Remote work is an emotional rollercoaster. Some days are busy, profitable, productive. Others leave you staring into the laptop in dismay, wondering why you left your desk job and why you’re sitting in a café on the other side of the planet.
I’ve found that even when the stoke level is high, it often takes just one less-than-stellar email to change my mood completely. Perhaps a big contract went to someone else, or that contact I made in Chiang Mai flaked out. There are plenty of rough spots in the digital nomad lifestyle. I’ve been working online for seven years now. In that time, I’ve learned a few tricks to numb the anxieties that come with remote work, as well as hacks for staying on top of the game while on the road.
To optimize your work-life balance
1. Have a “laptop down” day and/or time.
Among the toughest things to adjust to when switching to freelance work is that the work is always there. There’s always something to do, and no concrete barrier separating your work life from the rest of your day. Establish firm rules to force yourself to stick by regarding “off the clock” time. Once I finish work for the day, I will not open email (or any apps/files that are strictly work related) again until the next morning. I typically start work at 8 AM, and unless it’s a super busy day I try to be offline by 6 PM at the very latest.
Strive for at least one day each weekend that is fully “offline,: such as Saturday. No email, no planning your schedule for next week, no sneaking into Google Drive to check whether a coworker has modified a file. Not breaking up your weeks and not having downtime burns you out and makes you less productive. The remote work lifestyle takes discipline in a different way than most other jobs — you have to force yourself to not work.
2. Harness the value of your portfolio.
Let me be loud and clear about my support for the “freelance isn’t free” argument. We all need to make a living. But one of the catch 22s of contract work is that many assignments and contracts offer value far beyond the financial reach of the task at hand. When freelancing, successful completion of an assignment has the possibility to lead not only to another task, but to a bigger and better client.
Sometimes, especially as a newbie, a hefty dose of networking is equally as valuable as the rates offered by most online publications. One of the steepest learning curves of self-employment is honing in on the long-term value in a piece of work before deciding whether or not it’s worth your time. Whether that’s better pay for a long-form feature down the line or a referral to an assignment for someone else, keeping the work train moving is an absolute necessity if you’re going to stay afloat. Freelancing is a case study in trickle up economics — work your ass off, maintain your contacts, strive to get better at what you do, and good things will follow.
3. Go to conferences and events.
The digital nomad life is built for networking. Working from the road offers ample opportunity to attend networking events, conferences, and happy hours that those at home miss out on. Hit up Meetup.com and stop into a coworking space and ask about events. I cannot emphasize this enough! Get off your ass, out of your co-living office, and into the world. There are so many conferences. What is your niche? Find events that influencers, publications, business owners, and other freelancers in your field will be at. Then, buy a ticket and go.
Building relationships and maintaining contacts is the number one way to make money as a freelancing traveler. Plus, professional events are typically a great time — after the breakout sessions and keynotes, drinks generally flow as freely as handshakes. Get in the pocket and start talking to people. Odds are you’ll have a list of people to follow up with the following Monday.
To conquer the anxiety and emotional rollercoaster of remote work
On a strong day, I’m productive and feel competent in what I do. I smoothly work through my task list, and maybe see a payment or two come through to boost my mood. But then, out of nowhere, it happens: that one email comes in and changes the whole vibe of the day. I might be working from a beachside bar in Hoi An, but the sudden burst of anxiety casts a dark shadow over the whole setting. Maybe it’s a client requesting revisions on a piece I thought was stellar. Maybe it’s a note saying someone else got a certain contract. Often it’s not an email at all, but a Skype meeting or call that flips the emotional switch on my whole day. It’s happened so many times. I go from feeling great to all of a sudden feeling behind and insufficient. Here’s how to cope.
4. Play the long game.
You may have a great client, but someone else out there has a bigger and better one. You might travel to three countries this year, but someone else goes to five and isn’t shy about posting about them on social media. It’s easy to feel behind or like you’re not doing enough and aren’t as successful as someone else. Well, for lack of a better term, f**k that.
Your personal career is all that matters. When I get down on myself, I look back at Facebook photos from a year ago, two years ago, five years ago, and think about where I was work-wise at that point. Freelancing is a long game. Big steps happen slowly but the progress is as measurable as the stamps on your passport. Instead of feeling intimidated by the road ahead, celebrate the part of the journey that you’re on.
5. Remember that the work you do is valuable.
Perhaps the biggest factor that takes getting used to in remote work, especially from the road, is that you are on your own. There are no coworkers there to offer support and buy you lunch on a rough day. It can be easy to get down on yourself and start thinking about heading home and asking for your old job back. Imposter syndrome is a real thing, and it only gets worse the more high-profile the work you’re doing.
Don’t get down on yourself. YOU are the expert and the driver of your experiences. You took the initiative to step into the unknown and work for yourself. That in itself is worthy of respect. The hard work it takes to grow a business or freelance career only adds to your chops. Stick with it — the roller coaster eventually makes its way back up.