It’s been a while folks so here’s a nice long one to get back in the swing of things, hope you enjoy it.
It sucks when a good friend moves away.
You are planning your next riotous night out, you just scored two tickets to an amazing show or you are just a bit bored and lonely. Running through the short-list (hopefully not “short list”) of friends who might be up for it, you realize that so-and-so moved to Chicago to take that new job, they are not even on the Maybe list any more. Bummer.
A few years ago, after an exhausting evening pondering lifestyle design and where I wanted my life to ultimately go, I became determined to never get removed from anybody’s Maybe list. Better yet, I wanted to be on everybody’s Maybe list all the time. If you are a friend in need, if you are doing something awesome, or it’s just been too long since I’ve seen your face, I want to be able to be there. No excuses. When you are making that short list, there is a reasonable probability I a) might already be in town b) will invent a reason to be in town or c) will just come anyway without any good reason at all. At least that is the goal. Also, I want to be able to go anywhere in the world, just because I feel like it. Small addendum.
Since I quit my full-time job almost a year ago, I’ve been making some progress towards location independence. I got my first taste recently. Finishing up a six week trip to Spain and Skype’ing to a good friend in NYC from a hostel in Madrid, I was informed my presence would be sorely missed at a dinner the following night on the occasion of some Brazilian friends visiting the city. “Oh, well, I fly in to JFK tomorrow evening, so I’ll be there!” BOOM!!! As I look at that written out in 13pt Arial, I realize it doesn’t quite capture the level of mother-freakin-jet-setting-I-can-do-anything-be-anywhere-everything-is-unbelievably-awesome-ness I felt at the first hint of what life could be like with full on location independence, but believe me, it feels fantastic.
This whole thing is clearly a work in progress, but here are some basic principles I have found successful so far:
1. Get mobile and stay productive
The biggest thing preventing most people from working everywhere is a requirement to be in the office Monday through Friday. So step one to working everywhere and being anywhere is either making your current job more mobile or getting a new job. At my former office job I certainly made a strong showing of frequently working remotely despite the Orwellian requirement that employees scan in/out of the office each day. But ultimately, for other reasons, I decided to go the route of radical career change. My job these days amounts to contributing to the initial development of my clean web start-up SolarList and doing freelance web development to pay the bills. When I left my last job I had no idea that I would end up working on software, no technical knowledge speak of and about 3 months (at my admittedly profligate London expense levels) of savings. I grabbed a few independent consulting jobs in my former company’s field while I threw myself into learning to code and how to start a start-up. Six months, and the most compressed Computer Science/MBA crash course, later I had created a sustainable source of income freelancing half the time and with enough bandwidth left over to start bootstrapping SolarList.
I don’t necessarily recommend taking my exact approach, but if you are considering making the switch a to a job with more flexibility some first steps can be:
# Check out freelanceswitch.com start looking at jobs, pitfalls and opportunities
# Try out a small freelance job on the side. One of the best ways to get started on something is to do projects for free for friends. Get a sense for if you genuinely like the work and could be self-motivated to do it without a boss or office peer pressure.
# Just start. The biggest obstacle here is just kicking it off. There a million reasons to doubt your ability to earn an income on your own, all of which melt away the second that first invoice gets paid.
If making a career jump isn’t for you, there are certainly a lot of ways to dramatically increase the amount of flexibility you have in your current “office” job.
# Make the case for remote work. Many businesses are opening up to the idea of remote working from outside the office. Show them this TED Talk from Jason Fried about how work doesn’t happen in the office, this study from Cisco that shows that remote workers or more productive and innovative, this article from Businessweek detailing how office commuters are less happy and productive, and this story about Github, a startup absolutely killing it, primarily with workers outside the office.
# Do a trial run, or just fake sick. When you make your pitch for remote work, ALWAYS frame it as a trial. “Let’s try two days working remotely per week for two weeks. If it’s not working for you we’ll go back.” Once you get it going once or twice, inertia is on your side you will find it much easier to keep going. If they are initially not receptive to even a trial run, force it on them by faking a sickness… something non-lethal but certainly very contagious. Then drop them a note that you are feeling a bit better but still shouldn’t come in to the office, you’ll be online and working though. Then CRUSH it! Get a week’s worth of work done, stay lightening fast on the company chat/skype/yammer line, fire off emails and generally make a big show of it. Then later casually bring up, with a sense of wonderment, how amazed you were at how much you could focus and really get productive working from home, then go for the kill.
# Turn it into a benefit for the company. Companies spend a huge amount on travel, particularly if your job entails traveling frequently for sales pitches or conferences. One or two trips a month with flights, hotels, taxis and meals can easily double or triple your monthly cost to the company (on top of salary/benefits). If your boss is also the travel budget-holder, the next time you have to go to a conference in San Francisco, offer to cover the flight and stay with a friend if you can spend the month working remotely from California.
2. Use technology
Whether you are working remotely for a company or freelancing on the go, you need to use way more technology to stay organized and keep in touch. You need to keep track of your travel itinerary, manage scheduling across multiple timezones with ease, plan ahead for access to wifi and a power outlet for your laptop, move from tourist mode to work mode in a café with all kinds of crazy sights, smells and languages flying around.
All of this requires a battle-hardened system for keeping track of stuff you need to do and remember. Seriously, you need to massively over-compensate and over-organize your life to keep your stress levels manageable and get shit done everywhere. I’ve written before about my obsession with productivity tools and I’ve tested out quite a few over the past year (since that lovely day I could finally ditch Outlook Express!). Here’s what I’m using now:
Evernote: This is the lynch pin. Incredible search with syncing across all devices, Evernote serves two key purposes for me. First it’s the data collection point. Anything I need to save goes in through Evernote’s desktop app, web app, web clipper, mobile app which saves photos, voice notes. There is no better way to get data from your brain into somewhere that accessible later. So Evernote is the collector, if I remember I need to send an email, create a note, see a concert I want to attend, snap a photo of the poster in Evernote, brilliant piece of web design I’ll use for inspiration later, clip it in Evernote, an email with an action item or useful link, forward it to Evernote. All of this by default goes into a “Collection” folder. Every day (or few days) I go through everything in the Collection folder. 95% of it is just stuff I want to be able to recall later reference material. This just gets dumped into a big folder called reference and I use a ton of tags to sort it. My second use for Evernote is really its raison d’être of being a second brain and just keeping track of all that stuff and making it easy to recall later. If it’s an action item (like send an email) it gets moved into Asana.
Asana: Evernote is amazing at capturing data and letting you find it later, but it still isn’t powerful enough at A) breaking down projects into tasks with due dates, notes, complete/incomplete and C) working collaboratively with others. Asana on the other hand, rocks at these. Rapidly creating projects/tasks, share workspaces with collaborators and assign tasks accordingly. I won’t dive into the minutiae of why Asana is better than Remember the Milk, Wunderlist, Omnifocus, those little stars on Gmail or whatever other task list app you are currently using. Just trust me, it’s free and awesome.
Google Calendar: I haven’t found anything better. It works, handles time zones well and syncs with my phone.
That’s it! Really that represents 95% of getting stuff done on the road. The rest of the “technology” is about creating a discipline for using those apps. I’ll get more into that in a later post.
Okay, obviously there’s plenty more in the tips and tricks file. Here’s a list:
RescueTime: for keeping track of how you spend your time and preventing you from surfing Facebook for hours. This is critical because when you’re tired or unfocused and you sit down to work, you’ll get lazy and spend all your time doing the easy time-consuming stuff (cleaning out your inbox) than the hard but really important stuff.
Skitch: So many times you can substitute a paragraph of explanatory text with a screenshot and big red arrows.
Dropbox: Sync and share all your files, duh.
screenr.com: for instant free screencasts you can send to people explaining stuff.
join.me: for free conference calls/live screen-sharing
Boingo: for wifi all over the place
… more later this post is getting super long, hang in there kids.
3. Reduce overhead
Easily the second biggest thing that prevents people from traveling is the cost, or rather the perceived cost. If you want to travel and work everywhere, you need to make it a priority and there are a few sacrifices you can make, but mostly in my experience it doesn’t cost anything extra to travel for extended periods of time if you can still work everywhere. The most important steps you can do towards “affording” to travel a lot is to reduce your overhead. Every month you have a certain amount of time and money and overhead is the stuff that eats all of that up. It comes in many forms.
Cost overhead: Your rent, your car payment, phone bill, etc. Minimize or make flexible these recurring payments as much as possible. It can be worth it to buy your new iPhone off contract if you are going to be spending half your time outside the US (where you will really want to buy a local SIM anyway). Instead of a two week vacation, travel for two months and rent out your room on AirBnB.
Time overhead: Everybody has a million little time sucks in their life that keep them from focusing on what they really want to do. This goes for more than just travel. But it’s definitely important to start culling all of those things that just take up so much of your time. Read the terribly-named but awesome, I Will Teach You To Be Rich and automate your finances. Read the Four Hour Workweek and start automating your work. Sign up for the absolutely incredible service Fancy Hands and start out-sourcing the few really annoying time sucks you put off, worry about, and then waste a ton of time doing each month.
Physical stuff: It’s a given, you must be a minimalist traveller. Working everywhere doesn’t work if you are lugging around a giant suitcase, paying checked luggage fees and running around with a ton of equipment for work. My entire mobile office consists of a Macbook Air, iPhone and Doxie portable scanner. In the rare instance that I need more equipment to do work, I either pretend to be a guest at a hotel lobby (to get printing done occasionally) or book a co-working space for the day (when you really need blazing fast wifi). Travel light, buy stuff if you need it and give it away. On my trip to Spain I had a sudden pang that I really wanted to play guitar. So I scoped a guitar shop on google, run over and bought an 60 euro cheapo guitar. Played it for a few weeks, and then gave it to a fantastic guitar player I met in a hostel. I paid about $20/week for guitar usage and made some great new friends. Top that.
4. Let bad things happen
This is absolutely CRITICAL. In my humble opinion, the key to success in traveling the world, getting in shape, controlling personal finances, career advancement, and basically getting anything done is to brutally focus on what matters and ignore all that other stuff that is clamoring for your attention but just isn’t important. If you are location independent, you are going to spend more of your time doing awesome things, meeting new people, sitting on the back of a camel, being tired and unproductive from jet-lag. That means you will not check every item off your to-do list. You will not get back to every email sent to you. You may even have to make profuse apologies to clients for delivering a product a day or two late. Embrace it! Let some little bad things happen, use your technology to make sure you are laser focused on what it is important, crush those things, then close your laptop, sip your whiskey neat, watch the sun set and contemplate how you are going to get the attention of that gorgeous thing two tables away with the six words of the local language you speak.
5. Don’t make excuses
Just get the hell out there and do it. Never use jet-lag, lack of wifi, flight delays or any travel-related problem as an excuse for missing a deadline or conference call because this is your life now, doing meaningful work everywhere in the world. Just try it, stop considering the down-side, make the jump and figure it out later. I’ll be right there with you, stumbling around the dark and enjoying every minute of it.