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April 15, 2017 · 5 min read

How to handle time zones as a digital nomad

One of the hardest things about being a digital nomad is dealing with time zone changes as you travel around the world.

If you are like most digital nomads, your primary client base is still based in your country of origin. For me personally, my clients were primarily in the United States.

As I spent a year traveling around the world, I had to adapt and adjust my sleep and work schedule multiple times to be able to take meetings with clients.

My goal with this post is to give you some pointers on how to handle those time zone changes and some idea of what you can expect with a work schedule based in different parts of the world.

Avoid phone calls as much as you can

The first rule of being a digital nomad is to simply avoid phone calls as much as possible. When you are halfway around the world, scheduling phone calls can be tedious. It is a huge challenge to find overlapping free time that works well for you and your client.

So the first rule is to try to avoid them as much as possible. You won’t be able to avoid them completely, but try to handle as much communication as you can through email or video messaging.

Often I would record screen capture videos showing my clients updates on my work and asking for their feedback. This allowed me to communicate with them in more detail than an email allows, but without the hassle of a phone or videoconferencing call.

My schedule while working in Southeast Asia

From noon-7 p.m. I would head out and enjoy whatever city or country I was in at the time. This was an incredible schedule because it allowed me to experience so much during the day and then focus on doing my work at night. Everyday I woke up around 10-11 a.m.. I spent the early morning doing personal work. I would work on my own website, my blog, my marketing, etc. Sometimes if I was busy, I would work on client work during the day and knock it all out before my clients in the States would wake up and get online to distract me.

Around 8 p.m. I would sit down to my desk and start my work for the day. Thailand and Vietnam are 12 hours opposite of the United States CST, so it made calculating time zones easy. An 8 p.m. call for me was an 8 a.m. call for CST.

I would aim to schedule a majority of my phone calls during my clients’ mornings. If I was able to get in everything before noon CST, then I would be done with phone calls by midnight. My goal most nights was to be done working by 1 a.m. and then give myself an hour to wind down before going to bed at 2 a.m.

This schedule worked most of the time, but occasionally I had a West Coast client with an inflexible schedule. A few times I had to take meetings at 4 or 5 a.m. Thailand time. I will admit, this totally sucked and threw off my sleep schedule.

If I was in a position to turn down those calls it would have been nice, but sometimes I did what I had to do to make the sale.

My schedule while working in Europe

In Europe I would generally wake up at 9-10 a.m.,and then head out to explore the city.Working in Europe was actually much easier on the time zones than in Asia. Europe is roughly 6-7 hours ahead of USA CST depending on where you are. That means a 9 a.m. call in USA CST is at 3 p.m. in Europe.

I tried to schedule most of my meetings for the afternoon in the States so that I could sit down and start working around 7 p.m. in Europe. I would then work from around 7 p.m. until midnight and then wind down and be in bed by 1 a.m.

My schedule in Mexico

For 5 months I lived in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Even though I was in another country it was still on USA CST time.

Time zones were a piece of cake there. I just kept with my normal schedule that I always have.

If you don’t want to deal with the time zone changes, then try adventuring to Mexico, Central America or South America. You will still be on the same time zone as your USA based clients.

How to not screw up time zones

Inevitably, you will screw up some time zones during your travel. It is going to happen.

But there are a few tricks you can use to try and minimize this.

1) If you type into Google, “What time is it in _____?”, it will show you what time it is in your client’s location.

2) Get a world clock on your phone. Apple’s built-in clock has a world clock feature that can set up different clocks for different time zones. This makes it easy to check the time in your client’s location.

3) ALWAYS use calendar invites. Create an event on your calendar for what you believe will be the proper time and send an invitation to your client. It doesn’t matter if you think you have calculated it correctly, always use an invite.

“Why?”, you ask.

First of all, you will screw up your mental calculation from time to time.

And second, daylight saving time. Believe it or not, most of the world does not honor this tradition, even some states in the USA don’t. Because of this, in Mexico, where I was once on the same time zone as my clients, I was bumped an hour off because of daylight saving time.

Don’t risk it. Send a calendar invite so you are on the same page with your client.

Time zones really aren’t that bad.

While this all seems crazy and difficult, it’s really not that bad. In fact, you will grow to love the time zone difference.

While you are out exploring foreign countries during the day, you don’t have to worry about missing any client calls or emails because your clients aren’t even awake yet.

While the occasional stickler client will screw up your sleep schedule, it is a small price to pay for the freedom of the digital nomad lifestyle.