Digital nomads are everywhere. Articles by outlets from The Guardian to Forbes and other such outlets go around and around, trending on social media and attracting envious comments… I wish I could. These are people who work anywhere and fit work around travelling the world. Essentially, they make their living whilst on perpetual holiday. Usually, the articles are accompanied by photos of Indonesian beaches and panoramic mountain tops. It’s the dream – these people are working the dream.
The problem is, this kind of work only suits a certain people. If the ability to work in an endless stream of coffee shops is limited to those whose work does not tie them to a single place at a specific time, the Digital Nomad life is even more niche – it requires no personal ties to a place, or responsibilities. So many people who would hanker after the life of a digital nomad would, in practice, be unable to sever the ties necessary to do it.
Kids can be taken on global adventures [after hearing Benjamin Southworth speak at Silicon Beach 2014 I’d question how good constant travel is for them, although Simon Gough is making a great job of combining parenting with an alternative work-life abroad], but elderly parents can’t. Freelance graphic designers can work from any sunkissed paradise with internet access, carers, manufacturers and police officers can’t.
We can’t all be digital nomads, but we can unleash our work in different ways.
For me, the school summer holidays have just started. My kids are running riot around the house. Much of my work over the next two months is from home, which is a double-edged sword. I want to spend time with my family, but I also need to concentrate at a time when I’m particularly swamped. I can’t just go away for the summer (it would end in divorce), but neither can I expect to be hugely productive between 8am and 8pm.
Over the weekend, my wife and I discussed it. Instead of starting with restrictions and attempting to impose a 9-5 day on a situation that just wouldn’t support it, we took freedom as our starting point and built parameters into it.
It looked a bit like this:
- 24 Hours in a Day
- Work Anytime
- Work Anywhere
- Need 6.5 hours sleep
- Need to be present for the family
- Need to get the work done
As a result of looking at things this way, we decided I should go semi-nocturnal. The house is quiet from 8pm. If I were to put the kids to bed and start work then, I could get a full 8 hours in, uninterrupted by the usual work day distractions and noises of the home. Highly productive time.
If I worked until 4am then went to bed, Sarah, my wife, would get up with the kids. I could sleep in until 10:30, before getting up and spending my day on family time and doing the things I need to do during ‘standard’ working hours.
It’s working perfectly. On days where I have to go out, I adjust the sleep times accordingly, but as a basis we’ve started with freedom and used the immovable parameters of our situation to rethink my working time. As a result, I’m finding myself extremely focussed and productive, more relaxed and nicer to be around. I’m also able to mess around outside without feeling guilty.
It’s anecdotal, but it’s the same principle that creates the far more aspirational lifestyles of the digital nomads. Start with freedom, then add the basic parameters you just can’t avoid and build your relationship with work that way. Mine is a product of my specific circumstance, but we all have an opportunity to consider our work in this context.
Freedom within parameters – it’s the same for the globe trotters as the home working parents. The important thing is that the relationship with work is on the workers’ terms, rather than the terms of the work itself. Traditionally, work dictates where we are and when… the opportunity now exists for a rethink.
And for anyone who suggests that it’s impossible to rethink, it may be that their employer needs to do the same:
- Start with 100% Freedom.
- Add the Parameters that are absolutely immovable.
- Create the answer where you unleash your work with maximum freedom, within parameters.
I’d love to hear how you get on!