7 Remote Working Tips from 1 Month in Rural Italy

I feel like I’ve done the impossible — been more relaxed, productive, healthy, and gluttonous than ever. How?

My commute home last month 🏍 🍝☕️

Work harder + Be more relaxed = 🤔

You don’t believe me right? We like to think of work and life as a zero sum game: if you raise productivity, you lower relaxation; if you drink and eat more, you get less healthy; if you work less time, you earn less money. But I found the total opposite was the case this month.

I had my cake and ate it too.

Between 18 months in Berlin and emigrating to the UK, Ellie (my wife) and I decided to spend a month down in Puglia, in the heel of the boot of Italy. This wasn’t a holiday. It was an adventure blended with normal life. We’d work and play in equal measure.

So I found a coworking space in the insanely beautiful town of Alberobello, rented a scooter for the month, and settled into a new rhythm.

The trulli of Alberobello — a UNESCO World Heritage site 10 mins walk from my coworking space

The 7 things that had the biggest impact

I think these things also 100% apply to someone living in London, New York, Berlin, or a little village in the arse-end of nowhere. More detail on each one below.

  1. No alarm clock
  2. 6hr working days (including a 1hr lunch break)
  3. Proper task management
  4. No WiFi at home
  5. Awesome coworking space with fast WiFi and a portable office
  6. Aim for a 30/20/50 split between Breakkie/Lunch/Dinner
  7. Exercise (at least) every 2 days

1. No alarm clock

My sleepy little feet in bed this morning

There’s loads of research out there about sleep, how we’re not getting enough, how alarm clocks are bad, how we should wait a few hours before our morning coffee hit, how sleep deprivation can make you fat.

I know my co-founder Jon is VERY precious about his sleep. He never schedules calls before 10am, and hasn’t used an alarm clock for years (except for the occasional crucial wake-up).

This has been amazing. Most days I’ve gone to bed around 00:30 and woken up naturally at 08:30. Some days I sleep a bit more. Some days a bit less. I figure my body and brain know what they need. So why not leave it up to them?

I wake up. Maybe read for a bit. Play a few games of backgammon with Ellie. Have a delicious coffee and breakfast. Prepare a packed lunch. pack my bag. And head out on my scooter.

2. 6hr working days (including a 1hr lunch break)

Time remaining today at the moment of writing.

I can’t focus for 8, 10, 12 hours a day. Not properly anyway. And I’m damn sure that you can’t either. We spend our days in offices bouncing from meeting to meeting, switching tasks all the time, checking emails, Facebook, little chats here and there. It’s a mess.

Most working professionals I know feel like they don’t have enough time in the day. This stresses them out, and they end up working long hours, or rushing things, or wasting time on things that they don’t need to waste time on. But the reality is that:

Most people’s working days are full of shit that they don’t need to be doing.

If you’ve got 8 hours a day to fill, you’ll fill it. And you’ll add on 2 more hours just to feel like you’re being productive.

But that’s not productivity. That’s stupidity.

When you’ve only got 5 working hours in the day, and you like your job, you make sure that you get shit done in that time.

I arrive at the office. Start a 6hr timer on my phone and get working. After 2.5hrs I head for 1hr of lunch, coffee, and reading. Then I smash the last 2.5 hours and hop on my scooter when the timer runs out. I’m that strict about it.

And if I feel like I’m not being productive during those last couple of hours, I’ll head home early or do some boring procedural task like our accounts or social media scheduling.

3. Proper task management

Our Summer Trello board to keep us laser focused and working transparently. The ✅ on the right make me happy.

Humans are so easily distractible, and the internet is the worst possible technology to have around if we want to focus. You can’t rely on just doing stuff as and when you think it’s right. You need to be disciplined. You need to write out your tasks, regularly prioritise them, focus on one at a time, and receive a tiny reward for getting them done.

Trello is the best thing I’ve found for this. New ideas go into the BACKLOG on the far left. Then when I arrive in the morning I drag the tasks for the day into the TO-DO column and give them a due date, time, and maybe a sub-checklist if there are some tasks-within-the-task that I need more detailed focus on. Then one-by-one I drag a task into the DOING column. I do it. Then I mark it done and drag it into the DONE column.

Simple. Super effective. And free.

4. No WiFi at home

God DAMN Italian food is good. Tagliatelle, pesto, buffalo mozzarella, parmesan, chilli oil, and black pepper.

Simple as that. I’ve got 3G on my phone for the odd bit of personal Instagram, navigation on Google Maps, and for letting Jon know when I’m going to be working that day.

We’ve watched a few films that I’ve downloaded at my coworking space. But mainly it’s helped us to focus on hanging out, reading, playing games, making great food, exploring the local area, and avoiding the daily nonsense and noise of the Western media and entertainment world.

5. Awesome coworking space with fast WiFi and a portable office

COHOP in Alberobello. Perfect. Calm. Cheap.

There are thousands of these places all over the world now. Websites like Nomad List gather them together and rank cities and towns by their workability and liveability.

My criteria were, a calm space with lots of natural light and fast WiFi. That’s pretty much all I need.

I bring everything else with me.

MacBook Pro, Hama Bluetooth Keyboard, Apple Magic Trackpad 2, Roost laptop stand, Cocoon Grid-It, Kindle Paperwhite, Kleen Kanteen bottle, European MacBook cables, a Pilot Twin Marker, 1 pad of standard Post-Its, Urbanears Kransen earbuds.

That’s my workstation in a bag.

Everyone here is really friendly and kind. We chat. We work. We have long lunches and cold coffees. It’s a cracking space to be super productive in a relaxed environment.

6. Aim for a 30-20-50% split between Breakkie-Lunch-Dinner

Delicious iced coffee with almond syrup to fuel focused afternoons.

This has been a massive and slow learning curve for me over the last couple of years. Trying to figure out what I should eat when, to make sure that my body and brain are ready to do the right kind of work at the right time.

I love bread. Really truly love bread. And Italy is the land of bread. Focaccia. Pizza. Pucce. Panzerotti. It’s all delicious and hard to resist.

But bread bloats! And a big bread or pasta-based lunch really slows me down. so I’ve landed on this simple rule of thumb for my eating across the day:

  • A decent no-bread breakfast at 10:00 of milky coffee, yoghurt, fruit, and honey
  • A light lunch of mainly veg at 15:00, probably some bread in the form of a few slices of pizza or focaccia, and a sweet iced black coffee.
  • Then a big fat dinner at 21:00. Whatever happens here, happens. Pizza, focaccia, cheese, crisps, beer, wine, ice cream, grappa, fish, etc.
  • Many litres of tap water throughout the day, followed 10.5 hrs later by…

7. Exercise (at least) every 2 days

My latest 5km loop. The little running chap icon is where I have to sprint to get away from the barking guard dog 😱

For clarity, for health, and for fun. Regular exercise in any form has been super important for me over the last couple of years. I was a wobbly, lazy, academic teenager. I didn’t move my body much, and I didn’t really feel like I knew much about it.

Now I have to exercise. And I aim to get out every couple of days, either running, swimming, or just walking. Though I’m not super strict on myself, because often the guilt of not going can outweigh the eventual benefits of going.

And guilt is no good for anyone.

Where next?

This has been an awesome month. And now we’re heading to the UK to live for a while. Probably down on the south coast near to Brighton, though we’re not sure.

I’m going to continue with my 7 rituals for effective working. And whilst I guess some will evolve, and others devolve, it’s definitely possible to maintain a similar rhythm wherever you are in the world. And to adapt the rhythm to your needs and desires.

I’m curious..

What works for you?

Check out the product that I’ve been building whilst in Italy. It’s a new online course that helps people go from idea to launching a company in 12 weeks.