The Freedom to Work

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How to Take Control of Your Nomadic Lifestyle
Originally published on Medium.

There has always been this negative connotation to the phrase: “Taking work home with us.” It’s as if the act of working is a burden to our lives. It’s as if our unfinished assignments are keeping us up at night. It’s as if our profession is harming those we love and ourselves.

I like to believe that while some of us work to live, many of us live to work. Our professional accomplishments are not just our livelihood; they’re a part of our identity. Sure, our jobs bleed into everything else we do, but that doesn’t mean we are shackled to the desk, or that we have to omit time with friends and families to meet deadlines — and it sure as hell doesn’t mean we have to miss an episode of our favorite television show just to send a last-minute email.

Yes, work is home with us, it’s in the car with us, it’s on the airplane with us, and it’s turning down our hotel room beds when we are at an out-of-town conference. No longer do we need an alter ego for the work we have. Ourwork follows us around because it is something we are proud of, something we want to share, and something portable that we can manage in a coffee shop in Los Angeles or a bar in London.

“Don’t think what’s the cheapest way to do it or what’s the fastest way to do it… think ‘what’s the most amazing way to do it?’” — Richard Branson.

Get A Life

A high school bully once told me to get a life after I finished talking about all the novels I’d read and how I wished I had more time to read more. Life? What the bully didn’t understand was that his values — video games, aggressively loud music, and misogynistic jokes — did not align with mine. Because he hated reading, he assumed I was flawed for enjoying it. How we spend our lives is up to us, not some argumentative bully.

At times, it can feel as though a job can become this bully, telling us that our camping trip is less important than the next deadline. It is and it’s not. When I use the word freedom, it does not mean doing anything whenever we want. Freedom comes when we are able to control and prioritize our work, interests, and, of course, life accordingly. Why shouldn’t we be able to have a three-day weekend if we hunker down and got the job done on Thursday? Why can’t we bring our work on the road trip when we know we can accomplish it in the hotel after the drive? Why must we drag ourselves so early into the office just to lounge around sluggishly?

For every quality worker in our area there are probably hundreds of equally talented people who are scattered around the country. Most aren’t willing to just pack up and leave their lives. Work has become mobile, but many other things aren’t. If you want to attend a prestigious school, go for it. If you want to take up a new hobby, do it. As long as you find the time to work, the sky is your limit. And don’t let bullies tell you otherwise.

“Self-employed people work where they live. Entrepreneurs live where they work.” — Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Make Time For Office Hours

I’m not your boss so I’m not going to tell you that all your work should be done remotely. I’m also not telling you to quit your job to become a travel writer — although that would be pretty cool. I’m saying that we don’t need to be centralized anymore to accomplish significant tasks.

Still nothing that matters happen in a vacuum. Good things can be done independently, but world changing, disruptive innovations are often collaborations between talented people. So take that into consideration. Although email, instant messaging, Google Drive, Skype, and other digital/telecommunication tools have connected us together, there is still nothing more important than face-to-face real time conversations.

Communication with four people in the room is hard enough, but communication with 10 people in message thread is just pure chaos. In a global survey, 67% of senior execs and managers believed that their organization was more productive when superiors communicated with employees personally. Emails, instant messaging and all the other technology slows down the decision making process. Passing the conch around might work, but when a problem needs to be solved, meet in person.

Understanding when it is appropriate to take the conversation offline is probably the most important aspect of working remotely. Sure, the work will get done through the cyber networks, but there is nothing that nurtures camaraderie and team bonding like face-to-face problem solving and celebrations.

“You think you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s only some bugger with a torch bringing you more work.” — David Brent

Home Is Where Your Work Is

There are countless distractions when you are working out of the office. After all, the world is a beautiful place; it’s hard to stay focused when your desk is beside the window or when you are one click away from YouTube. So needless to say, the most important aspect of working independently is self-discipline.

Without supervision, it becomes ever more important to be entrenched in a project you are actually passionate about. If you aren’t motivated to get up in the morning, brew a cup of coffee, and sit down and actually work, perhaps home is not the right environment for it. Working at home might be convenience but sometimes good work happens in a less ideal environment. Many people who live in apartments with fitness facilities don’t actually use them. It doesn’t matter if its convenient, what matters is if you find it meaningful.

After all, what’s worst than waking up to an undesirable workload, already waiting for you at the foot of your bed?

“To get GoPro started, I moved back in with my parents and went to work seven days a week, 20 hours a day. I wrote off my personal life to make headway on it.” — Nick Woodman

Work’s A Beach

We’ve all had this romantic fantasy of bringing our work on vacation with us. We’ll be by the pool, soaking up the sun, and catching up with our assignments. Approximately 60% of US employees have worked while on vacation. While it might be worth an attempt, working and relaxing are separate entities and even though you love your job and the scenery, you can’t enjoy both at the same time.

In 2013, I had an opportunity to escape the early spring rain of Vancouver and visit Brazil. While I choose to limit my workload, I still had a few assignments stored in my carry on for me after I landed. With three weeks aboard, the job needed to get done. No excuses! So I had to treat the work time as sacredly as I would treat my flight’s boarding time.

I split up my work schedule. In the mornings while everybody was milling about getting ready for the day, I’d check my email and tackle the less stressful tasks. Then I’d disconnect completely. There is no place for work on the beach or on a scenic hike to a waterfall. In the afternoon after the excursion, I’d find a quiet spot, plug in and work a bit more while some took naps and others started pre-drinking or preparing for dinner. Truth was, I didn’t miss much while working. In fact, I made money while on vacation. It didn’t pay for everything, but it was rewarding.

“If you live for weekends or vacations, your shit is broken” — Gary Vaynerchuk

Take Control

How important is your work?

Is it more important than a text message from a friend? Is it more important than your favorite sports team making playoffs? Is it more important than your high score in Candy Crush? Probably. So treat it as such. If you can respond to your flaky friend cancelling a dinner date with you last minute, you should be able to respond to a fraudulent payment. You should be able to notify your team about a large successful transaction. You should be able to see your company’s analytics on the go and make actionable decisions on the fly.

Control, a mobile app dedicated to supporting the nomadic lifestyle of modern day entrepreneurs, artists, and business managers. The app utilizes the API of mobile payment platforms (i.e. Stripe) and enables users to track transactions, manage payments, and ultimately take full control of their company anywhere in the world.

Many of us want the freedom to live and work simultaneously; Control is a tool that flourishes on this idea. Start your 14-day trial with Control today and see where it’ll take you.

Unwrap some free time this holiday

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Don’t spend the break fulfilling obligations

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. Dec. 9, 2015

The holidays are a perfect time to get all your loved ones together and share in the merriment that is the end of a year. However, getting a group of people together—at an optimal time for everybody—is not always as simple as creating a Facebook event. While it makes sense to break apart your schedule and share it with those you love, you must also remember that the holidays are a time for yourself. You too need a break.

If you are a proactive person, you’ll know that free time fills up pretty quickly. You might even try to slot a couple events into one day just so you can fill your holiday socializing obligations. But this is also the perfect time for you to forget about people and get ahead on all the stuff you didn’t have time for during the hurly burly of the year.

It’s easy to lose track of time. Getting lunch with a couple friends can easily turn into a full-day affair. Not that the time was wasted, but the book you were meaning to read, the project you were planning to work on, and all the activities you finally had time for will be pushed back. We often mistake motion with progress. The act of doing something, anything, feels like accomplishment enough. The fact that we got out of the bed today was a victory. However, our time is valuable, even during the holidays, and should be treated as such.

Now, I understand that the last thing anybody wants to do during the holiday is live by a schedule, but if you want some structure in your life, building a schedule does it—it keeps you accountable. Nobody else has to know about this schedule but you. Still, it must be treated sacredly. It matters. On the schedule, map out all the stuff you want to accomplish by the end of your break. You can be as ambitious or lax as you want, but the key is to have goals. It can be as simple as finishing a book, jogging an extra mile, or even something more ambitious like learning a new language. Then plot these activities into the calendar and treat those days as if they are work.

The fear is that you’ll fall into indolence and lose all the momentum you had during the year. Of course you are allowed to sleep in, and those days are as important as the party nights or the productive days. Keeping the ball rolling is awesome, but remember that not every day needs to be productive. You set days for focusing on certain tasks; you should also set days for rest. It’s like a workout calendar. Rest days are the days you leave completely empty. These are the days when you find stillness in your life. These are the days you can stay in your pajamas, read a book, watch a movie, or have lunch with one or two friends. These are the days where you are forbidden from going around running errands. These are the treats of the holidays, and you can be as selfish as you want.

Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy

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Take it easy and don’t burn out too early in the year

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. January 13, 2015

Pace yourself. For those who are working and going to school, taking a break periodically at the start of the year can do wonders. Let’s be honest, the holiday season is not as relaxing as you would have wanted it to be. In fact, some might say that running around, buying gifts, attending parties, and mingling with old friends and familiar relatives is as stressful as a communications project. Now that you are back into the groove, take a moment, breathe, and relish in the start without anticipating the finish.

If you have chronic stress or if you don’t want to develop it, there are few things you need to do: avoid exhaustion, stay motivated, dismiss cynicism, and get cognitive rest and take care of yourself.

We often overload our schedule early in the year or try to harness the momentum that dwindled a bit after the festivities. There is a bit of holiday hangover though, so although we are optimistic, we must also be realistic. While some people are busy making New Year’s resolutions, you may consider taking a break. Ease up, allow yourself time to soak in the new environment, new classrooms, new responsibilities, and new opportunities.

Why do we burn out in April when it’s exam season? Why do we feel overwhelmed and stressed? It’s because we weren’t taking care of ourselves earlier on. We weren’t preparing ourselves properly. Once activities and assignments pile up, there is no time to rest, but there is plenty to stress.

Instead of doing frivolous work or starting anything new, consider how far you’ve come since the previous year and maybe reassess your goals. Mark milestones you would like to hit throughout the year and plan. Planning an event in May will give you energy in March, so even if you start burning out in the latter half of the season, know that you’ll be rewarded by someone who cares: you.

Relaxing is serious business. While the grind up ahead seems daunting and preparation is a must, relaxation is the act of staying attuned with your body and mind. A body builder doesn’t go to the gym every day and doesn’t work the same muscles every day. Neither should you.

Trust in yourself that you will survive this year with grace. Exemplify vitality. Don’t beat yourself up for having a day where you get to sleep. Not every day needs to be productive, especially early on in the year. You’re about to climb a mountain, a mountain you have climbed many times before, a mountain that lasts 365 days. Look up, visualize all that you want to accomplish, and then take one step at a time. Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy the view.

Got too much on your plate?

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Save some room for dessert

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in the Other Press. Oct. 2013

So now you’re popular; or at least, people are starting to expect more from you. Responsibilities, commitments, deadlines, schoolwork, part-time jobs, and relationships. When you do have free time these days, it fills up pretty quickly. Nobody has to point it out to you—after all, you feel it from the strain of carrying the world on your back—but they do anyways: you look tired and it can’t be ignored. How did this happen? How did you get so much on your plate?

It’s not a question of how, but rather a question of why. Those with too much going on have made a conscious choice to say “Yes” more, and by doing so, they’re receiving more opportunities. The result is far from the worst-case scenario. Sure, you’re thrashing about in the deep end, but what better way is there to learn to swim? Don’t be distracted by the competition; you set your own bars in life.

You are being productive and there is a clear path of progress, but the weight of it all can be damaging. You want to do more, but you’re afraid the standard of your work and the quality of your relationships will diminish, while the amount of rest you get will start depleting. Don’t panic yet: the crisis is all in your head.

Pick your battles. You’ll want to do everything, and that’s respectable, but sometimes it’s impossible. Prioritize your work, and ask yourself what’s most important to you. Sure, money and reputation are important, but it’s still your life and you get to determine how it plays out. Do you want a promotion at work or do you want to ace an exam? Do you want to spend more time with the family or do you want to earn a little bit more for a vacation? Understand what you are working for: by having a clear goal, you can then choose the most pertinent task and accomplish it. Focus on one thing at a time, and if work falls to the back burner, acknowledge it, communicate it, but don’t ignore the loss; someone is always willing to help you or forgive you, as long as you vocalize your issues. Your passion will decide what is most important—not your friends, family, instructors, or employers.

Covering your ass is not a bad habit. A little safety net while you work can help reduce stress. Always communicate with clients, employers, and everyone else in your life. Update them on the progress of work—honesty is the best policy. If they don’t appreciate you then, in my opinion, they aren’t worth working for or hanging around with. Keep the onus on you, and don’t be pushed around by others. Work hard, but do it because you want to do it, not because someone else demands it.

Treat yourself, because after a long day of toiling, you’ll need to recharge. Take a breather or a day off. Work and school are important, but you need to find time for friends and family. Watch a movie, go on a trip, and make plans that will break you from the norm. Schedule them in and treat those enjoyable obligations like they’re a paying job, because when it’s all said and done, that is what you’re really working for: the sweet reaping of fun.