One peculiar phenomenon about living outside the norm is dealing with your obsolete principles. You make a conscious and proud decision to live a life that’s divergent from your peers. But mental residue from the Old Way still lingers.
These primitive ideologies color your expectations, whether you recognize it or not.
I’ve recently recognized their influence in a few specific areas and am actively working to purge them from the crevices of my mind.
What you should do to be productive
The concept of the modern, post-Industrial workday is carved deep into my bones. We wake up, we have some time to ourselves in the morning, we commute. We then enter this big block called "work" which is only broken by little "breaks" and those breaks typically do not vary much in length from day-to-day. In fact, breaks are a nuisance and usually just a consequence of our biological vessels. If we could do away with breaks that would be better.
And then you work until a certain time or until you’re too tired and then you enter your after-work period.
A day, split into three epochs: before-work, work, after-work.
Your total time working for the week should really be at least 40 hours. Otherwise it wasn’t really a full work-week. Yes, you should head home on Friday evening saddled with your penitence. Next week, do better.
Working for myself, I am now industrious under offbeat conditions. But, without being fully aware of it, I was still judging my productivity based on these antiquated expectations.
After seeing the fun diagram “The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People,” it was easier to give myself permission to explore the infinite ways to optimally configure my workday.
I wake up and make some coffee and do some writing. I then go out for thirty minutes of exercise, like a run around my neighborhood. After showering, I select my day’s most important task and dedicate a 2–3 hour unbroken window to it. I then break for lunch. After lunch, I might read or stretch or go for a walk or nap or do all four. This period could be a half an hour, it could be three. Then I’ll start my next productive 2–4 hour block. I might go to the store next, then prepare for dinner. And in the evenings, I might read or work on more fun tasks or go socialize. The timing and duration of everything is flexible and dependent on things like my mood, energy, and bedtime.
Because I’m not working a strict 9–6 schedule and I don’t track productivity by my adherence to this schedule, I find other ways. Central to my metering is tracking the amount of time I spend on tasks and projects.
At the moment, my total industrious time is, on average, below 40 hours/week. When I realized this, I had to shed the guilt imposed by residual dogma. These are intensely productive hours where I am in a state of flow. I get my tasks done, efficiently and at a high quality. That’s what matters.
What you should do on a Saturday
As a nomad, my weekends are highly unusual. I am often in a completely new town, sometimes a place where I don’t know anyone.
Depending on the town, my living arrangements, and how social I’m feeling, I may meet a lot of people to hang out with or I may not. So I’ve had some super social weeks, like my time in Florianópolis. And I’ll have some less social weeks, like my time in Belo Horizonte.
I loved my time in BH. It’s a great city. I was staying with a wonderful Brazilian couple. The apartment was a great workspace, and the couple often worked from there too. So I took the two-week opportunity to be focused and productive and didn’t socialize too much.
BH is nestled among some rolling hills and mountains. I had an incredibly memorable Saturday, walking up one of these hills and looking out at the expansive city. On top of this hill was a mountain. It was closed to the public. Armed with my ever-powerful gringo-card, I proceeded anyway (“Desculpa, desculpa — Inglês? Não. Desculpa. Não entendo.”)
I spent almost an hour perched on top of that mountain with unobstructed and undisturbed views in every direction. It was just me and the birds. I didn’t want to leave, but my stomach eventually won over and dragged me back down. It was a blissful Saturday.
And yet, I’ve previously held ideologies that would have inhibited me from truly enjoying it. There’s an odd stigma about being alone. It creeps in once in a while — wouldn’t it have been better if you had shared the hike with some people that are close to you? But that question exposes its ignorant origins. The two experiences are just different. There is no “better.” Their respective takeaways are incomparable.
What you should do “when in Rome”
I land in a new city and everyone thinks I’m a traveler. I’m not.
I arrived in Colombia for the first time a few days ago. Yes, I am going to try a super traditional dish — like the Bandeja Paisa — at some point during my stay. But if I applied the “when in Rome” mentality every day, I’d likely be in need of an arterial bypass after a month of clogging my system with kilos of fried pork rinds, chorizo, and fried banana.
At first, my old mental models maintained their influence. I had a clear picture of what traveling was supposed to be and how I was supposed to behave abroad. This meant lots of poor decision-making. This is sufferable on an American’s 7-day holiday. I do not find it sustainable much beyond that.
I land in a new city and if it’s a weekday I immediately get back to work. I landed in Colombia on Tuesday and worked all week and didn’t go out to explore until Saturday. At one point in the past, I actually would feel a bit guilty about this behavior. Like I should be immediately setting out to enjoy my new city. Like I was doing something wrong by being cooped-up and productive for the week.
I’ve managed to mostly shake this mindset. The morning runs and walks help. I’m able to intersperse city exploration with my day-to-day, which is one of my favorite parts about being a nomad.
These old dogmas are entirely baseless and entirely fictional. But they are real components in the frictional coefficient of straying from the norm. Recognizing and purging myself of them continues to be difficult but empowering.