Tools Every Digital Nomad Needs5 min read
As an independent worker, you’ll often spend a bigger chunk of your time organizing than you will being productive.
Good news: The path to conquer that issue is paved with an ever-increasing number of miraculous digital helpers… But some of these aren’t worth the hassle of implementation.
According to Google Ventures‘ John Zeratsky, fancy tools give us yet another way to stay busy while avoiding the work we do. Instead, digital nomads will want to keep the organizational layer as thin as possible to get your core business rolling. Before opting-in to yet another digital utility, ask yourself three questions:
- Which problem do I have to solve right now?
- Is this app the simplest and most efficient solution to this?
- Can the new utility replace any existing tools or processes so that I can delete them?
Digital helpers are ideal for efficiently getting the back-work out of the way—without getting in your way—but you will want to separate the contenders from the pretenders. So, what do you need? Here’s a starting list of tools and utilities for digital nomads.
“FANCY TOOLS GIVE US YET ANOTHER WAY TO STAY BUSY WHILE AVOIDING THE WORK WE MEAN TO DO”
Apple Notes has covered me since my first iPhone back in 2010. Pre-installed on my phone and laptop, it lets me add notes, to do’s and meeting minutes with ease. It syncs like it should and even works when you have those sudden while-driving-the-Autobahn-inspiration-moments. Just use your voice: “Hey, Siri.”
One of my top tips is to include a few contextual words below your memo to make remembering and searching for it easier after the fact. You can even use some handy keyboard shortcuts to help make taking notes a breeze.
Try this on a Mac:
- Quickly opens the Notes app.
- Creates a new note.
- Boom. Start writing notes within seconds of having that ingenious idea pop into your head.
Want to upgrade the note-taking experience? Opt for Evernote, which can sync across devices.
Independent workers succeed when their communication game is on point. Slack is the go-to-tool for asynchronous communications across teams. Slack rolled out voice and video messaging late 2016 and plans to integrate screen sharing as well.
Speaking of communication, English is not my mother tongue— although my work spans across international teams. To cross check my spelling and grammar, I use Grammarly, which uses AI to copyedit text. Grammarly helps me avoid misunderstandings and allows me to be as clear and accurate in my communications as possible. I even used it to proof this article!
Now, let’s talk about protecting your work. Cloud backups (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) are sweeping away the data-anxiety by taking care of versioning and the whole offsite-backup-hustle. Make sure your preferred service allows for selective synchronization to keep precious GBs of space on your laptop free and your data safe and sound in the cloud. One practice to keep in mind: Don’t forget to tidy up your cloud archive from time to time, as folders can often become cluttered with old documents and files.
Automation is the Holy Grail of simplification. Saving time by automating tasks is the ultimate goal for a freelancer. Your time and efficiency are critical. There are a few tools that are paving the way (IFTTT and Zapier connect apps via self-created or pre- built workflows), but in my daily location-independent work, these services have not yet found their place.
As for project management, there are plenty of options to explore. Let’s focus on business operations for the moment. AND CO offers a sleek time-tracking tool that can be used to auto-populate invoices, if you work by the hour. The app also comes with expense-tracking features that sync with your bank account, a customizable contract template for kicking off new engagements and a business porting tool that shows you the money in/money out of your freelance business at a given point in time. Features like multi-currency invoicing also make it the most nomad-friendly freelance utility app in the game.
Working anywhere means that you can get paid and receive money anywhere. Online banks have made progress over the past several years. Mobile banking, expense tracking, income graphs, and low international fees are becoming a standard. N26 is my favorite solution to date, offering all of the above and a neat looking black credit card. (Who said this wasn’t important?) Downer: Since they only offer accounts for customers living in Europe, they couldn’t replace my broken credit card when I was in Japan. This is an EU-only solution, but fin-techs like N26 are shooting up like mushrooms.
So, what makes a great addition to the digital nomad’s tool belt? For me, a good rule of thumb is to trust my gut feeling: Is this something I enjoy using? If so, the rational part of my brain kicks in to check if it:
- is resilient (unlikely to be shut down; available when you need it)
- gives you back more time than it consumes (AKA solves the problem)
- integrates with accounts, tools or apps you’re already using
- replaces one or more other instruments
My best advice: Test and learn. Play around with new apps, but be prepared to streamline and make cuts as needed. Start with the basics here, and then enhance and optimize based on your own habits and lifestyle.