How to Create your Sacred Working Space as a Digital Nomad
I love Thursdays because it’s when my favourite podcasters share their fresh new episodes. You know what I mean, fellow podcast-nerdie, right? But today it was special. One of the new podcast episodes triggered me very personally. Here’s the short story. The Strategy Hour Podcast’s freshest upload was about ‘Creating a Workspace that Inspires You’ and before I hit play, a question popped up in my mind: Ok, buuuuut, can this inspiring workspace fit in my luggage? Sorry, I haven’t properly introduced myself: when I wrote this, I was a digital nomad, and had been so for the previous 5 months. Therefore, the actual fact of having a physical workspace to go back to and feel inspired was… nonexistent. And if you’re reading this, you may be getting what I mean.
If you’re a digital nomad, or work remotely, you know that you don’t have a set workspace - you have a dozen. They can be the waiting area of an airport, a spot at your favourite air-conditioned little café, the dining table at your Airbnb or a sunbed in the shade. And we, digital nomads, like variety and non-commitment to a specific one, that’s why we’ve decided to be on the road my friend.
But sometimes, when I encounter a podcast like today’s, or I scroll down on Instagram and Pinterest and see those beautiful desks with lit-candles on top, ergonomic chairs and I can almost virtually smell the fresh flowers sitting on it - it’s in those moments that I dream about my workspace. However, to be honest, there’s those other moments when I don’t only dream about it, I desperately need a freaking inspiring workspace.
Yes, I’m talking about the moments when I cannot focus or I procrastinate on long tasks when the excuse of a lack of decent workspace kicks in. Because a corner table at my favourite café doesn’t cut it, as I feel awful sitting there for too long when I’ve only ordered a salad. And, you know, it’s not like I’m too hungry or thirsty to order every single dish on menu so I can justify me using that perfect little table for an extra 4 or 5 hours. I also desperately need my workspace when I’m working from my bed because I don’t have a chair in my room. And working from your bed is not as dreamlike as it sounds. I’ve made the effort to change into day-clothes but I’m still sitting on the same position as last night when I was watching ‘Suits’. Which, by the way, is only one click away. And I would loooooove to watch just one more episode. Maybe I can. Just one. I’ll just hit play, and I’ll finish work later. And, by the way, it’s raining outside. And it’s Fri-yay. I could finish the client’s proposal later, or on the weekend. Ok, just one more episode… You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s in those moments, when you need to get work done, that having an inspiring, creative and juice-boosting set-up would make you the happiest, most productive, #girlboss in the world.
It’s a universal truth (from this very moment) that digital nomads also need an inspiring workspace. One that we can fit in our suitcases. Or that we can re-create no matter where we are. One that fits our need for variety and flow, brings us inspiration and combats procrastination whenever we need it. We. Digital Nomads. Need. An. Inspiring. Workspace.
And I’m going to tell you one thing. You’ll get one today. I’m gonna share with you my exclusive tips and tricks to find your best workspace so you can run your business (and life) effectively as a digital nomad, and be 100% productive.
Firstly, who are you?
But before you get to know my tips, I want you to know you. It’s time you know more about yourself.
- What would you love your dream workspace(s) be like?
- What would you be surrounded with? Think of people, other entrepreneurs, holiday-makers, nature.
- What options would you need to have available? Maybe air-conditioning, yummy food or no distractions.
- Do you need privacy, or you want a buzzling surrounding? Think big, don’t restrict yourself.
- How do you feel most productive? Remember those moments when you were smashing tasks like a queen. Why were you feeling the flow? Was there anything you did or was it the place you were that had something to do with it?
- Do you need a different space depending on the task you’re doing? This is an essential question for me, because if I have to be in my Yin, writing a blog post or doing a creative task I need silence and space around me, whereas, for my Yang, when I need to hit a long list of ‘boring’ to-do’s I strive on having a bit more action around. Hitting a coffee shop for this would work, as I would have the self-imposed pressure of leaving the table for the next customer, and I would smash the to-do list in much less time than if I was just doing it from a sunbed.
Draw it, write about it, put together a board on Pinterest. Dream about it. Here’s a true story: A friend of a friend, her name is Asia, always dreamed about having an office in a café. So she could just order food and coffee from her actual office, not just a random table. Cut to few years later, and her office is set up in the top floor of a cool, trendy café in the city where she lives, and she can smell the freshly-grounded coffee every single day from her desk. Dream come true.
Let’s get clear: Not having a workspace is no excuse to procrastinate
Not only think of your inspiring and kick-ass nomad workspace from a physical perspective. Sometimes we use it as an excuse to procrastinate. To getting distracted. We tell ourselves that we don’t have the appropriate table, or fast internet connection, to work, and we end up victimising ourselves for unfinished work convincing us that we couldn’t get ‘in the zone’. Maybe you don’t do it, good on you! But most of us do (be honest with yourself). Being clear about what you need from your workspace, both mentally and physically, is going to EMPOWER you to get s*** done, to tune in into finding out where and how you feel more creative, so you can tap in whenever you need your creative juices guide you. You’ll end up making decisions like a #girlboss and comfortably paying for those extra green smoothie bowls (cause you’ll have more money coming in). Now we’re talking!
The ultimate 5 tips to creating your best workspace as a digital nomad
Here are my tips and experience in creating my sacred space working remotely, in the hopes that they spark new ideas for your digital nomad life:
1. Embrace the (digital) nomad spirit and shift surroundings
One of the reasons why you’re a digital nomad is that you like a regular change of scenery. But when you’re also running a business, working with one-on-one clients, have project deliveries or still need to edit this week’s Youtube video, you will do anything, I repeat, ANYTHING to make you be your most productive (without drugs, or chocolate, involved). In my experience, which was re-confirmed after reading Lorraine Murphy’s book ‘Get Remarkably Organized’, you can aid productivity and flow with a little magic formula: planning. Ok, ok, I promise it isn’t as dull as it sounds. And it’s totally related to your sacred working space.
First of all, you need to answer the questions above, and especially this one: Do you need a different space depending on the task you’re doing? Then, look at the week ahead and notice the tasks that you have to accomplish. For example, this week my main business tasks are: writing 4 blog articles, prepare and send my tax return (in Spain we do it quarterly) and review the briefing questionnaire with a new client, plus ongoing conversations with current clients. As I said before, I know that to write blog articles like this one, I (personally) need a quiet space around me, but to tackle the financial tasks and client emails, I could benefit from sitting in a cute café and smash it in 2 hours.
So, after looking at this week’s tasks, and knowing how I personally operate, I know that Monday, Wednesday and Friday (creative work) I will work from the dining table at my Airbnb or choose the quiet area at the coworking space I signed up for, whereas Tuesday and Thursday (tasks and financials) I’ll go to my fave café.
So, now, your turn: how can you apply this to you? Decide what type of workspace you need for the type of tasks that your job involve. Then, allocate those tasks throughout the week and decide what workspace will help you accomplish them. By doing this, you’ll realise you have more mental space to care about your business tasks and accomplish them feeling at your best.
2. When choosing coffee shops to work from, get in at the perfect time
I personally get a bit anxious when I’ve been sitting for too long in a café, working from my laptop, while people are coming in and they may (or may not) find a free table. On the other extreme, I was once sitting at Combi Café, in Byron Bay, eating my yummy Veggie Stack and reading a magazine, and I could see 5 other people, on their laptops, taking one table each. They seemed to be all working in the same team, and they were taking a third of the tables available at Combi. They looked so chilled, which made me think 1) they had been sitting there for an endless amount of hours and 2) they didn’t think for a moment they were doing anything wrong. And, to be honest, they 99% weren’t doing anything wrong. I just thought if only I could take a bit of their carefreeness and embrace my use of a table at a café for as long as I wished.
But if you’re like me, and don’t feel fully at home when working long hours from a coffee shop, I have a couple of tips. Go there first thing in the morning, or around lunch time. Both of them will cater different needs and structures. Let me explain.
If you go first thing in the morning, the café will most probably be empty, and you will not feel sorry for occupying a table, you’re just giving a reason for waiters having woken up early and gone to work that day (look at you, generous soul!). You’ll also have a quieter surrounding, so you can ‘eat your frog’ while sipping a chai latte. Once you did, you celebrate ordering breakfast and continue working for a bit longer, as now you’ve earned (and paid for) your place at that table. It will not be until later that the coffee shop will start receiving the late-risers and become crowded. But you already moved on!
Another option is going around lunch time, but a bit earlier than most people (1pm the latest). You’ll pay for your lunch, eat it, and then just focus on your screen as much as you need to smash your to-do list. Try not looking around as at 2pm the place will start to welcome more clients, but you, again, earned that place. Look only on your screen and keep typing. Funnily enough, this will help you focus: by looking super busy you’ll also be super productive. You know what they say, ‘fake it till you make it’. It works.
*These two ideal timings work in Bali, which is where I wrote this article from. Have an experience about the cafés in the area where you are and find out their quieter and busiest times. In big cities, first thing in the morning tends to be the busiest as people are getting in for their morning coffees. In those cases, try going after they’ve started their 9-5 jobs.
3. Don’t commit to one workspace, find two
Nowadays, wherever you look at, there’s a new coworking space. Which is awesome. Now, if you can, don’t get married at first sight, have a look around, get to know them personally by choosing the ones you get the best vibes from.
Then, switch things a little. In the coworking world, it’s the only area where I would agree on polygamy. But, listen, two is the perfect number. And I’ll tell you why.
One of the benefits of working from a coworking place is to be able to get to know other entrepreneurs or digital nomads like you. If you keep switching coworking locations, it will be difficult for you to establish a relationship with them. Whereas by showing up at two different spaces, you double your chances to meet people to connect with, but you’re still able to establish a rapport with them.
Choose two coworking spaces that will sparkle your creativity in different ways. For example, in the area where I’m at in Bali, Canggu, there’s quite a few coworking spaces. This time, I’ve chosen two: Dojo Bali and Thirdspace (update: now permanently closed). Both of them are super different. Dojo can host around an unbelievable number of digital nomads, their social agenda is filled with events and they even have a swimming pool. Thirdspace is in a more quiet area, is smaller and really beautifully decorated (my dream workspace would totally suit this style). In terms of energy, I would say Dojo is more masculine, Yang, and Thirdspace is more Yin or feminine. Then what? Easy. To do a creative task and be super inspired, I choose Thirdspace. To tackle tasks, being surrounded by dozens and dozens of coworkers typing like mad people, I’d go to Dojo.
Research what type of workspaces there are in the area you’re at. Google, or check out Nomadlist. Enquire in Facebook Groups. Then, check them out and get the vibe. Make a mental note.
4. Plan your workload by tasks, not by hours
I find that one of the most difficult areas of running your own business as a digital nomad is to be productive while enjoying what your surroundings have to offer. After experimenting different ways of organizing my workload so I can find balance between productivity and life-enjoyment, and be successfully achieving everything I want, I’ve discovered a magical formula. Wanna know?
First, you need to get a flow of things. Let me explain. If you’ve been running your own business for a while now, you know how long it takes you to do certain tasks. Keep that in mind. Then, instead of organising your weekly schedule (remember: planning!) in terms of worked hours, do it by tasks. Allocate tasks throughout the week so you make sure you get them all done. Some days, you’ll smash them in less than expected and will be free to enjoy a surf or get sunbathing time at 12pm, other days you’ll be working until 8pm. How does it look like? Instead of making you sit at your desk from 9 till 5, do whatever you want to do once you wake up, start working whenever you feel like, but always make sure you accomplish the tasks you planned.
And let me tell you one thing, having in the back of your mind that the sooner you get your tasks done, the sooner you’ll be able to do whatever else you want to do, will do nothing but help you focus and be super efficient with your time.
If after some time, you see that you’re accomplishing tasks faster or slower than you have been planning them, tweak things and reallocate. But remember one thing, it’s all about balance. Don’t get too comfortable, and make sure you’re driving your business forward towards your big vision. But also remember that you need switch-off and re-sourcing time to find inspiration and, well… ENJOY LIFE.
5. Throw guilt out of the window
Gone are the days of your 9 -5 work schedule. You’re now in control of your own time, even if that means working on weekends, or having a day off on a Tuesday. You decide when you want to work. I repeat. You. DECIDE.
I know you feel like the worst entrepreneur on the planet (at least I do) when I decide to check out the ocean at 3pm. Or when I’m finishing my favourite yoga class at 11am. I tell myself I should be working. Even when I remember that one of the reasons I chose the (digital) nomad life was to enjoy magical surroundings like the one I’m currently writing this from (FYI Bali).
I know I’m massively guilt-prone, but am I the only one feeling like this?
I’m gonna share with you how I’ve been successful in kicking guilt in the butt. First of all, doing the actions I mentioned in the previous points have helped me be super productive and have no reasons to feel guilty when deciding to go for a Balinese massage at 5pm.
Actually, envisioning a massage this afternoon has had me sitting down since the early hours working on 2 blog articles that I planned writing today. The massage is my reward. When I have difficult or time-consuming tasks ahead I now set a reward at the end of the way, which has me super focused and encourages me to not fall into distractions. And, girl that massage is going to feel super deserved and I’m going to enjoy it muuuch more. It’s also going to reinforce the massive work you’ve done and fill in your confidence cup, which will be sending any guilt into pieces.
And, that’s a wrap! This is what’s been working for me as a digital nomad, and I encourage you to try some of them and see if they work for you too. But my biggest invitation here is to learn what works for you.
How you’re going to create your physical, mental and emotional space as a digital nomad that enables you to effectively run your business while enjoying life. If you don’t know how to tackle this, start by just being aware. And take notes (actually grab pen and paper).
Once you’re more aware of how you operate, and are able to draw conclusions, you’ll be able to find those magical moments that allow you to flow in your business and your life. And you will almost forget that you don’t have a physical Pinterest-worthy workspace to be inspired by, but you know how to create one anywhere you go.
Let me know what you’ve discovered!