Almost Fearless

Advanced Digital Nomading – The Time Shift: Day 25 of 30w30d

This post is part of 30 Ways in 30 days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. This series seeks to give you the practical, real world steps you need to take to get from wherever you are, to exactly where you want to be– traveling the world and living the lifestyle you want.


30 ways in 30 days, digital nomad, resources, travel,

There’s a little dirty little secret Tim Ferris doesn’t mention in the 4-Hour Workweek.  And most digital-nomading-travel-the-world types are pretty loathe to actually bring it up.  It’s a big fat problem and it only gets worse the further you travel.

The time difference.

You see, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.  We spend a lot of time talking about how working 100% remotely is not only possible but a better alternative to working in a cubicle.  We convince you of that.  You agree.  Then we take you further down the primrose path and show you all the wonderful ways you can get free of the cubicle.  You’re not sure if you can pull it off.  We dance, we sing, we pull out the ponies and put on the whole show.  For most of you, it’s not enough.  The 4-Hour Workweek was a NY Times Bestseller, but how many people are actually quitting their jobs?  It’s a tough sell.  So we leave it at that.

But once you’re committed to becoming a digital nomad, you suddenly find the advice has dried up.  One reader innocently asked me, “But wait, what about the time difference when you’re in Asia?”

Ah, that.  Some would say you have three options:

  1. Get a job or client where you don’t have to be available via email or phone, during their business hours.
  2. Work all night.  Sleep all day.
  3. Don’t go to Asia.

That’s true.  But there are things you can do:

Negotiate the night shift. For some employers it would be a bonus to have someone working overnight on their projects.  Need something turned around for the next day?  Give it to our “overnight” person.  Your overnight will be during the day so it works perfectly for everyone.

Unplug your client. If you’re a freelancer or small business owner, it’s possible to set expectations early.  You’re available to talk at a certain time and everything else will be handle via email.  If you’re clear from the beginning, it’ll minimize issues later.

Start weeding out your needy clients. If you know that you’ll be time shifting, say moving from 6 hours past their business hours to a full 12, begin putting everyone on a low contact diet.  Those who complain, find replacement clients.

Consider starting a small business. The best way to own all of your time is to buy it back from the world in the form of working for yourself.  Maybe this is a 2 year plan, but it’s never too soon to start planning what that would look like.

If it’s doable, time shift your life. If you’re living just 6 hours away from their business day, it’s still possible to make that traditional hours work.  If it’s a US east coast company and you’re living in Spain, that means working from 3 PM until 11 PM… just in time for Spanish dinner.

What are your tips for dealing with the time shift?

pic: daveastria

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • I always need to respond to emails European time, but I don’t actually work then. I have my iPhone or computer wake me up if I get a work email, respond to it and go back to sleep and then do the actual work normal hours. A little annoying, but European time is more central; the only place I had full sleep time disrupted was in California (needed to be available to respond to emails midnight to 9am). Here in Rio I only need responsivity from 5am, and in India it was until 11pm, so that’s fine. It’s only email, but I still need to respond within 30 minutes max, or I lose the job.

    If all of your clients are purely email based you can try this “wake up” option. You need an email just for clients of course, and you can either program your computer’s email client to make a noise, or just have a loud iPhone noise for new emails. Lucky for me, the question is almost always “can you accept this job?” So I just need to have a quick glance at it and then say yes or no. Obviously, some other jobs require much more attention to the clients than that.

    My clients call me occasionally for minor questions or for a last minute rush job, but luckily it’s only a few times a month. I decided not to burden them with my travel plans so as far as they’re concerned I’ve been in Ireland since I started working with them…
    .-= Benny the Irish polyglot´s last blog ..How to become a polyglot =-.

  • If it’s South America, I don’t bother. The time difference is minimal. Europe – I feel a need to take a nap before I embrace the day. In Australia, it was the complete opposite. We had so much energy upon arrival, but by nightime, we were totally crashing.
    .-= Carolina´s last blog ..How to Improve your Nutrition, the Easy Way =-.

  • I had west coast US clients while I was living in Europe. This actually worked out better than expected, though sometimes, we’d have to push stuff out a day… we scheduled all of our conference calls first thing in the morning THEIR time. Typically, I was doing my work while they slept, so they’d have finished work in their inboxes on a daily basis. As long as it’s all on the level, that worked out all right. Once, though, I had a difficult client who expected me to meet on their schedule and honestly, I just dropped them as soon as I could. There was no way I was making midnight conference calls. It’s not that I was being intentionally difficult, it’s that the quality of our conversation at midnight was just going to suck, there was no point.

    So, uh, option one. 🙂

  • When I was in Australia (Sydney) working with clients back home in the US, there were a couple of choices when I had to be on a live call:

    Get up early for phone meetings (at 9 am, Sidney it’s already 4pm West Coast)

    Stay up late (at midnight it’s 9am in Chicago)

    (I may be off a little in my time calculations, it’s been 18 months since I was there.)

    It also helped a great deal to have people in the US who work with me, who could field a lot of the client stuff in or closer to their time zone.

    I kept a lot of strange hours in Sydney, but it was worth it. I would do it again.

    One thing that helped me manage my time zones:
    I kept my laptop on California time, my Blackberry on Sydney time. That way I could do my mostly-local calls/emails with Blackberry. If I was doing client work, I was on my laptop anyway, so having the US time zone in front of me was handy.
    .-= Lisa Sonora Beam´s last blog ..RE: The Gift in Your Freakiness =-.

  • This is a valid problem. I have always found that it’s best to make phone calls and type emails right when I wake up in the morning, or before I go to sleep at night. That’s in Asia anyway.
    .-= Lindsey Stetson´s last blog ..No Africa?! =-.

  • This is where building your income on blogs and websites can come in handy.

    While I traveled through NZ/Australia and Asia for about 9 months last year, I was able to respond to emails within 24 hours to negotiate advertising deals without raising any alarms, and never was there the need to actually be on the phone with the clients.

    That said, as I slowly moved westward to Africa/Europe, and finally South America, it felt great to realign myself with Eastern Standard time – the time zone I’ve always called home. 🙂
    .-= Dave´s last blog ..Friday Flashback – Sikkim Adventures =-.

  • Thanks for this observant post. I am looking at living in India and working for U.S. 9-5 clients as a system administrator, and this is an issue.

  • I spent 6 months working from Thailand covering a 9-5 +on call rotation job at a very large bank based in the US as a senior information security consultant. I admit it was a bit rough sometimes. I made it work by creating the illusion that I was ALWAYS available 24/7. I used a combination of Skype + call forwarding (US phone number rerouted to Thailand), keeping up will all mail traffic, and generally staying in communication. I left the laptop on at night of course, with the sound turned way up so I would hear IM messages coming in. It was definitely worth the trouble, and I highly recommend trying it. I suggest making sure you have a backup interest connection (normal DSL in your apt/condo + cellular internet). The monsoon season can still knock out BOTH of those, but I was satisfied with that solution.

E-Commerce powered by UltraCart