Living In Paradise, and We’re More Productive than Ever / by Sondra & Jeremy

Who would’ve thought that moving to the island paradise of Bali would actually make us more productive?! We’ve both been accused of being workaholics. But we’re not talking about working harder here… instead we’re working smarter and experiencing insane productivity boosts because of it.

Both of our jobs require intense focus and mental stamina: Jeremy is writing a book and Sondra, as a Product Manager, manages the development of a piece of a major website. We’re constantly searching for strategies to keep us at the top of our game. We weren’t expecting to find the solution here in Bali.

Eliminate Interruptions

Sondra: In between back-to-back meetings and a constant barrage of “urgent” emails and instant messages, it’s impossible to find more that 30-minutes at a time that I can spend focused on any given project. For months I’ve been struggling to find a way to regularly dedicate large chunks of my time to solving big problems, the kind that need deep, uninterrupted focus and creative energy to crack.

Here’s where our crazy work schedule (we’re working from 7pm to 4am) has an unexpected upside—I can reserve the first few hours of my day to the things I actually want to work on. When I start working at 7pm local time, my colleagues in California are still asleep. I have no meetings to attend, there are no instant messages popping up on my screen, and I’m in no rush to reply to emails. I’ve never had so much time to work on my most important projects.

Jeremy: Many surf shops close when the surf is up (they literally stop working when there are good waves), and I tend to hold that policy as well. Keeping on Sondra’s schedule gives me eight-hours-per-day dedicated to writing, no matter what the conditions are. And it’s not like we’re at a dreadful “office” until 4am. It’s more like we’re working barefoot in Bali in a giant bamboo hut among other digital nomads, artists, and entrepreneurs until 4am.   

Ignore Your Inbox

Sondra: While we’re on the topic of distractions—your email inbox is the absolute worst. I have a tendency to constantly check my email, sometimes every few minutes. In the book Manage Your Day-to-Day, behavioral economist Dan Ariely explains why email is so tempting:

“I think that e-mail and social networks are a great example of random reinforcement. Usually, when we pull the lever to check our e-mail, it’s not that interesting. But, from time to time, it’s exciting. And that excitement, which happens at random intervals, keeps us coming back to check our e-mail all the time.”

Email is downright addictive. Slowly, but surely, I’m weaning myself off of this addiction.

Jeremy: I’ve got nothing to say about email. You’ll be lucky if I checked mine today.

Jeremy takes a break at Tutmak Restaurant & Coffee House in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

Jeremy takes a break at Tutmak Restaurant & Coffee House in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

Turn Down Meeting Invitations

Sondra: When your schedule is packed with eight hours of back-to-back meetings, there’s little time left to get any actual work done. Even when I’m extremely busy, I often have a hard time RSVP’ing “no” to meeting requests, but from Bali, my workday only overlaps with the first half of a typical 9-5 in California. So when a colleague invites me to a meeting in their afternoon, I have to decline. This has forced me to get better at skipping meetings and communicating concisely. Why waste an hour of everyone’s time when I can get the same message across in a well-crafted email?

Be Grateful

Sondra: Working late into the night is not something I look forward to, but starting off my workday with a negative attitude won’t get me anywhere. To stay positive, before doing any work I write down three things that I’m grateful for. It’s amazing how this simple act improves my mood, making me more productive, calm and creative.

Jeremy: Shawn Achor studies happiness at Harvard and has proven this to be true. Dopamine and serotonin, the happy brain chemicals, are released from simply reminding yourself why you are working and how lucky you are to be doing what you’re doing. Not only will this amp you up to knock out a 10-hour day, these chemicals will make you think clearer and faster.

Just watch Achor’s Ted Talk and you’ll get the gist.

Be Happy

Jeremy: Here is an insane life hack for headaches and productivity: Any time you are not thinking clearly, stop. Close your eyes and remember a happy experience from the last 24 hours and think about why you are happy to work today. The happy chemicals that will be released by these thoughts are the same chemicals that are used for survival and they stop the inflammation that causes headaches.

A lion chasing you and gnawing at your ankles would produce dopamine and endorphins. The release of those chemicals stops the stress response that tells you that the flesh hanging from your ankle bite is painful. Your body pumps out dopamine and endorphins to mask any pain and produce incredible focus on goals, like escaping death by lion.  

These happy chemicals were made for survival and we can use them as if we are turning on a switch.

It goes even deeper than that. Happy chemicals are the reason why the game day speech is moving, they are the purpose that pushes a volunteer firefighter to run into a burning building, they are the reason why you work a job—even if you don’t like the job. We constantly need these happy chemicals to drive us.

The little reminder about why you are happy to work is more than enough to create motivation. Plus, you’ll be happy.    

Sondra is happy to work with that view! At Hubud in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

Sondra is happy to work with that view! At Hubud in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

Do these productivity tricks work outside of Bali?

Sondra: Yes. We’re not saying anything new here. We’ve been reading this stuff in business books and blogs for years, but we never truly listened.

Jeremy: Be grateful!” Ok, sure. “Happy is productive!” There’s nothing happy about today. “Slow down!” How? I’ve got work to do. It all seemed like hippie propaganda.  

Sondra: But there are thousands of studies out nowadays that explain why we need to eliminate distractions and think about purpose to increase our productivity. Living in Bali made it easy, and sometimes necessary, to follow these steps, and we’re better at our jobs because of it.


Want to read more? Follow our blog! (Or like us on Facebook!) In future posts we’ll go deeper in to the science behind happiness.