You’re here, and you’re there, you’re everywhere. As a digital nomad, that’s no exaggeration, either. You enjoy a life of consistent, even constant travel, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. How can you manage your energy and still partake in your busy lifestyle?
To manage your energy as a digital nomad, you must do the following:
• Sleep, even when you don’t think you have time
• Take breaks
• Stay hydrated
• Know when to say no
• Improve your nutrition
• Exercise when you can, how you can
• Do things just for you
• Learn productivity rules
• Travel less
In this article, we’ll expand on all the above points in as much detail as possible. This way, you can create an actionable plan for your day-to-day life so you too can retain some energy. Yes, even if you’re always zipping around.
How to Manage Your Energy as a Digital Nomad
It might sound like we’re starting on an obvious note, and that’s fair. We will say this: no matter how well you try to follow the tips and recommendations in this article, you won’t succeed without sufficient sleep.
That’s not a knock on you, not at all. No matter how much you might feel like Superman or Superwoman, at the end of the day, you’re human. You need to sleep just like the rest of us.
The National Sleep Foundation says adults aged 26 to 64 need at least seven hours of sleep a night. At most, it’s recommended they get nine hours. Now, you’re probably asking, with how much you work and travel, how in the world can you sleep that long?
We get it; it’s not easy. That’s why you have to get creative in how you get your seven hours. For instance, the next time you fly, instead of watching an in-flight movie, why don’t you take a nap instead? If your flight’s several hours long, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day or night ahead.
Do you take breaks during the day? We’ll get to this in more detail in our next point. For now, we’ll mention that one of those breaks could be a short power nap. A power nap doesn’t take much of your day, only 10 or 30 minutes. In that brief time, you can benefit your body in so many ways.
SleepAdvisor.org says you can renew your sense of alertness as well as your cognitive abilities with a little power nap. You will also experience the following:
• Less chance of getting heart disease
• More productivity
• Improved mood
• Lowered stress levels
• Better memory and learning abilities
• Less exhaustion
If you don’t already implement power naps into your daily routine, we recommend you start. Of course, while napping can help improve slogging energy levels, nothing can replace getting quality shut-eye at night.
You need to get at least seven hours then, or close to it. Failing to get adequate sleep will degrade every aspect of your life. You’ll be a less safe driver. During working hours, you’ll feel like you’re in a mental fog. Worse, you’ll find it hard to enjoy the places you’re visiting on your travels. Your relationships can slip, your interests wane, and overall, you can feel like you’re just going on autopilot.
Sometimes you have to prioritize sleep over work. If it’s getting late at night and you’re pondering doing another assignment or snoozing, do the latter. Your body will appreciate it.
2. TAKE BREAKS
Speaking of your job, we humans aren’t designed to work, work, work around the clock. That saying that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” exists for a reason. When you’re always working, you have no time for anything exciting. One of the reasons you probably became a digital nomad was to chase excitement on your terms. Don’t forget that.
If you work more than 50 hours a week, you’re doing yourself a disservice. According to a 2015 article in CNBC, when researchers studied those who worked long hours and thus long weeks, they found something interesting. The longer you worked, the more productivity suffered. You’re okay if you’re under 50 hours. Exceeding 50 hours of work a week, especially 55 hours, will kill your productivity.
So yes, you might work extra long hours, but you’re not getting anything of significance done. You’re just wasting your time.
Psychology Today, in a 2017 article, wrote that you could renew your productivity with a little break. While you can decide what a “little break” means to you, plan at least one or two during the day. During this time, you can do the following:
• Daydream, which reduces stress on your prefrontal cortex
• Practice mindfulness
• Breathe deeply in 30-second increments
• Take a power nap, as mentioned
• Munch on a snack or a meal
• Take a walk, even if it’s just to the hotel lobby and back
3. MAINTAIN YOUR HYDRATION
You know how you’re supposed to drink eight glasses of water a day, right? Now, how often do you do that? Sure, maybe you get in eight cups of coffee each day, but water? You sip when you can, but it’s not easy to drink a lot. That’s something you’ll have to change.
Did you know that by the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated? If you continue to ignore your body’s thirst cues, you could get confused, dizzy, and more tired. Does any of that sound conducive to getting work done? That’s because it’s not. Your productivity takes a hit when you don’t get enough water.
These days, more and more companies make water bottles that remind you to get your eight glasses in. You can download an accompanying app that sends you a notification when it’s time to get sipping. The bottles themselves will light up or make sounds, so you never forget to drink water again.
4. KNOW WHEN TO SAY NO
This tip applies to your personal and professional life. As you know, there are only 24 hours in a day. When you consider that you should get at least seven hours of sleep, that leaves you with 17 hours to fill, what you do with your time is your decision, but you shouldn’t spend all those hours working.
You have goals for yourself, both short-term and long-term. Have you achieved them or do you often get sidetracked with long flights, mountains of emails to respond to, and assignments that take hours? If so, then it’s time to learn a magic word.
You may own a business, but that doesn’t mean it’s your sole responsibility to do every last thing. That’s why you have employees. If you hired competent people to fill roles, then they should handle specific responsibilities that keep the company from crumbling to the ground without you.
If you have a workload that’s full several times over, what do you do if you get an email asking you to take on more work? If you’re booked solid for the next three days and someone requests a meeting in the middle of the afternoon, what do you tell them? You say no.
Now, you’ll probably have a hard time with this at first. You’re going to worry that if you don’t do it, how will anyone else? Again, remember you hired your employees for a reason. Have some faith in them and their abilities. Trust that they can do some things you can’t and everything will work out fine.
Saying no lesser priority activities work in your personal life, too. As a digital nomad, you probably spend a lot of time alone. You get to dictate your schedule as well. If you’re feeling exhausted from a tough couple of weeks traveling at work, and realize you have a personal trip coming up, do you have to take it? No! If it’s not too late, you can cancel.
Saying no isn’t about denying responsibilities or dodging work. Instead, it’s about making decisions that suit you. Sometimes saying no frees up your time for things you want to do, and other times it gives you the space to do what you need to do. You know, like eat, sleep, relax, those things.
5. EAT NUTRITIOUSLY
Your diet seems to consist exclusively of airline food and room service entrees. If you have the time to venture outside of your hotel room, you try to eat better, but admittedly, that doesn’t happen often.
You’re much more interested in eating what’s convenient than what’s healthy. It’s not that you don’t care about your health, but you’re often so busy you don’t get two seconds to think about it. Sometimes you skip meals altogether. You don’t do this on purpose, either. Time gets away from you, and you forget to eat. Before you know it, you look up at the clock and the day has ended.
The dietary choices you make each day can directly influence your energy levels. You may choose caffeinated beverages and even food for a quick jolt of productivity, but this doesn’t last long. The same happens when you have sugar. For 20 or 30 minutes, you’ll feel energized and ready to go. Then you lose the feeling, and you fall into an even deeper slump of exhaustion than the one you were in before.
That’s because the foods you’re choosing to consume can’t sustain your energy levels in the long-term. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there are ways to eat to have higher energy. Not just for a few minutes or hours, either, but throughout the whole day. Dieticians and health professionals have worked together to study food and energy. What does the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend you eat and skip?
Here are some pointers:
• Avoid energy drinks, coffee (especially with sugar), and soda. You only get temporary boosts of energy from the caffeine and sugar. Then you crash and can never quite recover your strength.
• Make sure you eat snacks throughout the day, especially those with fiber and protein. For instance, try berries, Greek yogurt, string cheese, carrots, nuts, or apples. Make it a point to seek out these foods, even though it’s not always easy when traveling. Your body will thank you.
• You should ideally eat some healthy fats, low-fat dairy (fat-free is okay, too), vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and whole grains throughout the day.
6. GET UP AND MOVE!
When you’re tired, the last thing you feel like doing is getting up and exercising. That’s completely understandable, but passing out on the hotel bed each night isn’t the best thing for your health. We’re sure you know that, but we have to say it anyway.
Then there’s the little matter that even if you are inclined to exercise, how would you ever find the time? It’s not like you can spread out a yoga mat at the airport and do some stretching. You can’t exercise on the plane, either.
Then, when you’re not traveling, you have a lot of work to do. If you have a little bit of time not spent on travel or work, you want to get out and explore the area you’ve paid to see. That might be the only exercise you do, but even then, it’s light walking.
You’ll have to sit down and rework your schedule a bit because you should carve out some time for exercise.
Although it’s from 2006, this study from WebMD on exercise and energy levels is timeless. The study found that you can have more energy by exercising. Psychological Bulletin and its researchers gathered over 6,800 participants. They then did 70 different studies on how exercise can influence energy levels. What they found in almost every instance was those who exercised more had more energy to spare. Even those who lived relatively sedentary lifestyles reported the same effects.
These people did have to exercise consistently. Maybe that doesn’t mean every day, but it does mean choosing times to exercise a few times a week and to stick to it. By the way, it doesn’t seem to matter how healthy you are. You can still reap these benefits. In the study, those with heart disease, cancer, and other medical conditions also had energy boosts.
If you dedicate yourself to it, you can always make some time to exercise. You might have to get creative about how you do it given your digital nomad lifestyle, but it’s possible. Here are some ideas:
• Stuck waiting at the airport for a flight? Instead of rushing to Starbucks or the airport bar, take a few laps around the building’s interior. Most airports are pretty big, so this exercise should count.
• If you’re tired when you arrive at the hotel, then hit the gym the next morning or evening. Get there at least every other day while you’re staying somewhere.
• Buy a yoga mat and do poses in your room. You’ll improve your flexibility while burning calories! If you cannot decide on which moves to do, watch a few instructional YouTube videos to give you the best ideas.
• Take walks or jogs around the area you’re visiting. These walks and runs give you a great chance to get acquainted with your locale while also getting in a good sweat sesh.
7. SPEND MORE “ME” TIME
At the forefront of your company, the work never ends. You’re always struggling to stay on top of your workload and keep things manageable, so you don’t figuratively drown. On top of that, you attempt to balance the travel aspect of your digital nomadism.
Traveling might seem like enough “me” time for you, but in reality, it isn’t. Getting up at the crack of dawn, dragging luggage and carry-ons around, dealing with large crowds, and sitting in a packed plane for hours doesn’t give relaxation. Almost anyone would agree with that.
You need some real time for yourself to do what you want. We can’t tell you what that is; only you know. Take a moment to think about yourself and your interests outside of traveling and owning a business. What do you like to do? When was the last time you engaged in that hobby or activity? Has it been weeks, months, or even years? If so, you should rectify that.
You might think taking time for yourself is selfish, especially when you have so much to do. “Me” time can benefit you in so many more ways than you realize, though. Mindbodygreen posted a cool infographic with information from psychologists about why you need to take time for yourself.
The reasons include:
• Better relationships with others
• Improved problem-solving skills
• More time for self-reflection and deep thinking
• Greater self-discovery
• Boosts productivity rates
• Allows for better concentration
• Provides relaxation
• Gives your mind a reboot so you can tackle future tasks with a clear head
The next time you tell yourself you can’t take some time away because you have too much work to do, go back and review this list. You can improve your working life by spending some “me” time. You’ll feel more productive, concentrate better, and have a clearer head so you can focus on your to-do list.
How often should you take your “me” time? At least daily if you can, but ideally, whenever you have the time. Maybe that’s every few days or even once a week. Just make sure you prioritize yourself semi-often. It’s right for you.
Another task you probably feel like you can never do as a digital nomad is meditating. You only get to stop everything and try to turn your mind off when you go to sleep at night. Although you might not find it easy, you should strive to incorporate meditation into your life.
The EOC Institute mentions that meditation can help your energy levels in many ways. Your brain has two chemicals that keep your energy levels up. These include growth hormones and dehydroepiandrosterone or DHEA. Your growth hormones kicked into overdrive during puberty, allowing you to grow to your full potential. Now, they keep your organs and tissues healthy. As for DHEA, it promotes energy and wellbeing. You’ll often find it as an ingredient in supplements that promise more energy.
While sure, you can always get your dosage of growth hormones and DHEA through supplements, and your body can make these chemicals itself. You have to meditate for that to happen. If you do so consistently, your body produces more growth hormones and DHEA. You thus feel more energized in your day-to-day life.
You only have to take a few minutes each day to meditate. At first, you’re going to find it very hard to shut off your mind. You’ll focus on the unanswered emails in your inbox. Your thoughts will drift off to that meeting today at four o’ clock or your flight details for the next day.
Practice makes perfect. The more time you put into meditation, the easier it becomes for these thoughts to pass through you without you giving them your full attention. Give it a try for yourself!
9. MASTER THE RULES OF PRODUCTIVITY
Another great way to manage your energy is to spend your work time wisely. Here’s a scenario for you. You have a ton of assignments on your plate. As you’re in the middle of one, you get an essential email requesting a phone meeting that day. The email distracts you. By the time you get back into your flow, it’s time for the meeting. That again takes away time for your day. You end up working into the night, your energy disappearing with each passing minute.
Everyone faces distractions in their working lives. Temptations like smartphones and social media also make it hard to concentrate. That’s why you should familiarize yourself with the rules of productivity. These will save you time during your workday, thus conserving your energy just a bit more.
Time-tracking app Timely says there are seven productivity rules. These include:
• Take breaks (which we already talked about earlier in this guide)
• Plan ahead. Make an agenda or schedule to follow for the day/week
• Differentiate between urgent tasks and priority tasks, then plan your schedule accordingly.
• Prioritize essential tasks over urgent ones, and a tactic referred to as the Eisenhower Principle
• Spend less time on low-value tasks, automating or outsourcing when you can
• Use a time-tracking tool or app to see where your productivity levels excel and suffer
• Continue measuring productivity
We also have to talk about the Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 Rule. Way back in 1895, a man named Vilfredo Pareto coined the 80/20 Rule. Pareto worked as an economist. He divided the way many people used their time, calling 80 percent the “trivial many” and the other 20 percent the “vital few.”
Today, people use the 80/20 rule to prioritize the tasks and goals that matter most to them. You put the most important tasks and goals in your top 20 percent and the other, less critical tasks in the 80 percent. By doing this, you should start your day doing your most important work first and then winding down with those tasks you can skip or defer to another day. This way, you’re never stuck at the end of the day with work you have to do when you’re exhausted and have no energy.
The next time you plan your week, sit down and try organizing tasks and goals into your top 20 percent and your bottom 80 percent. Then focus on the tasks in the 20 percent and wait later to work on those in the 80 percent, by doing this your productivity will increases.
10. TRAVEL LESS OFTEN
Maybe you don’t even have any energy to spare. You end each day with leaden eyelids and weeks’ worth of exhaustion. Each night, you get a few hours of shut-eye, but it feels like you could sleep for weeks and it wouldn’t be long enough. You wish you could clone yourself, so you had enough time to get everything done.
As a digital nomad, you have the freedom to travel whenever you want, wherever you want. Remember, though, that’s a luxury, not a law. No hard and fast rule says you have to always jet set here and there.
You may feel some pressure to maintain a particular lifestyle because you call yourself a digital nomad. Maybe you want to impress your coworkers, your friends, or your family. You could feel like you have something to prove to yourself or others. You could even travel as much as you do to maintain a blog or social media presence.
You have to ask yourself, is any of the above worth it? Sure, it’s all relatively important, but more than your sanity? Your productivity? Your energy? Probably not.
If you always yearn to travel, then we’re not saying to stop. As long as you have the means to continue your traveling lifestyle, then you should keep it up as long as you desire to. Maybe instead of traveling every other week, though, you stay in one place for a few weeks.
Flying less often means you don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn or in the middle of the night for a flight. You save energy avoiding crowds and the airport. You gain more time to work since you’re not losing six or eight hours on a plane at a clip. More importantly, you have the freedom to get to know the place you’re visiting truly. If you have an exceptionally long itinerary or dream list, you can check off every last item.
In digital nomadism, energy comes at a premium. You often have little if any to spare, what with your constant traveling and stacked workload. By following the tips, pointers, and advice we provided in this guide, you can find ways to conserve and increase your energy. Good luck!
I’m the owner of Digital Nomad Explorer. I’ve traveled to over 50 countries and been an expat in Scotland, Finland, and China. I was a digital nomad while having my own robotics company and traveled throughout Europe and China working remotely. Currently, I’m location independent with a home base in Kirkkonummi, Finland.