How Digital Nomadism Turned Me Into a Highly Motivated Designer

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Many of us dream of quitting our full-time roles to work from home, citing that they’d be able to work harder and ultimately earn more money. Plus it’d be real fun.

But it’s never quite as easy as that, is it?

It could be, but you’re simply not willing to stop watching those Ugly Betty re-runs or taking afternoon naps.

I’m completely willing to admit that I’m not one of those mature adults that can muster up the motivation to start work in the blink of an eye. It’s not for the lack of enjoyment either, the average household simply has too many tempting distractions: television, video games, Hulu, Netflix, comfy couches and more television.

Procrastination and Distractions

Being a Nomad, the First Two Months

No matter how many “How to Be a Super-Duper Motivated Designer” articles I read, I wasn’t strong-willed enough. I’d already quit my employment and the “just in case” money that I’d saved up was beginning to disappear. So we (my wife and I) booked a flight to Barcelona and there our digital nomad journey began.

It was one of those “now or never” type situations.

As I quickly realised, working from home in a new country is no different to working at home where you were born. Airbnb hosts can be very accommodating, offering the very best of Netflix and so on, and I’d even begun to justify my naps because everybody in Spain takes “siestas” in the afternoon. Whether that’s a myth or not, I don’t know, but I was inclined to believe it.

After a month in Lisbon, in what I would regard as a better apartment with lots of natural light and a huge, spacious work desk near the balcony, I found myself doing a little more work, but nonetheless, I was still very distracted and napping like a sloth.

Being a Nomad, the First Two Months

Returning Home

Because we had to celebrate a couple of family birthday’s, we came home for a month. I wasn’t disappointed with the digital nomad lifestyle, because in order to actually be a digital nomad you had to work, of which I did appallingly little of.

So I told everybody we had a smashing holiday – which we did.

I wasn’t happy being back in London – something about the weather, the impolite locals and the overall negative feelings associated with my experiences of growing up there weren't motivating me at all. In a matter of weeks, we sorted out our trip to Skopje, Macedonia; and that’s where things drastically improved.

Our Second Attempt

I’m one of those tourists that don’t speak a word of the local language (if I’ve been to your country, or it’s on my agenda, I sincerely apologize!), so we were delighted when everybody spoke English to us in Macedonia. With that in mind, and the fact that the cost of living was crazy cheap, we ate out almost every day.

We enjoyed sitting in the sun in their open-air restaurants, and I begun taking my laptop, remembering that I felt happy and somehow motivated when subjected to beautiful surroundings.

In our case, this was the famous Alexander the Great Fountain or the River Vardar. We would eat away, sip cocktails and to my surprise, I would design (and of course, write) some stuff.

Our Second Attempt

Returning Home, Again

My wife was offered a well-paying summer job and they wouldn’t take no for an answer, so we returned home for a lengthy two months this time. We took a holiday/detour to Venice and Paris for a few days and set our sights (to my dismay) on London.

I dreaded the thought of ruining my winning streak, but it was summer and a few local restaurants had opened up in the area. If I could do it in Macedonia, I could do it in London, I thought.

I even decided upon a 30-day writing challenge.

A new Lebanese restaurant had appeared almost on my doorstep, and an Italian café that I’d be meaning to try out, so I began frequenting them often. Eating out alone is not something I would have even considered a few months earlier, but they say travelling broadens the mind and you open yourself to new experiences. I’d never understood this until I became a nomad.

It seems silly in retrospect, because a cornerstone of digital nomadism is finding optimal Wi-Fi in local bars and cafés and designing, coding or writing from there – but till then I’d never tried it. Not only did I try it, but I completed my 30-day writing challenge and it was the most profitable month I'd ever had.

Now, whenever I decide to work, I make sure that I'm not in a dull environment surrounded by distractions, but instead a beautiful setting or a positive atmosphere with subtle noise.

Returning Home, Again

Bonus Tip: Being Friendly and Approachable

Especially in quite afternoons, staff and regular customers will begin to feel very familiar with you, and they may even ask why you visit every day and what you’re doing on that laptop of yours. You may not realise it, being in such a comfortable setting and all, but this is also an exciting opportunity to network.

Put your business hat on, be friendly and make yourself look approachable. If the café has empty seats, the owner has free time, he’s interested in what you do for a living – well, no need to schedule a free consulting session, you’re already in one! In fact, more than once I’ve turned the owner into a customer and received some complimentary drinks as a bonus!

It Digital Nomadism For You?

So what advice am I actually offering here? Indulgence.

Indulge in a way that will make you blissfully happy without distracting you. Great food works for me, and an afternoon beer wouldn’t hurt either. You should try to vary cuisines, and try to treat each spot as an experience, not just a table and chair to work from.

I was worried at first that it would be costly, but when the motivational juices are running high, you’ll be sure to cover those costs with ease.

Daniel SchwarzDaniel Schwarz
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Previously, design blog editor at Toptal and SitePoint. Now Daniel advocates for better UX design alongside industry leaders such as Adobe, InVision, Marvel, Wix, Net Magazine, LogRocket, CSS-Tricks, and more.

AlexWdigital nomadfreelancing
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