.
Now for a word of warning. If you can help it, NEVER work in the same place where you sleep. It’s all about the conditioning of your brain; we’re talking about location, and how certain locations make you feel more productive than others. When I sit down at my desk, and the music goes on, my brain preps me for working. When I get in my bed, my brain preps my body for relaxation and sleep. If I’m working in my bed for prolonged periods of time, firstly, my posture will go downhill very quickly, secondly, I run the risk of my brain getting confused and my bed becomes a useless place where I don’t sleep well because I am thinking about work, but I don’t work well because I’m thinking about sleeping. So it becomes a place of worry rather than a place to recuperate and rest. Long story short, don’t work in your bed. Leave that one space completely work-free unless you have absolutely no other choice.
The very nature of the remote working lifestyle is that you will experience new environments more often than the average person would. The location will inevitably change at some point and different geographical areas will have different places where you will feel comfortable enough to settle down and get things done. As you transition from place to place though, what will help you is having the right equipment which for the most part stays constant. It can be a sort of an anchor you can take with you wherever you go that triggers your productivity. Obviously, you’ll have a laptop and the things you’ll need for your work but I’m talking about creature comforts like noise cancelling headphones (see our top picks here). Diego says that no matter where he is, as soon as the headphones go on, it puts him straight into work mode and also has the added benefit of being a visual sign to others that you are unavailable to chit chat whilst you are working.
Other things may be really silly things like having a particular mug or using certain pens – essentially whatever apparatus you need to get you through your to-do list, that can become an ‘anchor of productivity’. Take advantage of different apps that help you to stay focused whilst working - check out our article on the top apps we use to kick ass when we’re working. We’ve also done an article on the top gadgets that will make life easier for digital nomads so check that out as well.
The reality is that, if we are not productive with the time we allocate to our work, then that time will need to be clawed back out of our leisure time, which is time that we need to reset and regenerate. So get your working environment right; it’ll 100% be worth it.
Key #5 - Get Connected
Travelling on your own is great, I’m not knocking it, but human beings are designed to connect with other people. This is why it is very likely that you will draw more from this lifestyle if you link in with others.
When I was interviewing Professor Kinman, she touched on something quite profound. This lifestyle could potentially leave us without meaningful relationships that have nothing to do with work. I would say that most of us are great at connecting with one another on a professional level. We want to support one another in our professional goals and so we build relationships that facilitate that. The danger here is that even our social lives become about professional networking so even when we think we’re building a social life, we’re guilty of not doing that properly because the interactions are still rooted in work. You guys can see where I’m going; that is not a balanced way of living this lifestyle. You will need both your professional and non-professional relationships to thrive. “Why?” I hear you ask. Well because eventually without those deep and meaningful relationships, you’ll find the whole nomadic experience to be quite empty after a while.
There are lots of different ways to get connected. Here at WiFi Tribe, yes, we also make the whole travel-working experience easier and less chaotic, but ultimately we are here to facilitate an environment where people can build deep meaningful relationships with one another and know what it really means to be part of a supportive, inspiring community. Other organisations like Remote Year, Wy_Co (formerly known as We Roam, Hacker Paradise and a handful of others, offer a similar lifestyle set up, each with their own missions and benefits. When you choose to live together with people as opposed to just going to meetups, or working in coworking spaces you add a completely different dimension to your remote working experience. Remote-working communities have the potential to give you a sense of family wherever you are, with relationships that you can count on having for years to come.
Clickable links for other remote communities mentioned are above, but if a WiFi Tribe experience has sparked your curiosity, you can find out how it works here.
Other ways of meeting new people could be via dating apps and meetups based on your hobbies and interests rather than your professional expertise. Nomad Cruise runs twice a year, bringing together over 200 digital nomads for a ‘workation’ filled with plenty of opportunities to grow professionally and build relationships on a personal level; it’ll be easy to do because you’ll be on a boat so there’s no excuse and you get the best of both. Either way the message is clear, get connected and stay connected.
So there you have it! 5 easier-said-than-done keys to build the kind of remote working life that will allow us to live this beautifully varied lifestyle in a sustainable way.
Take our advice and stay fruitful, fearless and free.
Add your two cents, and your comments below. Share this article with your friends both in the remote working community and outside of it. If you love this article and you want to see more of this sort of thing, comment below! Once again, massive thanks to all our experts who contributed to this article and took time out of their schedule to give all of us their top tips - we appreciate you.
Amanda Scott is the editor in chief for The Wifi Tribe blog and passionate about creating an excellent resource for remote workers near and far to draw from. When she's not editing and writing, she's either cooking, eating or reading a good book. You can never go wrong with a good book.