June 19, 2019 6 Tips To Survive Brain Damage When Backpacking and Topcodering – Topcoder Nation Ep.05
Back in 2011, a member of a crowdsourcing community was starting a promising career as a copilot, part-time frontend developer, and entrepreneur. All of these obligations shared something in common, they didn’t require his physical presence in an office. He decided to take advantage of this brand new remote working feature in his life for the first time by joining a road trip to Florida with friends around the date of TCO11.
Everything looked great, he rented a nice Mercedes car, planned for good times, a sunny beach, and Disney World and parks. Until obligations met unplanned deadlines, like a horror movie we’ve all have seen. It was the typical scene: people trapped in a dangerous situation, there are woods outside of the house where an evil presence awaits, there is an idiot who runs to the woods, ignoring the dangers of making such a rushed decision without proper planning. This idiot smells like a dead character now and you know this idiot ends up being the first corpse of this movie. This idiot member was Luis aka mahestro ??♂️
I managed to screw up my copilot, part-time frontend developer and entrepreneur careers in less than 72 hours. I saw the dangerous woods yet ran into it. All my duties scrambled together from all sides. I lacked a stable internet connection and didn’t have a proper work/travel schedule. The consequences were catastrophic for the fun part of the trip, and a good portion of it was full of stress as I had to react instead of control the situation because I hadn’t properly planned the trip.
I could go into detail about the calamities, struggles, and stress I lived with for a good portion of the trip but I’m afraid it would make this article more unreadable than it already is. I think it’s better to focus on the lessons I learned during that episode, as well as the ongoing traveling/working adventures such as this one in Asia with Ravijune and PereViki. So let’s welcome these underrated tips for surviving brain damage while you work on Topcoder and travel at the same time, in our current way: Rambo backpacking mode. It doesn’t matter if you are traveling alone or in a group, generally, these tips can cover the overall concerns of traveling and working.
#1. MOBILE INTERNET CONNECTION ACCESS
In my previous article of this series I mentioned how we can access Topcoder Nation as long as we have internet. The prediction of what would happen if you don’t have internet is quite easy: chaos. How do you expect to communicate? How to submit your work? Smoke signs are not readable from that far these days. The first thing is making sure there will be internet access in the target location (s).
- Get a local SIM card or portable WiFi hotspot. Make sure to research which provider offers better service for the location you plan to visit.
- Do not rely only on WiFi places such as coffee houses or libraries. Depending on your location, especially if you are in some rural areas, I doubt you can find WiFi service.
- If you are as miserable as me, you can also rely on your friends’ connections; steal their phones because you have to send some work, turn on the hotspot on their phones and that’s it, easy internet for free.
#2. WATCH YOUR MONTHLY DUTIES
If I only had noted down dates and times of my duties back in when I traveled to Florida that would have probably saved me more than half of the concerns I struggled with. Do you know how it feels to see the whole picture of your monthly commitments? Do you know how it feels to have some control? Liberating!
This is the cornerstone of this brain damage control therapy. Taking notes of the exact date and times of your work in a week or month (I prefer monthly because you see the whole picture). Keep in mind that what’s measurable is manageable. If you don’t keep track of these sensitive items then your trip will probably suffer the severe consequences of being irresponsible with the awareness of your deadlines.
I use Google Calendar and a notepad, and repetition. I strongly suggest using a notepad, handwritten. Even when I don’t have access to my phone to check the calendar (I lose one every 4 months) I still have the paper and the information is also imprinted in my memory since I wrote it down. Writing things down gives you a better chance of storing this information in your brain than typing it through a virtual keyboard.
#3. SEPARATE PLEASURE FROM WORK
Imagine you are in this place you always wanted to visit (Universal Studios for me), all the magic sounds, peppy characters, and attractions are all around you. You should be jumping with joy. What if you add a park restaurant, a late deadline, and a laptop? A grumpy-faced young man trying to finish fast in order to join his friends. One definitive good lesson to take out of this is to wisely separate your days of work from your days of fun.
Interrupting your fun in order to work is as painful as interrupting your work in order to have fun. Personally, I think they shouldn’t be mixed up, for the simple and meaningful reason of not disturbing your focus on the activity you’re performing. In the end, you probably won’t enjoy the moment because of the lack of awareness, your head being all over the place. So golden suggestion, mark or reserve days for exclusively working or having fun.
#4. OVERUSE REMINDERS
While traveling, it’s very easy to get distracted by fun activities, especially if you experience new things in your life such as trying new spicy food, learning how to scuba dive or parachuting. These emotions can easily overwhelm our dopamine levels, making us « too happy », and prompting us to forget responsibilities very easily. For that, we sometimes need a soft anchor to keep us attached to reality.
Something wise that can be done is to take notes of all the deadlines for the time you know you’ll be out and plan to make sure those specific days you’ll have access to the internet to submit or communicate properly. I use Google Calendar to send me an email and phone reminders work like a charm. I recently saw Viki using this awesome multi-timer app which is even better. It gives you a live feed about all the upcoming deadlines you’re dealing with, it’s worth giving it a try.
#5. BROADCAST YOUR ABSENCE PERIOD LIKE A PRO
Depending on the way you’re traveling, it’s either a full retirement or partial work-fun phases. Either way it will be helpful to let the appropriate persons know about your plans. Setting expectations can save you from misunderstandings, allowing you to better enjoy the times you previously separated as work or fun.
Nowadays, in the community, we have Slack, emails and Connect (for copilots). Do not hesitate to overwhelm the people you work with with your available time slots or just your total absence period if you plan to be off the grid. For competitors, it’s not mandatory to communicate this absence, but in the case of being involved in a private task or final fix, it will be helpful for the team/client to know when to expect to find you.
#6. WHAT TO PACK?
I’m probably not adding anything extraordinary to what is suggested already for backpack traveling, but there is only one thing that comes to my mind: less is more. The less you carry the more you gain, the fewer possessions the more the freedom, the fewer the items you travel lighter, the less you carry you save more money (luggage fares), the less you own you have more space.
Even after following this philosophy I always end up regretting the fact I carried things I thought I was going to need but in the end, I didn’t even look at. Normally I would suggest carrying what’s essential. By essential I mean I couldn’t spend one day without using or having this item. The rest, things that can be obtained in the places you visit, should be opted out. Remember you can buy toothpaste, deodorant, soap and napkins in local stores.
BONUS TRACK – BE READY TO TAKE A PUNCH
It’s important to remark that no matter how well you plan your trip and daily activities, unexpected things can happen. No matter how careful and thorough you can be, there are things we can not control and we must adapt. In these situations where you take a punch from these unexpected events, one of the best reactions you could have is to try to be calm. With a calm mind you can search for solutions. Do not focus on the negative elements, try to do your best to find a solution. Focusing on the problem won’t help.
As the known ear-biting boxer once said: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” – Mike Tyson. I’ve had the honor to witness one of the most courageous stories in my life, someone who was prepared yet received a huge punch out of nowhere. Viki had to deliver work for a task she was assigned as part of the TaaS pool. According to our planning, we were supposed to have internet connection in Sangla, India, especially for this moment. For some reason, we didn’t have it, so the stress began to be felt in the environment. Time went by, the deadline came closer, no internet in our SIM cards, no WiFi in the homestay either. It was 5:00 AM already, at the breakdown limit she managed to fill herself with courage to take her laptop, leave the homestay, and walk around the village searching for a place with WiFi. It seemed to be an impossible mission because we were told there was none; however, it was her last chance. After wandering for minutes in this wonderful village, she was lucky enough to find someone who lent her a mobile phone with internet access so she could use it and finish her work.
These few words can’t actually represent even 10% of the moment and don’t do justice at all to the situation she went through (it deserves a whole chapter of a self-discovery book!) But it shows the clear conclusion: expect that unexpected things can happen, be ready to take a punch, focus on the solution, not in the problem.
That’s all folks. See you next time for another episode of this series. Peace out!
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