Category Archives: Work from home

The Costs of the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

The Digital Nomad life is now accessible to more and more as our world gets further connected. We love to follow the romantic blogs and Instagram accounts of happy families who seemingly galavant across the world with hip looking children, drinking coconut water along the way and occasionally cranking out a few hours of work here and there to pay for their travels. They seem so well adjusted and self-actualized. The digital nomad life seems like an ideal lifestyle, and it feels like if you aren’t doing it, there must be something wrong with you.

But there are steep prices to pay for this lifestyle that no one tells you about. 

There are two kinds of global nomads. The first are the ones who do it specifically for the travel, mostly taking it as an extended vacation with some work involved. The goal is to work from a location and observe the local culture, then later return back to home base. This could be the person who travels frequently for work but whose family is rooted in their home culture.

The second variety are who I’m talking about. These are the long term digital nomads who have made it a lifestyle. They either have no home base or have a series of home bases which are not in their home culture. Their family (if they have one) comes with them and they have no plans of “going home” or settling down. They engage the cultures they are in and take root.

What are the long term challenges digital nomads face?

Displacement

The feelings of displacement are very real. Being away from your home culture, extended family, friends and familiar places is extremely taxing, to put it mildly. It sometimes feels like a military assignment without any structure or purpose, and the worst part is, you have no battalion.

The mind can only take so many “unfamiliar” at a time, and is not meant to be constantly readjusted for long, sustained periods. One has to give themselves time to become acclimated and familiar with a new location, set of relationships and way of doing life.

I don’t use the term “displacement” lightly as this term is largely associated with refugee populations.  There is a huge difference between “push” of refugees being forced out of their country and “pull” of the digital nomad life. While the situations are very different, there are some feelings which are common between these two groups. The similarities are in the displacement of starting over, the feelings of confusion and longing for familiarity of one’s homeland.

Losing Yourself

Losing oneself doesn’t happen until you allow yourself to truly be known by the locals. I’m not talking about the digital nomad who roams a different country every three months. This is the digital nomad who finds a place and camps out for an extended time, engages the culture, makes friends and allows themselves to be known deeply by the local people. There is a difference between being an observer in a culture and being an active participant. In becoming an active participant, you give something of yourself. You must loosen some of your roots of your home culture and be willing to let go.

Many nomads travel to “find themselves,” but in order to do that, you must lose yourself first. 

Priorities

In the process of becoming a global citizen, one’s priorities have to be completely undone and reevaluated. In the digital nomad lifestyle, one’s perspective of the world goes from an ant size grass level view to a 30,000 cruising altitude view in a relatively short period of time. The first year of nomadic life, is wildly disorienting. Your family, your identity, what you care about, all gets called into question as you delve into a new way of doing life. What is really important and what is not important, all must be reevaluated in order to learn how to function. And for those who find that sweet spot, things eventually fall into place in an improved order.

Each culture has a grid, a different way of wiring and functioning. At first, you often short circuit in a new culture as you assume the wiring is the same as your culture’s grid. These short circuits can lead to a fire in the grid if one doesn’t let the wires disconnect and be reassembled. That period of disconnecting and ambiguity is highly uncomfortable.  Sometimes in this period, you are barely functioning. Slowly, the discomfort goes away as the new wiring starts to work for you. The old wiring is disconnected and forgotten.  You become an improved and flexible machine. 

Even with the steep costs, living the digital nomad life is worth it. 100% worth every tear, every confusing wakeful night and every piece of lost luggage along the way.

 

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Why Being Mothers Makes Women Better Professionals

Before I had children, I had this fuzzy imaginary picture of what it looked like to be a stay at home mother. You drank green smoothies every morning, made homemade cinnamon rolls and read novels while your kids played peacefully with legos in their room, while the rest of the house remained untouched and pristine. It would be so unlike the messes and chaos of the professional world. It would be peaceful and there would be no stress.

Immersing myself in the reality of being a mother of two small children, the deadlines, extreme need for multi-tasking and fast paced environment have not ceased to be necessary, to my surprise.

Spending time with small children all day activates a different part of the brain than sitting in meetings all day does, but I still feel stretched, intellectually stimulated and pushed to my limits at the end of the day.

Being in a high-functioning professional environment trained me to switch gears quickly and utilize short spurts of time for maximum performance. This is not unlike the skills needed for managing children. Let me give you an example.

Professional environment- It is 8am and you’re at your desk fielding a phone call about an upcoming meeting while putting the finishing touches on a written marketing strategy in google docs. Immediately following the call, but only 10 minutes before you are supposed to report on your marketing strategy to your boss, you are called into the CEO’s office where you are asked to give a quick high level overview of your progress on a different project. Meanwhile your breakfast is getting cold on your desk. You also need to book flights for an upcoming conference, submit last month’s expense report and reply to a few important emails before lunch. You are supposed to meet a vendor for coffee at 11, but your day is out of control and you will likely have to reschedule.

Home environment- After a difficult night with a sick baby, your doorbell rings at 6:00am. You are waiting for FedEx to deliver some important documents, so you hop out of bed and rush to the door. By the time you get there, whoever it was, is already gone. The doorbell woke up your toddler who asks for breakfast and tells you his “tummy hurts.” It is still 2.5 hours until school so you get out a puzzle for him to work on, give him some water and transfer your baby to your husband’s side of the bed, so she feels a body next to her and doesn’t wake up. You make a quick cup of tea for yourself and sketch out your priorities for the day including tracking down these important documents from FedEx, attending an HOA meeting and going to the bank to get a cashiers check for a purchase you need to make. A text comes in, your breakfast guest is running late, which only leaves you 20 minutes with her before you have to drop your son to school. While your son is brushing his teeth, you quickly pack his lunchbox while texting a friend who has a question about her rental apartment, and asks you because you are knowledgeable about real estate in that area. The baby wakes up and it is time to feed her. You grab your phone to scan through your email and send next week’s flight itinerary to your friend that you’ve scheduled a visit with, all with one hand since you are nursing your baby. Your guest arrives for breakfast and this is all before 8am.

Both situations require thinking on your feet, changing gears from low level details to giving high level summaries. The brain is exercised in multiple dimensions. In both scenarios, the priorities are continually shifting.

If women are so skilled in muti-tasking and managing shifting priorities, why does the workplace often see mothers as “less valuable employees?” Why should mothers be nervous about being rehired after taking a few years “off?” Is she not a more multi-dimensional thinker after having children? Is she not even smarter and savvy, having ample practice in balancing shifting priorities?

I find that a woman becoming a mother makes her even stronger and an even more dedicated professional. She has a strong desire to focus and has proved she is dedicated to long term projects. She has the ability to think broadly yet focus on the fine details. She can be firm, yet flexible. She can emphasize yet make tough decisions.

Mothers who reenter the workforce should be seen as more marketable and not less.

The Cure for Mommy Brain

I used to wonder what stay at home moms did all day. I was annoyed and frustrated when friends told me they were “too busy” to hang out or return my phone calls because they now had kids and were stuck in the house all day.

Now being a mother of two small children, I certainly feel the pinch in being able to complete certain tasks, such as responding to a sensitive text or committing to making plans with a friend for an outing. But I still sometimes wonder why people tell others they are “too busy.”

“Too busy” is really a poor use of semantics to describe a lack of mind space. What we should say is “I’m too distracted.”

Being a mother of small children is an absolute doozy on a woman’s brain. Even the most efficient women find themselves pulled between multiple tasks at once, which stretches her short term memory capacity to the maximum and her patience to shreds. Being regularly interrupted for years on end breaks the power of her concentration and trains her mind to be constantly multitasking. Then she beats herself up when she can’t focus. This is nothing but a law of nature, yet she fights it.

Yet somehow in our Western culture, we are feed young moms the white lies like they are recent graduates at a cheesy commencement speech –  “the time is now”, “now or never”, “seize the day.”

Why does Western culture insist on torturing young moms by dangling the unrealistic notion that it is easy to have a monetized mommy blog, write a book on your maternity leave or go back for your online MBA while bouncing a toddler on your lap? Enough already.

These things are all achievable, for some people. But for a caretaker of young children, there are actually much better times in life to do certain things like start a business, go back to school, or work on certain areas of your own professional development. This is the time to give your overachieving self a break and focus in on the tasks at hand in the next couple of years – raising healthy human beings.

There isn’t a cure for “mommy brain.” But you can learn to accept it.

So here is a challenge to all my young mom friends. When you’re fed the cultural lies, refuse to digest them and make them your own. Hold onto that extra baby weight for a little bit longer. Push away the lies that you need to be a productive, career woman and have perfectly behaved children, all while baking homemade bread and brewing kefir. It just isn’t gonna happen right now.

You really can’t “have it all.” At least not all at once, right now.

The IKEA Generation 

My grandma’s vaccum cleaner taught me a valuable lesson. I have never seen anything like this. This thing probably weighed 40 pounds and it came with a 25 year warranty. Being a Millennial, I was baffled when my Grandma told me she bought it in the 1970s. How was this thing still working?KirbyVaccuum

Traditionalists/Silent Gen (1927-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and even Gen Xers (1965-1980) made purchases that were going to last them a lifetime.

Many generations born before 1980 have a “settle and stay” mentality. They buy a house in their 30s and live in it until they retire. The American dream includes buying a long lasting oak bedroom set and matching furniture throughout the house, being careful to include family heirloom pieces.

The older generation bought to last.

Our generation is a mobile one. I know people who don’t even have a vaccum, but just set their Roomba loose while they are at work.  We buy condos to sell them and make a profit. We buy IKEA stuff knowing that we will replace it in 3 years when our job moves us across the country.  We use Netflix instead of buying the collectors set of “Friends” on DVD. We value digital content over hard copies. We are global nomads, spending money on experiences rather than stuff.

There is no question that generations adapt to the times and workforce culture. Our lifestyles have to adjust. But I wonder if these “IKEA” mentality doesn’t have an affect on our relationships?

Do we idolize our lighter lifestyles? Do we think about investing into relationships that are built to last?

The older generations had the expectation that marriage was for life. They desired less change and less adventure. The Traditionalists were children of the Depression, and reached for stability as their highest value. That stability has slid into less of a need with each progressive generation. Nothing is permanent to us.

The relational wisdom of older generations, especially Traditionalists, still matters.

I want to challenge my fellow Millennials and Centennials to learn these important values of commitment, stability and compromise from the older generations. Not everything is disposable, and lets not forget it.

As we reach around the world, let’s keep the values of permanence in relationships intact.

For more on generations, check out The Six Living Generations in America.

Dos and Dont’s of Working from Home

I’ve found that there are only a few activities I can successfully get done from my home office: answering simple short emails  that take less than 3 minutes, conference calls, and reTweeting others’ material  on Twitter. That’s it. Pretty pathetic, huh?

Why is it that my tea cupboard tempts me, the pile of laundry on my closet floor annoys me and that pile of leaves in the yard beckons me to go out and rake it up?

At home sometimes my creativity is so zapped by distractions, that I can hardly write a Tweet, much less create a semi-intelligent blog post or edit my company’s  sales process outline. Why does this happen to us?

Q: How does working from home zap our creativity?

A: We don’t eliminate the wrong distractions parts of our day by creating boundaries.

Lets examine the big distractions and challenges and how we can overcome them.


The ‘No Nos’ of Working from Home

1) Assume that Work Will Happen on Its Own

You probably don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder, nor do you have a detailed schedule that others are imposing on you. You must schedule times for tasks on your own and stick to it. Working from home requires an immense amount of discipline and one should be prepared to ‘be your own boss’. Schedule times to blog,  make sales calls, catch up on personal emails, etc. Honor your schedule.

2) “I Work Alone” Mentality

You are fiercely  independent, which is maybe why you are working for yourself or from a remote location. however, we don’t operate effectively in a vacuum. Seek an accountability partner who also works from home. Chat once a week to talk about your schedule, how well you are honoring your scheduled tasks and what your goals are for next week.

3) Bringing Work into your Personal Spaces

It sounds like common sense, but I have been guilty of this many times. When a 6am conference call is required to chat with colleagues in a different time zone, sometimes it feels good to snuggle under your bed covers and prop your computer up on a pillow . Don’t do it! Get up, make some tea. Find another warm chair in your house and get comfy there. This is one reason why your office should be comfy-see next point) under “Must Dos”.

Must Dos for Working at Home

1) Make your Workspace Enjoyable

Get a comfortable chair and a desk that you enjoy working at. Decorate your office (or designated work space) with pictures,  a nice color of paint and a nice ambiance. You should look forward to sitting in your office. If your office is uncomfortable and staunch you’ll probably end up sitting on the couch and eating Fritos instead. This hurts your personal productivity. Enjoy your office space.

2) Find Creative ways t0 Multitask

Eating and working at the same time is not the only way to save time (nor is it the cleanest).  Podcasts and audiobooks are my personal favorite to personal productivity! I can listen to business podcasts or audiobooks at any moment and you can do many other things simultaneously.

Here are some of my favorite ways to use audiobooks or podcasts:

  • while loading the dishwasher or cooking lunch
  • while exercising
  • while riding your bike to a meeting (or driving)
  • while getting ready or putting on makeup
  • while doing mundane tasks like data entry
  • while doing yard work

3) See Other People…Daily!

I can’t stress this enough. Schedule time to see people face to face every day! Even if this means going to visit your 90 year old next door neighbor for 20 minutes in the middle of your work day, do it. I find that being alone all day actually hurts my personal productivity. I need of social interaction I spend too much time on social media browsing my friend’s pictures, but the fact of the matter is- we need to talk to people face to face! I learned this the hard way when I looked at how many hours I was spending on different tasks per day. I was taking way too long to get even simple tasks done. I was bored. My advice is to get out! See people. I promise it will help your productivity.

Working from home can be one of the most challenging and rewarding endeavors. Be sure to set yourself up with the right circumstances to be productive.

A Cold Inspirational Start

Last winter I was sitting in my Chicago bungalow, under a blanket with a space heater next to me and a typing on my computer with gloves. It was the biggest storm of the season and I hadn’t left the house for days. But hey…I was still working!

I needed advice. My frozen fingers typed into google ‘work from home’, ‘working from home advice’, ‘Chicago work from home groups’…nothing but a few measly sites that gave me 10 tips which I already discovered myself long before.

Was there anyone else out there who wanted to know hot to be more productive by working from home? Anyone else who was going crazy sitting in their house all day?

One November afternoon during my work day, I contemplated what I’m uniquely good at. As I sat under a tree reading Selling the Invisible in my front yard taking my routine afternoon break from emails, it hit me like an apple allegedly hit Newton on the head- I am an expert on working from home.

I was inspired to start this blog from Andreas Kluth’s Global Nomad article on the Economist which I originally heard about from a favorite podcast of mine Indicast. The article’s point is that “Global Nomadism’ is changing the way we interact with each other. It is changing the way we work. It is changing our productivity. It changes our boundaries between work and personal.

As a lone US based ranger of a company based overseas, I wondered if anyone else was out there who felt like they were at work all the time. I’ve started this blog to create a Global Nomad community and place where other nomads can read funny stories and share thoughts about the advantages and frustrations of working from remote locations

Here are some of the topics I plan on covering:

  • Maximizing your time at work
  • Creative ways to multitask
  • Staying disciplined
  • Keeping productivity up
  • Social Interaction
  • Separating ‘work and personal’
  • Saving money for yourself and your company
  • Connecting with other ‘nomads’
  • Fun travel stories and tips
  • Managing your schedule

Three cheers for a nomadic lifestyle!

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