There is a new kind of business person: the digital nomad entrepreneur. In 2012, Anna Danes decided to take advantage of the fact that her team was 100% distributed and that she had not met most of her clients in person and started a life as a nomad business woman. Since then, she has managed her team from 3 European countries and 6 Asian countries, becoming what it is known as a digital nomad. What is the life of a nomad entrepreneur like?
What time do you wake up?
I normally wake up between 8 and 9am; starting the day late gives me a chance to communicate with different time zones, especially with the team in Latin America. I don’t need an alarm clock, and I wake up when I feel rested and ready to start the day. My schedule is totally flexible and changes every day. I end up working between 8 and 10 hours daily, but I do it at my own pace, and I’ve learned how to avoid burn out.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
When you are a nomad, you don’t have routines like turning on the coffee machine before going to shower because, more than likely, you don’t have a coffee machine, so the routines that I have established have more to do with myself. The first thing I do when I wake up is say to myself, “Good morning” and visualize a pleasant day. Each night, I make a basic schedule of the tasks and activities that I will do the following day. When I wake up, I think about those activities for a few minutes while still in bed; it is like reconnecting with the tasks.
Breakfast is the most important meal and the one that I enjoy the most. Breakfast is the moment when my partner and I take the time to talk, so it is also the meal that takes the most time; we sit down for breakfast for about 1 hour every day. Since I lived in South East Asia before, soup is the most comforting breakfast I can have, but it depends on where I am. Currently, I am in Croatia and it is summer here, so a big plate of fruits and berries makes a great breakfast.
How do you get to work, and how long does it take?
Since I am a digital nomad, I don’t have to travel to work; I just need to turn on my computer, so I save a lot of time. No commuting for me!
Coming from the Mediterranean, lunch is the perfect excuse to take a break and breathe during the middle of the day. Lunch is fast, but it always includes walking a minimum of 30 minutes to rejuvenate myself and have a productive afternoon.
What are the typical things you do every day?
I go for a walk every day. Since I change cities every so many months, I don’t have a gym membership or a tennis buddy. Instead, I go for walks in different directions every day; 30 minutes is my minimum requirement, reaching up to 2 hours if I have the time. Walking a different route every day gives me a good idea of the country where I am, what people’s lives are like there, and it also gives me the chance to meet a lot of new and interesting people.
What do you love most about your job?
To be in contact with my team. I am very fortunate to have a team of excellent professionals that are caring and extremely competent. Being around them (digitally, of course) is a real pleasure.
I also love the feeling that I am helping my clients with their goals.
How do you manage all the tasks you need to do?
I go through phases where I try out different time management techniques. Lately, I’ve gone back to the Pomodoro Technique because I wasn’t feeling very energized and Pomodoro helps me find a rhythm while working. I also use the “2-minute rule”: if it takes less than 2 minutes, do it right away. That helps me to get moving with tasks I would normally procrastinate on. I alternate different techniques depending on my current state.
Something that I always do, no matter what, is at the end of the day, I make a list of all the things I want to do the next day, starting with those that are more urgent and important.
When is your downtime?
The weekends. I respect the weekends as much as I can and avoid checking my messages then. I used to reply to messages on weekends just to get things moving a little faster so people could have my answers on time when they started their week, but then I created a dynamic where people felt like they had to reply to me right away, so I had my entire team working on weekends too! As soon as I realized, I apologized to my team and stopped working on weekends. Especially when I do physically exhausting activities, like a long hike, I get a lot of energy from them. Weekends give me an opportunity to connect with the people of the country that I am visiting. I also try to do what the locals are doing; sometimes it involves going to a waterfall, attending a school concert, or shopping at a local market.
How do you relax when you do get home?
I have no home. Home is the room, hut, house or flat that I am renting at that moment. However, I have created a ritual that makes me feel at home: I carry with me a bag of different teas, and when I open the bag and make myself tea, it means it is time to relax. Rainy days are always a great time to stay indoors and avoid the urge to constantly explore the amazing country I am in at that moment; that is when I pull out my personal projects or read classic books.
How do you manage the balance between work and personal life?
When you are a company owner and you don’t have an office, it is really hard to find that balance. If you have ever worked from home, even if it is only once a week, you will know how hard it is not to check you email while cooking or reply to a message at 9pm when you are already wearing your pajamas.
For me, the balance comes from my schedule. I start the day late and end it late. For a while, I would start working early in the day and ended up working 12-hour days because I like my job and because my work desk is really near my personal life space. What I do now is during the early morning, I spend time with my partner, go shopping, meditate, and then begin work later.
How has the business changed from when you first began?
There are more and more people with distributed teams now and a ton of collaboration tools. When I first began, the amount of tools we had were limited; now there are millions of people working in remote teams and hundreds of great tools that we can use. Also, Internet speed has improved a lot and most countries have great Internet connection available.
Who and/or what inspires you?
All of the people that are passionate about something and the ones that listen to themselves and follow their dreams. And I don’t mean only the ones that do drastic things, like leaving an office job and becoming a scuba instructor in Bali. One of my biggest heroes is a friend who is a public servant, which might sound really boring, but his passion is to make better and more efficient processes in the public institutions that are beneficial for all of the citizens. His passion moves me because he follows his call and thrives from it. He is also aware of the high impact this work has and tries his best despite social prejudices that portray government employees in a negative light. That search for excellence and his self-confidence inspire me.
Why do you do what you do?
The goal of my company is to help people have a better day. I can’t think of a better purpose in life than that. We help our clients externalize the tasks that are non-core for them so they don’t have to worry about them. At the same time, we create a positive and empowering environment for our team members so they can also grow and fulfill their dreams within our company.
Tips for other business owners?
Don’t forget your purpose and your values. If you ever get disconnected from the reasons that brought you to start that company, you will lose yourself. Always keep in mind what the purpose of your business is and what values direct it. This seems pretty obvious, but as soon as different stakeholders start pulling towards their interests, remembering the real purpose becomes less easy.
How do you define success?
When you go to bed pleased with how you spent the day.
What challenges have you faced as a business owner and how have you overcome them?
During the first year, we went from a team of 3 to a team of 73 people, and that was very hard on me. I was working 60-70 hours a week, gained a lot of weight, and did not have time to exercise. I learned the hard way that I needed to delegate more, stop micromanaging, and exercise every day with no excuses. It took my business partners repeating this for 2 years before I took their advice. So another thing I learned was to listen to the people that care about you.
Disagreements with business partners and seeing the company’s future from different points of view was not something I was prepared for. Speaking from the heart and being assertive during negotiations are the lessons I took from that period. Learning how to negotiate and finding common grounds is an art form!
Are you a digital nomad (or perhaps wish you were) ? Tell us your story in the comments below!
Anna Danés worked in the web sector before founding Ricaris in 2009, a successful services company providing distributed solutions for companies in the web sector. Managing Virtual Teams is a new consulting product bringing together all of the experience across the distributed teams of Ricaris, and putting it into bite-sized courses, virtual team activities, and consulting packages. Follow Anna @virtualteams