The words ‘digital nomad’ might conjure up images of sun-soaked beachside workspaces, or perhaps a vision of someone hastily working on spreadsheets at the airport. Whether you’re new to the territory or a seasoned international worker, it’s safe to say this lifestyle can be a healthy mix of hard work and adventures.
As the mobile workforce around the world has rapidly expanded, so has the number of people taking it that little bit further. Global travel is getting easier and cheaper by the year, which is just one of the reasons that ‘digital nomad’ has gone from being a pipe-dream lifestyle aspiration to the everyday reality for millions of people.
Of course, there are plenty of digital nomads who simply work freelance and on-the-move within their country of origin. The term can mean different things to different people, but in any case, an increasing number of apps are springing up to aid those switching to a more nomadic working lifestyle.
Whether you just need help in managing your time, want to achieve the ideal work-life balance or could do with assistance translating signs and menus in ever-changing locations, there’s an app out there for you. Here are some of the categories you should be sure to check off.
Project management apps
First up, the apps that can help you keep track of multiple workloads and deadlines. Project management apps like Trello and Asana have quickly become freelancer favourites, offering features like client-shared to-do lists, group chats and project tracking, all kept together in one place.
Even the most competent multi-tasker needs something more than post-it notes and calendar reminders to keep big projects in order, so it’s crucial to find a project management app that really works for you.
With Trello, you can create ‘cards’ for each task that needs to be completed, and file things into visualised columns like ‘in progress’ and ‘completed’ where both you and anyone you’re working with can easily stay abreast of what’s going on.
Work-life balance apps
It’s possible that one of the hardest parts of working on the move isn’t getting everything done on time – it’s ensuring you still keep your work life and your personal life separated to some extent, and make enough time for the latter.
There are a few varieties of app that can fall into this category, but arguably the two you’re most likely to benefit from are time management apps and wellbeing or mindfulness apps.
Time and focus apps, like Toggl, Focus Booster and the various Pomodoro technique apps can help to ensure that you stay on track while you’re working. Think about how you want your typical working day to be set up, and use time managers to help you stick to it.
‘If This Then That’ or IFTTT is also popular among mobile workers, allowing you to set up chains of activity where once you’ve met a particular goal, you can skip onto something else – for example, once you’ve ticked off a work task in one applet, you can move on to social media.
Of course, timing your workload well isn’t the only thing you need to focus on in order to build a career as a successful digital nomad and to feel that your work-life balance is on point. Tonnes of people recommend installing Headspace or a similar wellbeing app, to ensure you’re taking time to focus on yourself as well as your work.
Once you’ve nailed your work-time focus and efficiency, make sure that you’re setting aside ‘me time’ even when you’re super busy and on the move. When you’re on trains and planes and staying in hotels and apartments, it’s not always as easy to stop and switch off from work as we might think. Headspace, Insight Timer and Calm are all apps to consider, whether you’re looking to go for full-on meditation or would just like a wind-down before you head to the nearest bar.
Translation and navigation apps
Finally, if you want to make sure that your workload is safe and secure – and you don’t want to be impacted by geo-restrictions online while you’re travelling – a valuable app in any digital nomad’s arsenal is a virtual private network, or VPN service.
VPNs are primarily designed to be a privacy and security tool. They add end-to-end encryption to the data you send and receive online, so that when you’re sending important files or entering payment details, that information can’t be intercepted and read by anyone you didn’t intend it for.
The two main bonuses of a VPN app to a digital nomad are:
- You can turn any public WiFi connection into your own private network.
- You can regain access to news content and streaming services that aren’t available in the countries you’re passing through.
Free public WiFi is a lifesaver when you’re working remotely, but it’s generally lacking in basic security measures. Rather than risk a cyber security nightmare at the airport or hotel, using a VPN app is as easy as hitting the ‘on’ button after install, and can add much-needed security to otherwise open networks.
The ability to bypass geo-restrictions is what brought VPNs to the mainstream, with many people using them to access streaming services regardless of whether they’re travelling or not. If you’re working in the EU and find that you can no longer access US news sites, or you’re sunning yourself in Southeast Asia but want to catch up on TV shows that you’ve been watching in Australia, telling your VPN to get you online through a server in the relevant location is all you need to do.
The more server locations a VPN provider has, the more suitable they’re likely to be for a digital nomad, so keep an eye out for those which offer connection to the broadest possible range of locations.
Of course, there are plenty of apps that fall into each of these categories, and someone else’s favourite may not be the app that works for you. Whichever apps you feel are the best fit, working on the road will be made that much easier with the assistance of time and project managers, VPNs, instant translation apps and those little bits of me time.
About the author:
Tabby Farrar is a writer and travel blogger who has lived and worked around the world in destinations including France, Ghana and Vietnam. As well as running JustCantSettle.com, she ghostwrites for a number of brands catering to digital nomads.