As a digital nomad, my schedule and environment are usually unpredictable. My office is regularly a new co-working space or coffee shop around the world. I therefore need to focus even more on optimizing my work routines to stay productive in any environment. Through lots of testing, here are the daily work routines I have found to make me the most productive.

Do not check email during the first 2 hours of your day

I start my day off on my terms by not checking email for at least the first two hours of the day. This allows me to focus on my most important (or uncomfortable) to-do item instead of responding to everyone else’s agenda. Something as simple as glancing at a few emails can put us into a reactive state of mind and quickly derail us from doing what is most important to us and our work. I determine each morning’s task the night before so it lets my subconscious be productive and develop ideas for it in advance.

Set time limits for tasks

Whether it is procrastination, scope-creep, perfectionism, or all the above, tasks usually expand to fill the amount of time allotted. It is the reason projects are miraculously finished at the last minute – not hours before or after the deadline. I avoid this tendency by limiting every work task to a defined amount of time. I simply pick an item on my to-do list and set a countdown timer on my phone for how long I think it should take. Seeing the timer helps keep me focused and gives me better transparency to how I actually use my time. Most of us are not aware how much time is spent on a distraction or the tradeoffs we make by saying yes to a new task. This approach arms me with better data for what I expect to complete each day/week and helps me prioritize my schedule to be most productive. I make exceptions to this approach if I am working on a problem that is especially hard, creative, or enjoyable. Then I just like to get in the zone and think deeply without any limitations.

90-minute sprints

I have tested many different methods, but I have found 90-minute sprints work best for me. Every day, I try to prioritize at least two sets of uninterrupted and focused 90-minute sprints. Afterwards or in between sets, I do “normal things” while I work, like walk around, stretch, fill up my water bottle, respond to text messages, and chat with people. However, during those 90 minutes, I do not look at my phone (I usually put it in airplane mode), check email or social media, go to the bathroom, or have conversations. It is unlikely you can operate like this all day, and you would be an unpleasant colleague if you did, but if you have two or three (or even one) of these completely uninterrupted sprints in a day, you will be much more productive than your peers. If you work in a chaotic office and this is hard, try sneaking off to a quiet conference room or shift your schedule to be earlier or later than everyone else.

Batch tasks for productivity

Context switching is one of the biggest killers of productivity. The time and mental energy spent transitioning in and out of different tasks and their required mindsets is a huge waste. I try to reduce content switching by batching similar tasks together. For example, rather than write and edit one blog post at a time, I put on my creative writer hat to crank out five blog posts, and then I put on my detail-oriented editor hat the next day to edit each of them. This is especially helpful for me with responding to email and scheduling all my calls/meetings within one specific block of time instead of doing both constantly throughout the day. Batching is not always possible, but I try to do it as much as I can.

Think before doing

Take a step back before jumping into any task and just think about it for a few minutes. I try to ask myself the following questions before I work on something:

  • How important is this task and is it the right thing to do? Am I putting efficiency over effectiveness? Am I doing this to avoid doing something else?
  • How could I approach this task to maintain quality, but do it in a fraction of the time? Are there any smart shortcuts? Can I outsource it or at least some of the most time consuming pieces of it? Has someone done similar work internally or online that I could leverage to skip a few steps?
  • How could I succeed in the broader project this task supports, but in 1/10th of the time?
  • What if I made this project ten times bigger or better? What would that mean, how would that look, and what would I need to do?

Do not let these questions be something that prevents you from getting started, getting things done, or maintaining quality and personal touch. However, a few minutes of real thought can go a long way to being more productive and effective.

Start the day in the right mental state

Your mental state is one of the most important parts of productivity. There are days I get more done than I thought I could in a week, and days I wonder what I did all day – and it rarely has anything to do with how much time I worked. Get enough sleep, eat well, stay hydrated, exercise, stay disciplined about your routine, and do whatever morning routines you personally need to get in the right mindset. What you think about impacts how you feel, so resist the temptation to complain, make sure to maintain a perspective of gratitude throughout the day, and remind yourself about the purpose behind what you are doing. Do not let busyness prevent you from doing those morning and health routines, or from causing you to lose your perspective, it is a slippery downhill slope if you do.


Take short breaks throughout the day to refuel the mental energy you drained from being insanely productive and thinking deeply. Studies have shown that some of the most effective ways to do this are:

  • Get 10 minutes of direct sunlight to refuel your Vitamin D
  • Take 10 minutes of meditation (the Headspace app is perfect for this)
  • Get your blood flowing with some light exercise or a walk
  • Spend time away from your desk and be fully present doing something you love, such as having your favorite cup of tea or coffee or playing ping pong with a co-worker

I have tested these work routines (and many others) in a variety of environments and it is what best works for me. However, we are all different. Test it, take the routines that work best for you, and stick with it. Everyone slips out of their routines, I know I do, but just be cognizant of what you are doing and how it aligns with your happiest and most productive self. Whenever I feel unproductive, I take a step back and realize that I am ignoring almost all of my own advice. However, when I am sticking to my work routine, I accomplish more in 4 hours than I do in 14.

I hope this makes you more productive! Do you have any other routines to share?

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Productive Routines for Unpredictable Environments