When you’re working on the road, you need to be extra careful about how you manage yourself. It’s not as easy to get into good routines when you’re constantly travelling. It’s possible to do—ask any digital nomad or travelling business person—but you just have to put a few systems in place that help.
In my last article, I looked at some of the strategies that can keep you productive on the road. In this article, I’m going to dive a little deeper into the tools that can help you put those strategies into action.
If you work while you travel, and need to get more done reliably, then you need the right tools. Here are a number of the best productivity tools that I use to boost my productivity while on the road. You're sure to find some that will help you work better as well.
Some Way to Keep Track of Your Tasks
If you’re a digital nomad or just someone who travels a lot for work, the chances are you don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder every five minutes telling you what to do. You’re responsible for getting stuff done, but you have to do it on your own terms. No one is going to direct you.
I’ve found the best way to keep track of everything I’m working on is to go all in on a productivity system. I went with a modified version of Getting Things Done (GTD) but you need to pick something that works for you and your job.
I know that my OmniFocus todo list has every article I’m working on because I’m completely religious about adding them. This means nothing will slip through the cracks.
There are dozens of good todo list apps out there, as well as great project managers. I use OmniFocus for my own personal stuff and Trello to collaborate with my Tuts+ editors, but different apps might fit your needs better.
Pick a good todo app that has the features you want and that you can just as easily use while on the road, as you can at home or in the office.
An Everything Bucket Like Evernote
Another essential productivity tool is an everything bucket. It's a place that you can throw, well, everything. Random thoughts, plane tickets, shopping lists, articles you want to read, and a million other things should all get dumped into your everything bucket.
When you travel, you’ll often receive recommendations for things to do, places to work, cities to visit, and so on. These all go straight into your everything bucket. When you get to a city, say Dublin, you plug that into search and see everything you’ve got on it.
An everything bucket lets you keep countless different bits of information in one place. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about working while travelling, it’s that you need to be flexible. Your circumstances are constantly changing. Any rigorous system collapses.
Dropbox or Google Drive
Dropbox and Google Drive are great apps for anyone who works at a computer. They’re handy as a simple backup, a way to transfer files between different devices, and for keeping your important files accessible at all times. It’s that last use that makes them essential for anyone who travels.
You get to the hotel, it’s midnight, everything you’ve got that uses a battery is dead, you forgot your local plug adaptors, and the guy at the desk can’t find your booking. What do you do?
Okay, that’s an extreme scenario but stuff like this happens, just not as bad, all the time when you travel. If you’ve got Dropbox or Google Drive the solution is simple, you just log in on the lobby computer and find the booking confirmation you saved to your account.
Without set work hours and a manager watching your every move, procrastination can quickly become a way of life. Why work when you can do… literally anything else?
RescueTime is a great productivity tool for, if not beating procrastination, at least making you aware of it. A small app tracks how you use your computer; it records every app you use and how long you spend using them. At the end of the week, you get an email analysing how you spent your time. Finding out how many hours you spent on Facebook can be horrifying.
As well as the weekly email, the RescueTime site can give you hour by hour breakdowns of how you spend your time. You can figure out when you’re most productive and when you look for any excuse not to work. You can also set it up to send you push notifications if you, say, spend more than an hour on Social Media sites or hit a productivity target.
If you work alone, whether it’s in a home office or a coffeeshop, RescueTime is a must.
LoungeBuddy, Workfrom and DesksNearMe
LoungeBuddy is a web, iOS and Android app that shows all the lounges in a given airport. It lists where they are, their amenities, price, opening hours, and user reviews. You can even use it to pay for access to some of them.
When you’re travelling, airport lounges are a haven. They’re one of the best places to work. They normally have comfy seats, fast wifi, nice food, and cold beers. If you’ve got a few hours between flights, check LoungeBuddy to see if there’s anywhere good close by you can do a bit of work.
Workfrom and DesksNearMe are similar to LoungeBuddy, except they show coffeeshops, coworking spaces, libraries, and other similar places you can work when you’re in a city. Workfrom is better at highlighting coffeeshops while DesksNearMe has a more complete database of coworking spaces. If you’re in a new city and need to find a spot to work, they’re pretty handy services.
If you’re going to work in an airport, you need the piece of mind that you can put your head down and get to it without worrying about missing your flight. That’s where TripIt comes in.
TripIt is a web and mobile app that automatically imports your travel information from your email account. It then keeps track of any updates or changes. When your gate is announced, TripIt will send you a push notification. If your flight is delayed, cancelled or anything else, TripIt will tell you.
TripIt doesn’t do anything earth shattering; it just gives you the confidence to sit in an airport lounge working without worrying about your flight.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a way of protecting your internet traffic while you work on public wifi networks. Rather than send unencrypted information over the web, all your traffic is protected and sent via a secure server.
In the article above, I write at length on why people who travel for work should use VPNs (and also recommended some great ones). Give that article a read and then pick the VPN that best fits your needs, if you’re not already using one.
A Pomodoro Timer
Most people massively overestimate the time required to do every non-admin work task. If something takes an hour of actual focussed work, you can do it in an hour, or combine it with some procrastinating and spread it out over three hours. It’s all too easy just to say it takes three hours.
The best productivity tool for beating this kind of procrastination is the Pomodoro Technique. Basically, you set a timer for 25 minutes and work non-stop until it rings. When it does, you take a 5 minute break and then get back to work. After four sets, you take a longer break. It’s a surprisingly effective technique.
The Pomodoro Technique is even more effective for people on the road. Without a manager standing over you, you’re relying on your own motivation.
It’s much easier to make yourself just do 25 minutes of real work than to try and sit at your computer for hours just tapping away when the beach is calling. If I’m feeling especially unproductive, I’ll reduce the timer to 20 minutes and only do two or three sets. Even 40 minutes or an hour of hard work, is enough to achieve a lot.
I use Be Focussed Pro but there are lots of other Pomodoro apps out there for every platform. If you just want to try out the technique, check out TomatoTimer; it’s web based so will work on any device.
WeSwap and CurrencyFair
A big part of being productive is being efficient. You optimise your workflows so you’re not wasting time on unimportant or irrelevant tasks. Why then, wouldn’t you optimise how you spend the money you work so hard to earn?
If you’re travelling, it costs money to spend money. Say you have a US bank account and want to use your debit card to pay for a meal in France. The bill comes to €20, around $21.22 at today’s mid-market exchange rate, so you swipe your card (or rather, use the chip because European banks have embraced modern security practices) and somewhere around $24 is taken from your bank account.
Not only are you paying fees to use your card, but you’re also getting hit with a pretty bad exchange rate; at least 10% off the mid-market rate. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to end up wasting hundreds of dollars each month on transaction fees and bad exchange rates.
WeSwap and CurrencyFair are crowdsourced currency transfer service. Rather than swapping your money with a bank, they exchange it with other travellers at the mid-market rate. They also charge very little commission; it can be as low as 1%.
With WeSwap, you get a debit card which you can use to spend the money that’s in your account. It works as a native card (with no transaction fees) in multiple currencies. If you’re in the Eurozone, it’ll use the Euros in your account; if you’re in the States, it’ll use the dollars. If you travel a lot, it’s a great way to minimise the cost of spending money.
CurrencyFair is designed to transfer larger sums of money. If someone is paying you in dollars and you want to receive it in Euros, using CurrencyFair instead of your bank to manage things will save you a lot of money on bad exchange rates and commission.
Productivity goes deeper than just working efficiently. You also need to make sure you’re properly seeing the fruits of your labour.
Backblaze or CrashPlan
In my article on keeping your computer safe while you travel, I mentioned Backblaze and CrashPlan. They’re both similar backup solutions that automatically save everything on your computer to an offsite backup. If you travel with your computer, you need one of them.
At some point, some time on your travels, your computer is going to break or get stolen. The chances are just too high if you’re constantly moving around. When that happens, you want to be able to keep working as soon as you get a replacement computer. With Backblaze or CrashPlan, you won’t lose any files: they’re all recoverable from their website.
Working while you travel requires dedication. It’s not easy to say no to cocktails on the beach, and instead, sit down and do some work. I’ve used all the best productivity tools covered in this article and every one of them has, in some way, helped me be more productive on the road. Check them out, and, if you’ve got any great tools that help keep you productive while you travel, let me know.
Also, if you want to Build Your Own Productivity System check out our comprehensive, multi-part guide that walks you through a number of productivity methods, so you can craft your own approach that works best for you—regardless of where in the world you're working from.