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Ask any digital nomad what the biggest struggles of their lifestyle are, and productivity is bound to be one of their many answers.
Every person is different, of course, and while some may thrive under the uncertain circumstances of a location independent lifestyle (I have yet to meet these unicorns), most of us are blessed with the challenge of staying focused and meeting goals as part of our new “normal.”
It’s something I personally struggle with every single day, despite nearly three years of living this way. A few of the major ways I avoid total meltdown include traveling slowly, avoiding busy or noisy accommodations (i.e. hostel dorm rooms) and working at the sometimes odd hours when I feel most creative, like late at night.
Furthermore, I’m slowly realizing the importance of a routine in keeping me productive from one day to the next, an idea I have resisted for far too long.
Over the past year, I’ve established a few morning rituals that help me get my days started off right so that my productivity continues for as long as necessary. It’s not foolproof, mind you–opportunities and distractions arise at the most unexpected of times and when you’re in charge of your own schedule, it’s sometimes
hard impossible to turn them down.
Nevertheless, I thought it might be useful to share what works for me in the hopes that it might inspire other digital nomads to develop their own morning ritual for staying productive and focused. We’ve got bills to pay too, after all!
My 4 Morning Rituals
Coffee–a no-brainer, right? Who DOESN’T rely on this life-giving liquid to get through a morning of remote work (or any work, for that matter)? If this applies to you, I’m sorry, but we can no longer be friends.
Some people might call me a coffee snob. Alright, so I can’t really argue with that. BUT. I would argue that it’s not so much the specific brew I sip in the morning that matters, but that my cup of joe happens at all. And sure, this may have a little (okay, a lot) to do with the fact that I’ve been drinking coffee since the age of 15 and have a SLIGHT caffeine addiction.
But what’s done is done, and now all I can do is wake up each morning and get my fix first thing in order to get the day started on the right foot. Or the left. I suppose the foot doesn’t really matter.
In fact, I often go to bed just because I’m so excited to wake up and drink my coffee the next morning. Guys, I’ve got it bad. Nevertheless, coffee has become an integral morning ritual in my life, and one that helps me get focused and ready to take on the day. The tricky part, as a digital nomad, becomes making sure that it’s feasible no matter where I’m traveling or living at the time.
And as I mentioned above, I’m a snob–but only when I’m afforded the luxury. If options are limited, I will happily drink whatever’s on offer. In Medellin, Colombia, that meant dutifully boiling water each morning to pour over my dehydrated coffee crystals because my apartment didn’t have a coffee maker and no coffee shops were nearby (nor did I want to spend the money). Rough life, right?
When I’m in one place long enough, my preferred brew comes from freshly ground beans and a French press. And when I eventually get settled into a place I can call home, you can bet I’m going to have the cutest doggone mug collection you’ve ever laid eyes on.
If you are naturally energetic in the morning, I applaud you. I, on the other hand, find that coffee gives me the boost I need to hit the ground running every morning, and it’s a ritual I never go without. For maximum effect (and preservation of flavor) I drink it black–no milk, no sugar, nothing. Bitter, unadulterated coffee. Mmm…
Just after I’ve put on my pot of coffee, the next thing I find most useful to start my morning with a bit of writing. Technically, this could take place on a laptop, but I prefer to use good old-fashioned pen and paper–and think it’s more beneficial. I think most others who use writing as a morning ritual would agree.
First thing in the morning, my mind is running a million miles a minute. There are thoughts in there that just NEED to come out one way or another–my monkey mind has been caged up all night and now it’s banging on the walls, kicking and screaming, distracting me from the tasks at hand.
Clearing out these thoughts by putting them on paper is a highly-effective way to tame the beast. More often than not, my hand can hardly keep up with the onslaught; but, the more I write, the quieter it becomes. As someone with an earnest desire to live a creative life, stillness is imperative, for it is from stillness which creativity is born–not chaos.
Sometimes, this writing ritual comes in the form of “morning pages,” a term originally coined by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. I learned of the practice, however, from one of my favorite creative entrepreneurs, Tim Ferris, who uses morning pages daily, writing through his thoughts in the companion journal to Cameron’s book. He states:
“Morning pages don’t need to solve your problems. They simply need to get them out of your head, where they’ll otherwise bounce around all day like a bullet ricocheting inside your skull.
Could bitching and moaning on paper for five minutes each morning change your life?
As crazy as it might seem, I believe the answer is yes.” —What My Morning Journal Looks Like
Have you ever stopped to notice how overactive your mind is first thing in the morning? If you haven’t, give this ritual a try. Put down three pages of stream of consciousness writing (no thinking and no stopping) using ink and paper. I think you will be surprised by how many (useless) thoughts are present. I think you will also be pleasantly surprised by the stillness that results in your mind when you are finished.
Sometimes, too, there can be wonderful ideas that surface during a morning writing ritual. Sometimes those ideas are present immediately upon waking and I can’t wait to get them down on paper. This doesn’t happen for me very often, but if it does, I may choose to write before I’ve done anything else–EVEN COFFEE–as I know they are fleeting. If they turn out to be terrible ideas when I look back at them later that day, who cares? With this ritual, it’s the process that matters, not the result.
I’ve always loved a good breakfast, and not just because I tend to wake up with severe hunger pangs. The right combination of nutrients and protein in the morning allows me to focus for longer, uninterrupted periods. Plus, it’s just so darn tasty that it puts me in a good mood simply by way of entering my face hole.
I get it–healthy eating on the road can be a real challenge, and it has taken me many years of trial and error to find the perfect breakfast. I still experiment from time to time, but a reliable combination that I love consists of one fried egg, a piece of toast (Dave’s Killer Bread if I’m in the US) and a few healthy splashes of hot sauce.
It may not sound like a lot, but it’s plenty for someone of my petite stature–any more than that, and I risk putting myself straight into a food coma that negates any productivity I would have gotten otherwise. If I’m still hungry, a piece of fruit usually does the trick.
And while I definitely belong to the camp that favors a good savory breakfast, I’ve recently discovered an exception in the form of overnight oats–thank you, Pinterest! (Psst! Follow me!). My go-to recipe involves little more than equal parts oats and soymilk (in a mason jar for extra cuteness points), a tablespoon of chia seeds, and a dash of vanilla extract. Stick it in the fridge overnight (hence the name); in the morning, add more soymilk to reach your desired consistency, then top it off with some berries or chopped fruit. BAM! Nutritious perfection to start the day.
It’s hard to say where I would be had I not rediscovered yoga this year. It has become such an important part of my daily life that it’s hard to remember what things were like before. I don’t imagine they were very nice!
When I first discovered yoga back in college, I treated it like exercise. I didn’t understand at the time that the practice was anything but exercise and that in order to reap the benefits of it, I couldn’t treat it as such. What I understand more fully now is that yoga is a form of moving meditation. It is a way to explore our bodies, our minds, and the connection between the two; a vehicle for self-discovery. It is a life philosophy. A form of self-love.
Back when I still went to yoga classes simply because “doing yoga” was trendy, I engaged in the asanas and nothing more. These days, my yoga practice is another way for me to reach a place of stillness. It brings me back to the present moment when I would otherwise be preoccupied with future events that cannot be known or predicted or holding on to past events that cannot be changed and are of little consequence.
I typically work for a few hours in the morning before hitting the mat. It has proven to be the perfect way for me to reset when my mind and body become restless. The moment I start feeling anxious or like I’ve hit a creative block, I know it’s time to find stillness through yoga.
The other purpose yoga serves is to remind me to accept myself exactly where I am in life, exactly as I am at this moment. If I’m having a particularly frustrating day, week, or month, my yoga practice helps me to let go of any attachments I may have to the outcomes in my life, whether work-related or otherwise. It reminds me to practice gratitude for all that I already have.
I love to practice yoga in the comfort of my own home, and I do so whenever possible with the help of my favorite yoga channel on YouTube. Traveling with my own yoga mat is something I have done infrequently. Sometimes it is easier to buy an inexpensive one in my destination and gift it to someone when I leave. If all else fails, I’ll lay down a few towels or a blanket. There is no wrong way!
Without these morning rituals, I have no doubt my sanity and productivity would suffer. What are your rituals for a life on the road?