04/03/2024

Working on the Road is Work

We live in a time when you don’t have to have declared yourself a digital nomad to live like one.  A huge percentage of the workforce can work remotely, but working remotely from exotic locations doesn’t equal a vacation. Don’t fool yourself. 

I’ve been on the road for the last 3 months. And I’m fried. An Instagram view of my experience could easily fool the general population. 

The last 3 months have included gems such as: 

  • Palm Springs; beautiful hikes, a trip to Joshua Tree, and the Palm Springs International Film Festival
  • San Francisco; lots of poop on the sidewalk, but also hiking through an enormous park, checking out the ocean, visiting the zoo, rad architecture and self driving cars
  • Lakeland; great parks, lots of beautiful lakes, spring training games, botanical garden
  • Tampa; free range roosters, cigars, the bay
  • Miami; the best graffiti on earth, speaking at the conference center, delightful restaurants, warm weather, and more coastline
  • Hollywood; GxK premier at the Chinese Theater, Universal Studios, Runyon Canyon

Besides the fact that some of these locations are not what they’re cracked up to be, the cities themselves have a certain cache. From the outside looking in, it seems like I’m really living it up. But here’s the reality of life on the road. 

The Bad News

Time Zones 

Time zones can be gamed or they can mess with your game. On the east coast, my life improves. I have a lot of time in the morning before my team is up and at ‘em. That means I can take a walk, workout, get a coffee, plan my day, etc. That also means it’s 6PM and the sun is setting by the time the work day is wrapping up. 

On the west coast, life blows. Morning meetings start at 7AM, making it very difficult to get ahead of the game. Bonus on the west coast is that things wrap up early and there’s a lot of time for things like prayer, meditation, and hiking after work. But I never feel ahead of the game. 

Work Station

I used to bring a USB powered external monitor with me when I traveled to boost my productivity. But setting that thing up at a coffee shop makes you look like a donkey. And packing up takes forever. Most of the time now, I’m just on my laptop. 

Working in a hotel room is absolutely soul crushing, so I usually look for coffee shops and other places where I can get a little sunlight and feel like I’m still part of the human race. Of course, that leads me to my next point. 

At the Mercy of the Public

I know a lot of people think humans are “basically good,” but I assume those people do not work from coffee shops. You are not wanted. You, the remote worker, are not a desirable patron. You sit all day and spend maybe $10 on coffee. No one cares that you’re on a video call, they will sit next to you, shrieking at the top of their lungs, playing videos on their phones at full volume, asking you questions as if you didn’t have your headphones on at all. 

Disrupted Routine

Already touched on this, but when you’re time zone hopping, your routine almost necessarily gets disrupted. You’ve got to adapt to the situation. My personal routine is pretty intense when I’m at home, but on the road everything is an approximation. Until I finally broke down and got an LA Fitness membership in Hollywood, I had almost entirely lost my access to a sauna. 

Going to a strange gym means different equipment, different layout, different hours. While I travel with some of my gear, I’m missing kettlebells in the right weights, sometimes there’s no way to do pull ups, yoga classes are not all created equal. 

Eating right is really hard with no kitchen. And even standby healthy restaurants and grocery stores are not necessarily in whatever region you’re in.

Right now, I’m flying from Hollywood to Nashville and my very special pillow is in Lakeland. I know I will not be in peak performance sleep mode for another month. Working out the light levels, the bedding, the temperature, etc. in rotating lodging is tough.

How to Work from the Road

It’s possible. I’m doing it. Sometimes I’m doing it badly, but I have learned a few things over the years. Here are my top tips for on-the-road productivity. 

Recon and Reengineer 

Scoping out the scene is a critical element to success. Break down the elements of your routine and ID the locations that will help you closely approximate. Reengineer your routine to fit what’s available, don’t give up on it entirely.

You also need to know what your options are in terms of work environment. Your hotel or airbnb may have a good space for working – and I’d strongly recommend you choose a place that does. You need that reliable quiet space for important meetings. Always have backup internet. Tethering with my phone works for me. Reengineer your schedule around locations and time zones to keep stress levels at a minimum. 

Productivity through Prioritization

Recognize from the beginning that you’re displaced. To expect full-strength productivity from less than ideal conditions is folly. The key here is to prioritize effectively. Know what is most important and put your energy on getting those things done. This, by the way, is how you should always live. But on the road, there’s no living without it. 

Blocking time is also more important from the road. Context switching while your context is switching is how one gets splinched

Move More

When things are how they should be, I have a standing desk. It’s tuned to my elbow height and gaze. When you are working from the road, you are working from a variety of different settings and none of them are tuned for you. If you don’t want migraines and back issues to take you out, make a point to move around. Get up and walk or stretch, move locations partway through the day, etc. If you want to really kill productivity, get injured or sick. 

Give Yourself a Break

YOU know you’re not on vacation. Don’t let other peoples’ snarky comments cause you to overcommit or skip the breaks you need to be a healthy, balanced person bringing your best self to your work and your life.

breaking kit kat bar

Don’t let your own guilt do you in either. All that happens in either case is you burn up even more precious energy right when you need it to cope with the disruption of working from somewhere else. 

It’s Not All Bad News, it’s Just not a Vacation

Look, there’s a lot of great stuff about working from the road. If you only get to see the world in 2 weeks a year, you’re not going to see a lot of the world. 

Being in a new environment can help you be more creative. Getting out more can help bring some balance back into your life. When I’m in Telluride, for example, everything changes for the better. It sucks to work from the library, but it rules to hike to Coronet Falls on your lunch break. Surrounded by new exciting things, especially if that includes nature, you get a sense of perspective that’s hard to find if you’re relegated 100% of the time to your office.

Travel can improve your life and your outlook. But if you’re working while you travel, don’t call it a vacation. And don’t expect it to give you the positive benefits of a vacation. You still need to take time actually off if you expect to operate at the top of your game. 

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