Tag Archives: location independent

Books for Entrepreneurs: Essentialism

Greg McKeown’s infamous book, Essentialism, has been on my reading list for a long time. I can’t even remember when or where I first heard about it, but those who mentioned it always spoke of its life changing effect.

When you read a lot of business and personal improvement books like I do, you get used to people waxing lyrical about how things will never be the same after adopting strategy x. This may turn out to be one of those rare occurrences where it happens to be true. The constant doing more, but achieving less. Never feeling satisfied or that the day was meaningful.

As I began reading, I was relieved to discover I already had quite a few essentialist habits. I discovered the underlying cause of friction I felt on many projects: my broadly essentialist approach versus the non-essentialist approach being taken.

This meant that in addition to completing the task itself, I had to work out the true intent and purpose of the project. Where some people are happy to just complete any task (usually just taking the easiest route to something approximating done), I have never accepted mediocre as the target to aim for. Instead, I would rather take longer to work out how to provide a valuable outcome.

But although I was embracing essentialism in many areas, in others I was getting woefully distracted. My personal life, especially, was in free-fall at the time of reading this book. In no small part this was due to the mental exhaustion that came with battling work tasks handed to me that were governed by non-essentialist principles.

So how has this book helped me? Largely by giving me the confidence not to accept a task without getting those in charge of the project to clarify their thinking about it first. Sometimes, the person handing out that task is me. As a freelancer or entrepreneur, understanding essentialism is vital for avoiding burnout.

It’s hard to ask difficult questions sometimes, but it gives me the boundaries to not only do good work, but also valuable work.

The best part of this is that I ultimately freed up valuable creative energy to expend into my personal life and projects. I developed a new infrastructure for 2017 that allowed me to be location independent and travel.It also gives me the framework to consider carefully my side projects and see which ones are ready to move from hobby to business and which ones simply need to be cut from my life, no matter how enjoyable they seem on the surface.

For the first time since reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done, I have experienced a fundamental shift in what I believe is achievable and what my life needs to look like to get there. The confidence comes through in the decision making process. Whilst success is never guaranteed, I am giving myself the best possible shot at living a meaningful life, rather than a purely busy and productive one.

With challenging economic and political times ahead, Essentialism is one of the books I would recommend for anyone who wants to make the most of future opportunities in the changing workforce.

Gran Canaria for Digital Nomads

After spending 3 months with Gran Canaria as my home base, I can say for certain it has been a perfect place. Although the location independent lifestyle is still in its infancy in real terms, I can see great potential for the Canary Islands as a whole to become the nomad capital of Europe. I group them together as a single entity because there is so much variety in such a small space, all of it easy to access. Tenerife and Lanzarote also have a growing digital nomad community that can be reached within an hour or two.

However, I’m also aware that I have some very specific requirements when picking out my ideal travel locations, so in the review that follows, I’ll try to be balanced towards the areas that matter to a majority of people. So how do the Canary Islands fare on the key metrics?

Costs are in US dollars, unless otherwise specified.

Cost

Compared to much of Europe, the Canary Islands aren’t that expensive. They’re not dirt cheap either, as they’re developed and off the mainland. But flights from all over Europe can be purchased for around $50 if you shop around. At this price, I was able to get a return flight to the UK for a long weekend in May for around $75 – an absolute bargain.

The cost of accommodation varies depending on season (as the islands have a strong tourist influence). A one bed apartment can cost as little as $800 per month with utilities included. For less than $900 you can have sea views and balconies, which are my personal preferences. The good news is that low season, when the prices are at their most competitive, the conditions are ideal for working.

Not a bad office view

As someone who tries to eat healthily, fresh meat and produce can be slightly more expensive than in mainland Europe. Supermarkets tend to be smaller and buying in bulk to save money is not always an option. Even so, it is still more cost efficient than eating out, especially in the tourist areas, when a main meal can set you back $15-20 per person.

You have to enjoy meat and cheese around here

The constant requirement of bottled water doesn’t sit well with my conscience either if I’m honest and adds about $2 per person, per day. That adds up over three months!

Weather

Located off the coast of Africa, approximately 28 degrees north of the equator, the Canary Islands have the best weather in the world. Hot days, balmy nights, with very little rainfall. Unlike a lot of other hot, palm tree laden places in the world, this is not subject to intense rainfall. The humidity doesn’t sap away all your energy and force you inside as a sweaty sticky mess.

There can still be variations in temperature, even on the same island, given the exposed position they have to the west. Gran Canaria is a good example of this. Las Palmas in the north has much cooler temperatures than the tourists hotspots of the south, only an hour’s drive away. Regardless, if daily temperatures of 25-35 degrees Celsius (75-95 degrees Fahrenheit) sound good to you, then this might be the place to visit.

Every day is a beach day

 

Internet

If you rely on the internet (and if you’re reading this post then I assume you do), the Canary Islands can be a bit patchy. Coffee shops and coworking spaces in cities have good enough internet to use in most cases. However, once you venture into tourist areas, then coffee shop wifi is more or less an afterthought.

There is a wide variety of accommodation that come with good, free internet access included, but if you want to work in public spaces more, then stick to the cities. I made the trade-off to keep the wifi in the apartment and the beach coffee shop for pleasure or analogue work. I’m still happy with that decision after 3 months, as it actually helped with a work/life separation that can be tough when you’re independent.

Community

A strong digital nomad community isn’t high on my list of needs. Much of the work I do isn’t collaborative and I’m naturally an introvert. Coffee shops with good wifi are enough for me.

Cafe Regina – with coffee like this, I don’t need people!

But I know that for many people, especially those travelling alone, a strong digital nomad community is a must. So, although I can’t speak from personal experience here, it’s clear that Nomad City are pushing things in the right direction. In April Digital Nomad Girls Las Palmas Retreat took place, again highlighting the potential for community over here.

They are all fairly positive, but in comparison to somewhere such as Chiang Mai, it will probably seem a little slow.

Transport

Travel throughout the Canary Islands is affordable and efficient. This applies not only to the bus services that connect the various parts of an island, but also to the inter-air flights that make island hopping easy. It is also fairly simple to hire a car if you prefer to drive yourself, but it is worth noting that these are volcanic islands, so confidence on steep, winding roads with a sheer drop is a must!

Culture

Puerto de Mogan is an idyllic getaway

Although the islands don’t have the same depth of history as much of Europe, there is still over five hundred years worth of culture to be absorbed here. There are some great old buildings, festivals and the food and drink is varied and tasty. You can also explore the volcanic landscapes. I recommend going over to Mount Teide on Tenerife (the highest volcano in the world base-to-peak outside of the Hawaiian Islands) and doing a Teide star-gazing trip.

 

Courtesy of volcanoteide.com

Safety

As a woman, safety is of high importance to me. The Canary Islands contain some of the most comfortable places I’ve found. Of course, in any location, I take a lot of sensible precautions. Outside a city such as Las Palmas, you can find sleazy tourist hotspots where it is assumed that you’re there to have a good time or a summer fling. If that’s also on your travel agenda, then great. For me, it was as simple as avoiding bars at kicking out time in these areas, just as I would anywhere in the world.

In summary, the Canary Islands have something for every digital nomad or location independent worker. The key is knowing what you need and how you want to live. For those who are starting out, bootstrapping and traveling for the first time, it might not be the best place to start if you’ve watched a lot of digital nomad YouTube videos. But for those who are more settled into the lifestyle, or want something in Europe rather than Asia, then I would recommend here so much that I already look forward to when I can return.

Interested in finding out more? Check out the resources below:

CANARY ISLANDS SEIZING THE GLOBAL GROWTH OPPORTUNITY – It’s great to see the government and locals embracing the opportunities of a global market and the digital nomads that come with it.

Places To Work – Las Palmas Co-Working spaces.

Wolfhouse Tenerife – Co-Living – I’ve not visited the Wolfhouse, but I have been to Los Gigantes several times and can say it is a great place to visit.

 

Tools of the trade: Lamy Petrol ink review

As anyone who follows me over on Instagram knows, despite being deeply immersed in the digital world, I use analogue tools for creative planning. This applies to both books in development and business outlining or note taking. Therefore the items I use have to meet three criteria. They must be:

  • Attractive to use, so they make me want to write
  • Portable, so I can use them at my desk, office or coffee shop
  • Flexible, so they are appropriate in multiple scenarios

Lamy seem to be making waves in the stationery world this year, both good and bad. On the side of good, the Limited Edition Lamy Petrol collection has generated a fair bit of hype.

I’ve always been a fan of deep colours, so when I popped back to England recently, I visited Paperchase on the hunch they would have some cartridges available. They did (and probably still do), so I grabbed a couple of boxes.

Although they didn’t have the limited edition Lamy Safari Petrol fountain pen available, I have inked up my Safari medium nib, as this will be roughly the same experience. After nearly a month of constant use, I thought I’d share what makes this a good ink from my perspective.

Lamy’s official description is that Petrol is a dark teal. Teal, for those wondering, is defined as a medium to dark greenish blue. Having used it in a variety of notebooks, my experience of it has been that it is a very dark colour, with few traces of blue. If anything, it is green-black.

To an untrained eye in the boardroom, looking at regular writing rather than a swatch, I suspect that most people would label it as black ink:

It does have some variation and shading, but in most instances, you would need more than a medium nib, plus some good lighting, to bring it out.

Like many Lamy inks, it is quite wet, which works well for me. It means I can write long form quickly without it stuttering to keep up. As a bonus, it’s not so wet that it completely destroys a standard Moleskine page.

In summary, I really enjoy using this ink. It passes the portability test; I don’t hesitate before picking it up, no matter what notebook I have with me. It’s dark enough to switch between personal and professional use without being boring. However, if you’re more of a fan of a lighter, bluer teal, then you are quite likely to be disappointed by this.

At the time of writing, you can still buy Lamy Petrol Cartridges on Amazon but the prices are going up due to the limited stock, so shop around if you can. The Lamy Safari Petrol is still available over there too.

Not The 4-Hour Workweek: lessons in scheduling, time tracking and an abundance of hours

This is the first full work week completely under my own control. I set the tasks, the hours, the goals and overall strategy. Anyone who knows me will agree I love to have that kind of control. It has been a steep learning curve, but years of practicing in my free time outside of the 9-5, as well as the lessons in project management I’ve learned over the years working in companies, has made it much easier than it could have been.

Towards the end of 2016, I listened to The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. For anyone who has ever considered location independent living or being a digital nomad, then this is often the springboard book. Besides, with a title like that, who wouldn’t want to work just four hours?

Of course, is that really what the book is saying? ‘Do nothing and get rich’ is the answer a lot of people hope to get from it. But at it’s heart, it’s about doing the things that matter in the most effective way possible. It is a bible for lifestyle design. People who can automate their business to the point that they only spend four hours on them are the kinds of people who don’t then retire. They start another business. The ‘be effective’ and commitment to living big is the message they take away, not do as little as you can.

Four hours sounds nice on the surface. But if you work doing the things you enjoy, which I suspect most of Ferris’ disciples do, then four hours is never the goal.

Time tracking

As you can guess from the title, this has not been a four hour work week. My life hasn’t been fully automated with a bunch of virtual assistants running businesses for me while I sip cocktails in Bali. How do I know this? For the first time in years, I did proper time tracking.

I didn’t spend hours looking at all the different options for doing this. Instead I picked toggl, as Mike and Grey were talking about it so much on the recent episodes of Cortex. Have I gone all in? Nope, I won’t be taking advantage of that extensive API to play with. I just want to know how much time I am spending on the key areas that now constitute my day.

The results? I might not be working a four hour week, but I’m not doing a forty hour one either:

This is actual work. This is not ‘killing time’ work. This is not timesheet submission busy-work. When the tasks for the day are done, then I am done. I focus on them completely and make them as efficient as they can be. This is just the first week of data, but it is fascinating. I’ve always believed that quality of work is more important than hours spent and this is re-enforcing that in a big way.

Time scheduling – a combination of digital and analogue

In a less time efficient move, I have lost countless hours since January looking at digital project and time management tools. None of them seem to be just what I was looking for. Many were far too time intensive to set up projects and tasks for my small, single-person projects. Secondly, I’m still reliant on the GTD way of thinking, meaning that many have critical pieces missing. Thirdly, none would emphasise calendaring in a way that works for me. I’m a deadline driven person, so without a ‘real’ due date, my default action will be to happily defer.

Rather than continuing this frustration, right now I am managing things in an analog and digital combo. The first is a paper planner (the Moleskine Weekly Planner that I reviewed here) and a separate ‘work’ calendar that chunks times of the day into very high level categories (for example, editing time vs ‘line edit of x book’).

Putting the two together has allowed me to focus on the bigger picture, whilst still getting into the detail of the day. Whether it will continue to work in the long term remains to be seen, but for this first focused week, just about everything went according to plan, with enough flexibility to allow for one or two unscheduled events.

Free time and the sensation of guilt (‘I should be doing…’)

I’ve been sticking to my usual routine of starting my workday at 6am. Doing around 4 hours means I have a lot of day left at the end of my day. Whilst this sounds like a dream – and it is – the thing that I have noticed at times is an overwhelming sense of guilt. Even on the day I used all my brainpower writing 7,500 words, it was an obvious nagging sensation at the back of my brain. The quest for something ‘productive’ to do. It has made me realise how much we are compelled to fill our hours with work, when sometimes the thing to do is just relax.

I hope this is something that disappears quickly. It feels like a hangover from the 9-5 life and it serves no purpose as far as I can tell.

Walking and thinking is a valid use of time

Conclusion – scary, at times overwhelming, but eye-opening and utterly rewarding

Would I class this first proper full time writing week as a success? Yes, I would. I’ve eaten well, I’ve rested well and I’ve spent time creating new products and learning new things.

Has it been difficult and crazy ass scary at times? Of course it has. Any big change always does (and anyone who tells you otherwise has got caught up in their own lies and bravado). But I’ve also loved the freedom and the self-reliance. I’ve loved a semi-traditional work week, with all of the benefits and very few downsides.

I already can’t wait to see what next week brings when reality sets in.

The first week of my location independent experiment

I first heard the term digital nomad just over six months ago. It resonated straight away, as it fit with the lifestyle I’d been working towards for a long time. However, it definitely seemed populated by a younger demographic. Many of the articles and YouTube videos made me think of my time backpacking over a decade ago (and I was already in my late twenties then), rather than where I currently am in my life. The movement was also concentrated in South East Asia (Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia), with a smaller grouping in South America (Chile, Mexico and Brazil).

So I sat down and worked out my list of requirements for an ideal work/life. I’d already made the decision to become location independent. It turned out that my requirements made a surprisingly small list:

  • Somewhere warm, near the sea
  • Preferably a balcony overlooking aforementioned sea
  • Good wifi
  • Affordable

    Writing with a view

Digital Nomad: Asia or Europe?

All of this was possible without travelling halfway around the world from England. I did that when I spent six months in New Zealand three years ago and it always felt just a little too distant for a long term base. Over time various Canary Island locations started to be mentioned by seasoned nomads who wanted to try somewhere different. Given that it was a location I’d visited a dozen times, it felt comfortable and right to make the move.

Virtually a private pool – awesome!

Know Thyself

The list I’d made certainly didn’t include city living. As most of my work is writing, I didn’t need to be in a coworking space either. So I could rule out any of the big (relatively speaking) cities such as Las Palmas. I want to be able to cook for myself, so I didn’t need a plethora of tasty but unhealthy restaurants to tempt me. I also wanted a view that would compel me to exercise…

The reward at the end of the running track

What I am saying is this: when asking yourself which location is right for you, don’t feel like you have to choose from the ones everyone else is talking about. Make your list of requirements and find what feels right for you. Chang Mai may be a digital nomad mecca, but if that’s not what you need, then it’s really not a problem to be somewhere else.

Freedom comes from constraint

I have spent my first week out here testing the lifestyle. I started with a mini-break because I was exhausted. In the two weeks leading up to the flight, I saw lots and lots of people. As an introvert, it left me with nothing in the tank. A few days of reading at the beach was just what I needed.

Next week the work gets serious. I set up a separate calendar in iCal just for work scheduling. I got the idea from Michael Hyatt about planning an ideal week to help constrain and focus your work life. It’ll be exciting to try that out in a full implementation now I am a master of my own schedule.

I’ve also had time to test what food is available and what works with the limited cooking facilities. Constraint is great here because it means I have to think about my food. Many studies have shown that planning meals removes the weakness that leads to junk being the quick and easy option if you’re making a decision when already hungry.

Time to explore (it’s not all work!)

For me, being location and lifestyle independent isn’t actually about ultimate flexibility. After a few years of business travel, I’m looking for structure more than anything else. But I get to determine that structure to allow for maximum effectiveness and happiness.

Hopefully I’ll be just as content after my first full work week as an independent author and freelancer!

Moleskine Weekly Planner vs Hobonichi Techo – 2017 review

This year needs to be a very big year for me in terms of personal productivity. I will transition from full-time employment to being entirely self-employed within the next few weeks. I’ve always found it easy to be productive in the daily 9-5 job, but being entirely accountable for my own goals and planning is a new challenge. One that I knew my setup in 2016 simply wouldn’t be able to handle.

Last year, one of the problems I encountered with my productivity was a surfeit of notebooks. That’s really the best way to describe it. I used the Hobonichi Techo to record my daily events but not my daily tasks. They were instead recorded in a Field Notes book using a modified Bullet Journal method. I never actually adhered to the full Bullet Journal system because several features, such as calendared events, simply do not work for me.

hobonichi techo

Hobonichi Techo: great paper but no overview

In a larger A5 size notebook, such as a Moleskine or a Paperblanks, I wrote my daily gratitude journals and morning pages. On the road, this felt more like a burden than a productivity asset as it was always a minimum of three daily notebooks.

As much as  I loved using the Hobonichi, I realised this was less about the layout and much more about the paper. As a huge fountain pen fan it was great knowing it could take literally any pen and ink combo that was thrown at it. I enjoyed the variety that different form factors provide. But pleasure aside, it just wasn’t practical. I was doing less, not more, and friction in the system became a problem in itself.

As part of my 2016 yearly review, I decided to very consciously choose a planner that would suit my changing circumstances. After considering all the options, I settled on an A5 Moleskine 12 Month Weekly Planner.  I’ve been using it consistently for 8 weeks, so now I’ve got enough information to provide a fair review of how this is working.

Key Features

Of course, it starts with the obligatory information page. I have no idea why these are included anymore, as no one ever fills them out surely? In the age of widespread fraud, the Field Notes approach of email address and reward waiting checkbox is all you need.

Moleskine Weekly Planner

Passport and credit card numbers? No thanks!

The planner style is more than just a ‘space per day’ diary. On the left hand page there is a daily spread, but on the right hand side there is a lined page. This allows free space each week to make notes or, in my case, to plan out additional goals. If you need to record lots of meetings and appointments, then this might not work for you.

Moleskine 12 month weekly planner

Daily and Weekly planning combo – ideal for modified Bullet Journal

There is also a monthly spread at the beginning. This is quite similar in size to the one I used last year in the Hobonichi, so it allows for bigger picture planning. Unlike the Hobonichi, there is more space at the bottom of each page for additional notes, taking advantage of the larger A5 size.

Moleskine Weekly Planner

Monthly overview – ideal for larger project planning

By far the biggest downside is the number of lined pages for additional notes at the back. With just 4, I already only have 2 lined sides left. Given that this book is narrower than a standard Moleskine A5 ruled book, this is not due to a thickness issue. Cost saving? Quite possibly, given that the usual address book pullout section wasn’t included this year either. I’ve spoken to other people who have Moleskine diaries in other formats and they didn’t have one either. So it is slightly disappointing if they are doing that, given they don’t exactly sell these as inexpensive items and they’re certainly not reinvesting the saving into better quality paper.

Moleskine Notebook

Seriously, no more pages left and February isn’t even over!

So far, with the caveats mentioned above, I have found this system to be working absolutely perfectly for my needs. Though the paper is nowhere near as good quality as the Hobonichi (understatement of the year) I have found that by sticking to a fine nib and a relatively dry ink I can still use some fountain pens with this. But on reflection, I’m approaching this year with functionality over fun and beauty.

So, to recap, the pros and cons of the Moleskine Weekly Planner…

Pros

  • Good layout for weekly goal setting
  • Monthly view for high level planning
  • General sleek and professional form factor you would expect from Moleskine

Cons

  • Paper quality (I’ve heard Leuchtturm1917 do a similar style, so this may be a better choice if paper really matters – if anyone has tried this then please let me know in the comments as I’ll consider alternatives for 2018)
  • Not enough lined pages at the back for additional notes
  • No address book section

The layout has been the winner for me. Without masses of daily appointments and meetings to keep track of, I can use a modified Bullet Journal system within the planner itself and feel like I’m keeping all my work plans and goals on track. But I’m not blind to some fairly significant weaknesses in the product.

It’s quitting time: How Jon Acuff’s Quitter changed my life

I first read Jon Acuff’s Quitter 3 years ago on vacation. I even wrote a review on it.

I loved the book. It had many useful insights. So, did I come home from that sunny beachside view, walk into the office and hand in my notice?

pexels-photo-104750

No, I did not.

Why? Not because I didn’t want to. At the end of the book, when you feel the glimmering possibility of quitting your day job for your dream job, there is a pop quiz. One that gives you an idea of whether or not you’d make it in the real world.

I answered the questions and, despite knowing doing so wouldn’t give me the answer I wanted, I answered them honestly. The result? I was putting in some work, but not in enough areas to enable me to quit. I was annoyed with the outcome, but only because it was telling me what I already knew. It wasn’t giving me a quick out. It wasn’t giving me any kind of false hope.

The false hope is a common flaw of many business / self-help books. Their purpose is to sell you a concept. The promise that the book will change your life forever if you just follow their new approach or idea. Life isn’t that simple. Especially when it comes to quitting a stable, good job in a tough economy.

So I went back to work, but I also looked seriously at my side projects. My passion projects. Instead of keeping them as hobbies, I made them into real, practical things. Hobbies are great, but they don’t come with obligations and deadlines. You don’t hustle on a hobby. Writing for fun is the best thing ever, but I had to understand the difference between that and writing things that would allow me to follow my dreams.

pexels-photo-62471

Every year since that first experience, during my two weeks looking out over the ocean, I read the book and took the quiz again. Each year, my score got a little higher. It was slow, but it was progress.

Then one day, without that sunny view, I could feel the change in the air. It was a normal Tuesday morning, but something tickled the back of my mind. I grabbed the book and before work, I took the survey. I got a score of 65. That seemed pretty good. Higher than ever before. I flicked to the scorecard to double check.

The answer: it’s quitting time.

Still, felt like I had some work commitments and loose ends to tie up. It seemed like the decent thing to do. I also see there was a little bit of fear involved with quitting. A reason to put it off for a little while longer.

Now, after so many years of wishing it was time to quit, I finally have.

In four weeks, it will be my last day with my present company before going it alone for a while. It will be tough, but it is the most exciting thing I have ever done. Persistence has paid off and Quitter gave me the framework to create my best chance of success, rather than an impulsive leap into the unknown.

Thanks Jon!

You can find my original Jon Acuff’s Quitter review here.