One of the biggest challenges when you live and work in a van is staying productive at your job. Having a remote job while you do van life offers an amazing amount of freedom and flexibility, but it also requires dedication and discipline. After all, one of the best things about van life is being able to go wherever you feel like at any given moment. But an important thing to remember before you hit the road is that if you decide to fund your van life lifestyle by working on the road, this may mean that your route and schedule aren’t completely flexible. So how do you stay productive while still finding balance when you live in a van?
I’ve been a full time blogger for 6 years and lived off and on in my van for a good chunk of those. It’s not always easy to stay focused, but I can assure you that the rewards are worth it. Being productive ensures that the income keeps flowing in, providing you financial stability, which ultimately gives you the freedom to stay on the road longer.
At the same time, it’s also important to be able to create a healthy work-life balance while on the road. You didn’t sign up for van life just to sit behind a computer in beautiful places, right? So here I share tips for how to work efficiently and plan your time accordingly so you can find just the right balance of work and play.
Here are some helpful productivity tips for working from your van.
My Favorite Tips for Working from the Road
Working from a van requires independence and self-discipline. It’s up to you to get your work done efficiently and on time and with all the temptations you’ll face with the outdoors and new places at your doorstep, this can be challenging at times. Here are a few strategies I use to help me stay focused and motivated when I’m working from the road.
1. Set Aside Clear Work Hours
I recommend setting aside dedicated times to work with no distractions so that you have clear blocks of time when you’re working vs not working. This is important especially to set clear expectations if you are traveling with a significant other who may not have the same work responsibilities as you. Otherwise, you may find that work spills over into every spare minute of your life, driving your partner crazy, and you won’t get to fully enjoy the freedom of van life.
For example, if you’re an early riser, you can set aside three hours in the early morning to get some work done before you head out on a hike or have to get on the road.
Personally I like to work first thing in the morning and in the evenings. My partner Ryan generally cooks dinner, so he takes on dinner duties while I edit photos, write or respond to emails.
I also like to get big chunks of work done on the weekend when the trails are busier, that way we can recreate midweek when no one is out there and avoid the weekend crowds.
By sticking to this routine, I’m able to get work done and still have plenty of time for adventure.
2. Get Organized with Some Helpful Tools
It’s also essential to be as organized as possible so that your work gets done faster and you meet important deadlines. Everyone has different organizational tactics depending on your work flow, but a few tools I use to stay organized with my business are:
- Slack – this is a tool I use to communicate with my team. It helps keeps conversations organized and streamlined so they don’t get lost in a sea of emails
- Voice Memos – I also send voice memos to my team instead of writing things out. This is a huge time saver!
- Google Drive (or Dropbox) – this is a great way to keep photos and documents organized and accessible from anywhere. I prefer this over a bunch of hard drives that could get lost or damaged in the van, and it also allows me to share assets with my team
- Lightroom for editing photos
- Sked Social – this is a social media tool I use that allows me to schedule social media posts in advance (including direct publishing for Instagram and IG Stories). I love being able to create and schedule multiple posts at once in advance
- Task Manager – popular ones are Asana, the Notes App on your phone, Trello, or a good old fashioned notebook
- Google Docs – you can save your Google Docs for offline editing. Just make sure to do this when you’re still in service
3. Plan Ahead & Research Cell Reception
The best option for internet access on the road is a good cell phone plan with unlimited high-speed data, unlimited mobile hotspot capabilities, and coverage in most of the areas you’ll be spending time in. In most areas, you’ll be able to use your phone’s data plan and create a hotspot for your laptop. I recommend not skimping on the data because when your data runs out, it means your connection gets way slower, killing your productivity. See this blog post for my van life internet tips.
One thing to be aware of when working on the road is that many national parks, recreation areas, and dispersed campsites tend to be in areas with little to no cell reception. If you plan on spending time exploring off-grid areas (and I suggest that you do!) you’ll need to plan your work around the times you’ll have reliable service so that you can relax when you’re off-grid.
I suggest using the coverage maps on your cell service provider’s website which can help predict whether or not you’ll have service at a campsite or destination.
If you need a stronger signal for uploading bigger files to the internet, I recommend downloading a free WiFi Finder App on your phone so you can easily find places, like libraries and coffee shops, to get online.
4. Being productive when you don’t have internet
You may have tasks for your job that don’t require internet. Maybe it’s organizing and editing photos or reading some sort of long paper for research. I personally find that these tasks are easier to get done when I don’t have the distraction of the internet. So before we head off the grid, I make sure to download anything I need to complete whatever tasks I can do offline. Then when I’m out of service, I do the work to get those tasks done.
5. Consider creating a dedicated workspace when you are planning your conversion
In my first van, my bed doubled as the couch, and I had to pop the dining table into the floor to set it up whenever we stopped. This was a time suck and a barrier to getting work done. I also couldn’t work in the mornings or evenings when Ryan wanted to relax in bed. That’s why in my second van, I wanted a more permanent work area.
Now our dinette serves as my office. I can work when Ryan is still asleep, or if I need to hop in the back and send a few emails from a rest area, it’s no problem at all. I love not having to set up or convert any of my furniture in order to get to work, and I’ve found that this has improved my productivity drastically. If you are starting a build from scratch, I highly recommend considering your work space as you plan your layout.
6. Keep all of your work stuff in one area
It’s way more efficient to have your computer, charging cords, notebooks, and any other tools you use for your job all kept in one drawer that is right next to your work space. That way you aren’t wasting time gathering all of your stuff every time you need to get some work done.
7. Write your emails in batches and use a scheduler to send them
I personally think my emails are more likely to be read if I send them during the workday, as opposed to nights and weekends. However, as I mentioned, I like to work early mornings and evenings, so sometimes I’m not on my computer during peak office times.
When I have emails to write, I draft them in batches whenever I have service, and then I schedule them to actually send at my preferred time. If you use Gmail, there is a “schedule send” tool built right into Gmail so it doesn’t require any special add-on. Boomerang is another handy tool that allows you to schedule emails to be sent at a future time.
By batching and scheduling emails ahead of time, I don’t have to plan my day around email or worry about having service when I want my emails to go out.
8. Plan your meetings back to back
I like to plan all of my zoom meetings back to back either in the early morning or late afternoon. That way I don’t have commitments scattered throughout the day, and I can still get outside and enjoy the fresh air.
9. Use noise cancelling earphones
If you are living with another person in your van, consider investing in a pair of noise cancelling headphones. With such a small space, it’s easy to get distracted by whatever the other person in the van is doing. Noise cancelling headphones help tune out conversations, music, or other background nosies that might otherwise slow you down.
10. Work while someone else drives
This won’t work for you solo folks, but for you couples this is a great tip for being productive while you’re on the move. I love to work while Ryan drives, so by the time we get to our destination, I’m done for the day.
11. Hire a Virtual Assistant
Hiring an assistant was one of the smartest things I’ve done to grow my business. At first it’s scary to part with the money, especially if you aren’t making a ton. However, if you are self-employed, drowning in work, and there are tasks you can outsource, consider hiring a virtual assistant to take some things off your plate. In the long run, you’ll likely end up increasing your revenue, you’ll have more bandwidth to focus on the tasks that matter, and you will find a healthier work life balance which is critical for boosting creativity. Check out this post for a list of freelance sites where you can search for a virtual assistant.
12. Don’t waste time on social media and news sites
You want to get your work done so you can go play right? Then close Instagram, put your phone away, and get to work. The more you procrastinate on social media and consume unncessary information, the longer you’re going to have to sit at your computer and the less time you’ll have for fun. I mentioned above in the section about getting organized that I use a social media scheduler. This also helps minimize the time I spend scrolling on the app. If you need motivation to cut back here, check out the lessons I learned taking a 4- month break from social media.
13. Enjoy the adventure
Sometimes the best thing we can do for our productivity is to unplug and get outside. Hiking is not only good for your physical health, it’s also good for your brain. If you’re feeling like you’re not getting anywhere with your work, take a break, get your blood pumping out in the fresh air, and come back with a renewed focus.
If you want to jump around to other lessons in Module 5, here are other van life topics we cover:
- Lesson 1: How Much Does Van Life Cost?
- Lesson 2: How to Save Money on the Road
- Lesson 3: How do Van Lifers Make Money?
- Lesson 4: Working on the Road & Finding Balance (current lesson)
What productivity hacks do you use to stay efficient in your work? Share your questions, tips, and experiences down in the comments, and make sure to sign up for course updates here.