Imagine a world without commutes, meetings, or 40-hour work weeks. It seems too good to be true, right? For an increasing number of digital nomads — professionals who build their careers without being tied to a desk — it’s reality.
Digital nomads include independent contractors as well as full-time employees who work remotely. Although those models might sound limiting, Reservations.com reports their careers span software, marketing, education, healthcare, law, and more. And while the term “digital nomad” might conjure images of millennials taking selfies in Chiang Mai, around three-quarters of them are Gen X or older.
In other words, you don’t have to be young or work in a certain field to be a digital nomad. If you feel crushed by conventional office life, try it: By transforming your life and job together, you just might find the balance you’ve been craving.
It’s All About Control
In a word, work-life balance is about control. Many mental health professionals break work-life balance into three tasks: the ability to set goals, achieve those objectives, and then shut off for the day.
If you’re unable to do any one of those things, you may feel like work is “taking over” your life. But while many office workers use technology to cram more tasks into the traditional 40-hour work week, digital nomads get a crash course in using tech to balance work and life.
Digital nomads are responsible for planning their own days. They’re paid for the tasks they complete rather than for the time they sit in a chair. And because everything they do requires a computer, they practice shutting off every time they close their laptop.
Control Your Commute
When digital nomads open up shop the next day, they might work from home or a local coffee shop. That alone makes for greater work-life balance, but consider what else it means: a brief or nonexistent commute.
In major metropolitan areas, where most professionals work, two-hour commutes aren’t uncommon. That’s four hours of the day — 20 hours each week — spent traveling. And while it’s not technically time on the clock, commuting feels an awful lot like work.
If you’re in the car, guess what you’re thinking about on the way to work? If you take the train, you probably use the time to check email from your phone or tablet. Either way, it’s no wonder happiness expert Dan Buetter argues eliminating your commute is the happiness equivalent of a $40,000 salary bump.
Control Your Social Exposure
One thing that makes the morning commute more bearable for office workers? The social time they get once they arrive. But for introverts, socializing takes energy rather than restoring it.
Especially if you do solo work like writing, you know completely a conversation can destroy your focus. According to University of California-Irvine research, getting back on task after just one interruption can take as long as 23 minutes. Those disruptions quickly pile up, leaving you feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything at the end of the day.
Digital nomads control their work environments. If they want water-cooler talk, they can join a coworking space. If it’s solitude they crave, they can charge up their hotspot and go work from atop a mountain. And if they prefer to mix and match, they have the freedom to do that, too.
Control Your Family Time
One specific social need that office workers struggle with is family time. Pew Research Center found that, among working moms with college degrees, 70% say it’s difficult to balance their family and job responsibilities.
Much as they might like to, working parents often can’t put family first. When a sales retreat conflicts with a family reunion, guess which one most workers will choose? The one that puts food on the table — not for a night or two, but month after month.
Digital nomads don’t have to choose. If they report to one employer — and many don’t — that employer expects them to travel. Taking a last-minute trip to see family across the country is just another day in a digital nomad’s life.
Control Takes Courage
Although digital nomadism does offer travel opportunities, that’s not the reason many workers do it.
When you control your time and place of work, you control your life. You can take that daytime pilates class, enroll in a once-a-week painting workshop, or go hiking whenever you want. If you need to care for a family member on short notice, you can keep working while also fulfilling your family responsibilities.
Digital nomads use that freedom in all sorts of ways, and they hail from any number of different fields. What they share is the courage to take control of their work — and by extension, their lives.