I'm currently working from a flat in Athens, where I'll be for the next two days before I take off on a flight to Malta.
After spending a week in Malta, I'll spend a night in Istanbul before heading off to Austin. From there, I'll spend whirlwind two weeks in Vancouver, another week in Austin, and another week in Vancouver before heading off to South America indefinitely.
I'm officially a vagabond (or, as I like to say much to the chagrin of certain friends, I'm intentionally homeless). I'll write more about this and how it came to be soon, but this brings me to the point of this post…
It's really damn hard to reach your goals when your life is crazy.
And I know a lot of you have crazy lives, too. You have kids, or you're traveling, or working long hours. Maybe you are going through major life transitions or something more simple is distracting you from making progress.
If you have struggled to make progress in Unsettling for any reason, this post is for you. These 5 tips have always helped me move forward and grow no matter my circumstances, and they can help you, too.
1. Maintain Consistency (Even If You Can't Maintain Routine)
I've been thinking a lot lately about consistency.
When you live life out of a
suitcase carry on and you don't have a home-base, consistency is difficult to maintain, because you don't have a routine.
Sure, you can set up a routine for a week or two – however long you remain in one place – but as soon as you move on, so does your routine.
Routine and consistency are not one and the same. Routine makes consistency infinitely easier to maintain, but consistency is what really pushes you forward. It's what you do every day. Even when you don't feel like it. Even when you would rather press the snooze button, have brunch with your friends or press play on another episode on Netflix.
Consistency: “Every day, I write”
Routine: “Every day, at 6:00 AM, I wake up, pour myself a cup of coffee, and sit down on the couch with my laptop to write for an hour“.
See the difference?
So considering being consistent is easier when you can maintain a routine, when it's impossible for you to maintain a normal routine, you can always set a “pre-game” routine.
A pre-game routine is a strategy athletes use to put themselves in the physical and mental conditions for peak performance in the court or on the field. I've written about Michael Phelps' pre-game routine before.
What actions can you take, in succession, before you tackle your project or whatever it is you set out to do, that will make you more successful?
Maybe it's meditating, going for a run and drinking a cup of coffee, or maybe it's just pouring yourself some tea and splashing water on your face before sitting down to work on your thing.
Pre-game routines are very effective for getting in the right mindset to consistently move forward even if you can't maintain a normal routine.
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2. One Hour a Day
Whether you're traveling or not, if you're building something on the side – or simply trying to maintain what you've already built – one hour a day is often sufficient to keep you moving forward.
It's not all or nothing. Often we will write off a small amount of time because we don't think it will make a big impact, but don't overlook the value of an hour of focused work.
If you're actually focusing on your work during that hour (and I mean laser focusing), you can get a significant amount done…
- One hour/day is only 4% of your day
- One hour/day for a week is 7 hours
- 7 hours/week for a month is 28 hours
- 28 hours/month for a year is 336 hours
What would you rather have at the end of the year with that 336 hours? A body of work – even if it's small – or a Netflix addiction?
Now, obviously I spend far more than 1 hour a day working, whether I'm on the road or not. SumoMe's content marketing isn't going to run itself, and I'm still doing a lot behind the scenes at Unsettle. I'd say I spend anywhere from 13-15 hours a day working, but it wasn't always this way. In Europe in 2015, I got really good at harnessing the hours I was spending on trains.
3. Start off On the Right Foot
Have you ever noticed that the first day with something sets the tone for your entire relationship with it?
I guess it's sort of like a first date. What you do on the first date often sets the tone for the entire relationship.
When I get to a new place, how I spend my first morning there influences how I'll spend the rest of my mornings. If I wake up early, do some writing and then head out to get my sweat on before hydrating and getting ready for the rest of the day (my ideal morning) then chances are I'll repeat this for the rest of my days in that one place.
If you set up a new desk, and your first hour or day at that new desk is wildly unproductive, chances are you will have a rather unproductive relationship with that desk in the future. You've unintentionally anchored that desk to unproductive behaviours in your subconscious brain.
So with anything new – a new desk, a new place, a new routine – start off on the right foot.
4. Reverse Engineer Your Environment
Last time I was in Europe I gained weight because… well, gelato.
I didn't want to gain weight again so I've been eating well, hiking, and getting as much sleep as I can. Even so, there are some places where I simply can't hike.
For example, there's not a lot of hiking in Paris. So I set a goal for myself to run in the beautiful Parisian parks.
The problem with setting goals is actually following through with them. So how did I manage to run over 18 km in the few days I was in Paris?
Well, I engineered my environment.
- I set my alarm and put it on the desk across from the bed. I'd have to physically get up and turn the alarm off, shaking me out of my “I just want to stay in bed” attitude
- I set my gym clothes out the night before.
- I mapped out my runs the day before so I couldn't use the “I might get lost int he city!” excuse. A great tool for this is MapMyRun.
How can you reverse engineer an environment so it makes it easier to follow through on consistent actions?
5. Stick to a Schedule
It doesn't have to be rigid, but if you schedule things in they are far more likely to get done.
This article is being written because I scheduled the time in. Yes, you can even stick to a schedule when you're travelling or you have a lot going on. You may not make it a week in advance, but that doesn't mean you can't stick to a schedule.
This morning, after the worst sleep ever, I woke up at 8 AM, had breakfast, and then made my schedule at around 9:45 AM. Today is my off day for exercise, but normally I'd schedule in a quick run or visit to the gym before tackling my to-do list.
I would then schedule my most important tasks, usually breaking up however much time I have into three chunks, and starting with the most important task. Once I make the schedule, I know that if I can finish what I need to get done by the end of that period of time, the option is open for me to be able to explore, or move onto another set of work.
When you are able to maintain a routine, and you have some normalcy in your life making progress is easy. But it can be difficult to make progress on your goals and grow in a meaningful way when you have a lot going on.
I'm not perfect, and I still flounder, but these are the systems I've put into place to make progress on my goals even when things are hectic.