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Work-life Balance As A Digital Nomad

Work-life balance was like a mantra that we were encouraged to repeat to ourselves, so as not to get too consumed by our work now that we were steps away from our laptop and desk at all times.

by Emma Bousfield • Sept. 29, 2023 • 8 min read

We’ve all heard the term “work-life balance” before. For me, I first began to hear about it during the covid-19 pandemic, when most workplaces transitioned to an at-home model. Work-life balance was like a mantra that we were encouraged to repeat to ourselves, so as not to get too consumed by our work now that we were steps away from our laptop and desk at all times. It’s a valuable reminder, and one that I think a large population of people still struggle with.

The struggle is also real for digital nomads. I can see the older working population rolling their eyes at that statement and thinking (in an overly sarcastic tone): “oh yes, working from Costa Rica is soooooo hard.” But it is, it can be. While at home the pendulum may swing a little further towards the life side of things, as a traveller, it can be easy to focus too much on the life side. So I decided to put together a little guide to help current and prospective digital nomads recenter and maintain a healthy balance between their work and their personal life.

The Challenges

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Being a digital nomad has this stigma surrounding it: life is all sunshine and smoothies, video calls taken with the beach as your (literal) background, daily yoga classes followed by a pre-work surf… you get the idea. And while this is largely true, many people actually struggle a little bit with this. To wake up each and every day in awe of the life you’ve worked so hard for is a unique experience very few can appreciate, but it is important to know that it isn’t always a walk along the beach. Here’s what you should be mindful of:

Being too life-heavy, and lite on the work

We mentioned in a previous article, that sometimes you’ll meet individuals as a digital nomad that change your life. The relationship feels too good to be true, whether it’s romantic or even just friendship, and so you say to yourself something like: “life is short, I only have so much time with this person, I can catch up on emails next week.” Oh boy… that’s the start to a very very slippery slope. Make sure you enter the digital nomad lifestyle recognizing the importance of the work you’re doing, and appreciating how privileged you are. Establish boundaries with work, it’ll make you more productive, and make sure you’re always communicating with whoever you report to - a manager, clients, coworkers, etc.

Finding a healthy routine

You’re in a new place that’s exciting and gorgeous, but where on earth is the crunchy, all-natural peanut butter? And the oat milk, where oh where is the oat milk? Okay, can you say, “first-world problems?” All jokes aside, it can be extremely disorienting and jarring to land in a new spot and be removed from all your creature comforts. Even just a quality latte can be hard to come by depending where you are. We recommend doing research in advance of your travels. Read blogs about the lifestyles of other digital nomads who spent time in that location, look up grocery stores, gyms, trails, restaurants, anything that is valuable to you back home. Also, set aside a good few days at the start just focusing on getting situated. How long does it take to get to the nearest shop? What can you budget for food each week? That time you spend will be critical in setting you up for a healthy routine.

Another major consideration is the novelty of travel and what that can do to your routine. It can be easy to indulge in food and beverages while you’re away, you may be staying up later, spending more time in the heat, but don’t forget to take care of yourself. It’s obviously super important to enjoy and take advantage of every experience, but the fast-paced, indulgent lifestyle can very quickly become no fun.

Learn how to stay healthy while working remotely here: https://colivevalues.com/blog/staying-healthy-as-a-remote-worker/

Loneliness

To put it bluntly, being a digital nomad can be really lonely sometimes. Whether you’re bouncing from place to place, or staying situated in one location for a month or two, the constant rotation of new people entering and exiting your life can feel super isolating. It’s normal to crave familiarity, to miss your friends and feel a little homesick. One way I’ve managed feelings of loneliness in the past has been establishing a regular habit of FaceTiming with friends and family back home from the moment I land in a new place. This does a good job of eliminating any feelings of not knowing who to talk to, not knowing who to reach out to, etc. Make sure you always have at least one person to turn to and lean on, just in case.

How many hours to work each day

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I wish I could give you a clear answer here, but it really depends on a multitude of things, and frankly, each day could be a little different. Firstly, it may depend on the company you work for. Maybe it’s expected that you are online and available at all times, maybe your employer has the “as long as you get your work done and show up for meetings” mindset. It could also depend on the role you have, sales might be more demanding as you have to connect with customers which could make having a flexible schedule challenging, but if you’re a copywriter with little to no regular meetings, you can probably get away with working less hours. Regardless, here are some things I recommend:

Check in every morning and see what your day looks like.

Are there any gaps in your day where you can take a walk on the beach or get in a quick yoga session?

Stay in communication with your employer.

Keep work a priority and don’t lose sight of your obligations. Make sure you are able to answer your manager or boss generally at all times, even if you’re taking calls or answering emails from your phone.

Try your hardest to establish SOME routine.

It can feel nice to have a flexible schedule, but for a lot of people, routine is important. Maybe every day you wake up, head to a cafe, and get in a solid 2 hours of work. That consistent, 2 hours, could make a huge difference to your overall productivity.

Establish a daily routine

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Establishing a routine as a digital nomad is easier said than done. I don’t know about you, but I have this romanticized image of health and productivity that I associate with working remotely. I don’t know why, but I instantly picture myself waking up, running, going for a smoothie, grinding out a morning’s worth of work, then heading for a surf. Well, that is actually a tough thing to achieve. Reality is, you get caught up in a lot of things around you. People, food, nightlife, activities. You want to experience it all! But routine is critical. Here are some things to be mindful of:

Sleep Schedule

If you can, prioritize a regular sleep routine at a minimum. Even if everyday you change up your schedule, getting in and out of bed at the same time is a really healthy habit to establish. it may not come as a huge surprise, but sleep is a pillar to our overall health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally. It’ll make sure you’re energized for the day ahead and as productive and on top of work as humanly possible.

Eat well… within reason

I am a firm believer that one of the biggest parts of travel is food. As a die-hard fan of Mexico, I will be the first to encourage you to eat street tacos for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner. But, even I know that that would actually be super irresponsible. Nowadays, you hear all about the 80/20 rule, but when travelling, I feel like 60/40 is sufficient. You have to enjoy where you are, of course, but making a point of eating well and eating locally sourced food is a surefire way to boost your enjoyment of a place.

Make note of when you’re most productive

SAY IT AGAIN FOR THOSE IN THE BACK! If you know that you’re someone that gets most of your work, and your highest quality work, done in the morning then lean into that. 3 super productive hours are better than 6 super distracted hours. For me, mornings are when I can grind out the most work, I have always been an early bird who thrives in the morning. By the time the afternoon rolls around, I’m feeling sluggish, tired, and unmotivated, so I prioritize work first-thing. The benefit to doing this, is that I don’t feel guilty in the afternoon when I take a break to either relax or partake in an activity. I know I’ve already completed my tasks and I know I have no more scheduled meetings.

Is it worth it?

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Well, that depends. Short answer is yes, the digital nomad lifestyle is 100% worth it if you’ve got the itch to travel and the means to do it.

But, it isn’t for everyone. We covered this in a previous blog article that talked about all things coliving - there are some challenges that come with the lifestyle. Make sure that if you’re diving into this lifestyle, you feel really confident about the decision. I think oftentimes people feel like it’s something they “should do”… whatever that means. Take your time with it, and start slow.

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