Life of a Geographically Free Art Director
Since the age of 15, I have had this itch to travel and explore. Sadly enough, I have always been very clever to make excuses why not to do so. In spring 2012 I decided to resign from my full-time job and put all in for FSF. For the first time the conditions were better than ever before; I had been able to save for a rainy day and FSF allowed me to have geological freedom. I ran out of excuses. Somehow back then I already knew that this decision is something that I will be grateful for rest of my life.
Last night I calculated that I have spent over 1000 hours in various cafes, restaurants and coworking spaces in nine different countries. The location of my “office” and people around me (I actually do call them “co-workers”) have been changing daily. I’ve come across several inspirational creatives, entrepreneurs, old couples and even families who have made a total life change. They have moved their offices to various dream destinations, while concurrently flourishing their careers and taking care of their families.
But unlike my friends often think, I have not been merely lying on a beach and sipping on a coconut juice. In all honesty this has not been the reality at all. Yes, I do admit that this kind of luxury has been a regular activity in some destinations, but ultimately I haven’t found a way to dodge the daily hard work. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no way to make the whole experience more enjoyable. That’s why I wanted to write this blog post. Here’s my 6 tips to a teleworker.
1. See the difference between the backpacking and teleworking
Bangkok, Thailand 01/19/2013 – It’s almost midnight. For the whole evening some hostel guests have persuaded me to join their rooftop party. I have an important deadline to meet and the wireless internet connection works only in the lobby. Before this I’ve always regarded myself as a backpacker, but I think those times are now behind me.
I believe backpacking and teleworking often go hand in hand, but this may require you to find a proper balance and to compromise. Whatever happens, if you’re committed, make sure you meet the deadlines and walk the talk. The rule of thumb is to work wherever and whenever you want, but to get your work done. This way you earn your freedom. Quite often it requires sacrifices and saying no to tempting treks, hikes or rooftop parties. Before you leave home, ensure that you’re aware of the distinction between backpacking and teleworking. Once you’re ready to go, choose your destination wisely. If your work doesn’t require a reliable internet connection, don’t trouble yourself with it. If you need to be online, skip island hopping in the Philippines or working for NGO in rural Cambodia. Try to foresee options that provide a smoother ride.
2. Office location
Phnom Penh, Cambodia 12/27/2012 – I arrived this cafe around 8am and now It’s almost 9pm. The staff is curious and I think that by now they know more about me than most of my friends do. I took few days off from FSF Charity location and moved my office to the capital of Cambodia. Working here makes me wonder why I can get things done here more efficiently and with higher intention than in any other office ever.
You may not believe this, but working from a buzzing coffee shop can be less distracting than working from a calm office. Yes, at first it does sound counter-intuitive, but when you think about it there’s really no interruptions by officemates. Needless to say, a change of environment stimulates creativity. I believe that even changing the environment just for one day a week will bring new types of input, which stimulates creativity and inspiration. In my theory, people around you create positive pressure to push you to be more productive, instead of scrolling up and down Facebook status updates. Watch out as this stuff is addictive.
Tip: Even if you don’t listen to music bring a good pair of earphones. These will work as a sign saying “Don’t Disrupt Me”.
3. Remember to stop
Ubud, Bali, 09/12/2012 – Just a few weeks ago I was overspending my budget, rushing through dense cities in Japan and having hard time to meet my deadlines. I knew that I was eventually running out of the spark to travel if I continued like this. I even felt like going back home even though I would still have seven months to go. Here in Bali, I am ahead of deadlines, while meeting loads of energizing expatriates and entrepreneurs.
While planning my trip in Paris, Tero, who is now doing his second around the world trip, gave me a valid advice to stop every now and then. Obviously I blocked my ears and made a rookie mistake by planning an intense schedule. I also didn’t follow my budget. I had to put my travel plans aside and stop.
This suggestion led me to spend the most memorable time in Bali. During these six weeks I built two websites, edited two videos, read three books and still had tons of time to explore the breathtaking Bali and even myself. Once you’re familiar with the surroundings and you know how things work, your time can be allocated to more important things. Since then, I have stopped deliberately, e.g spending one week without clock, computer or any modern gadgets in Lake Toba, Indonesia. I have also participated in a meditation retreat in Cambodia.
4. Play with your work schedules
Pagudpud, Philippines 11/10/2012 – I must be in paradise. Locals call it Blue Lagoon. I’ve been surfing the whole morning, I just had lunch with a local student and soon I’m about to start my work. Makes me question the real reasons why so many people dislike Mondays.
Although most of my days I’ve been trying to follow the more traditional working hours, occasionally it’s just refreshing to forget the nine-to-five attitude and experiment with the schedule. Wake up early, leave your computer, and head off to enjoy the day. Follow your most efficient working hours and have a long break in the middle of the day. Or even work in one hour slots. Be curious, do a little self-observation to see what works, or just do it because you can!
5. Do your research
Hangzhou, China 05/27/2012 - I can’t access my email, Dropbox, Facebook or any other social media services. I should be the one taking care of our social media! I’m traveling with Mikko in mainland China and he seems to be doing just fine. I was aware of these challenges, but I couldn’t imagine how much adaptation all this requires.
There has been countless times when I have arrived to a new city just before having a Skype meeting, and found myself in the situation where I’ve been running around 3-4 internet cafes before finding even one reliable internet connection. To avoid this, do your research first and for example google the best local cafes near you. I always try to avoid large chains to stay away from paying extra fees or filling internet provider’s signup forms. If I’m in a rural area, I normally ask local teenagers where they go to watch Youtube clips and update their Facebook profiles. That has been working pretty well. But when the s**t hits the fan, breath in, breath out and be aware that you’re not home. Eazy!
6. Another type of “co-workers”
Tokyo, Japan 07/05/2012 – I could never believe that it’s so difficult to find a free wifi in Tokyo. The language barrier doesn’t make things easier at all. Thankfully I’m not the only one struggling. I got valuable advice from a Japanese entrepreneur to check this coworking space out. If FSF ever has an office in Japan, I’m quite sure the atmosphere will be like this.
One of the biggest fears most people encounter when they consider teleworking as an option is to be left alone, since there’s no one to reflect with and share daily ups and downs. All the major cities, even in Asia, are full of coworking spaces and coffee shops booked-up with people in front of their laptops. If you think about it, it resembles a party for singles. Most are eventually looking for someone to talk with, share their travel stories and pitch their current ideas. I myself am an introvert who generally needs that extra push to approach new people, yet still I have met people from diverse cultures and backgrounds every week. For example in the Philippines, I explained the essence of medicinal mushrooms to an old American entrepreneur, who was currently remotely consulting adventure sports businesses. In Cambodia, a young Thai web designer scrolled through our website and shared his ideas how to improve it. I reckon this kind of atmosphere would be difficult to achieve in a regular office environment.
Even though the last year has been by far the most memorable 12 months my life (so far) and that the teleworking seems to work very well for me, there’s nothing that beats seeing your business partners every now and then. Thanks guys