When I left Microsoft after 14 years, I had no idea what I wanted to do. All I knew was I needed to be my own boss and I wanted to be able to run my business from anywhere in the world. This summer marks my third stretch of living in Europe for an extended period, all while I run my business full-time.
Initially, I was worried: Would I be able to stay in touch with the team and the customers? Could I access the information I needed to lead my company?
My business already has teams on a different continent, so the time zone wasn't an issue. With a bit of flexibility in my working hours, I could carry on all my meetings as if I'd never left the "home" office. Modern video-conferencing technology and mobile internet made the transition seamless.
Furthermore, I learned how to become a stronger, more focused entrepreneur. I kept some of these new ways to doing things each time after I returned to the United States.
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Here are five surprising discoveries you might also make if you relocate to a different country for a few months.
1. You will no longer 'sweat the small stuff.'
A change in scenery also changes your perspective on what's important and urgent. Things always seem like a big deal while you're deeply involved in them. Removing yourself from the day-to-day drama enables you to develop a different routine and rethink what really matters.
Apps such as Trello can help you capture important “to-do” tasks before you leave. Two weeks into your trip, re-evaluate what’s important. You might find that to make room for strategic priorities, you need to remove at least half of the items from your initial list. Keep reviewing and reprioritizing throughout your time away.
Related: How to Prioritize Your Priorities
2. You have an excuse to say 'no' to random coffee meetings.
Entrepreneurs spend a lot of time networking in person and going to random coffee meetings. Staying in touch with the community is critically important if you travel. But these meetings consume precious time and can distract you from the main goal. Because you can't show up to the meeting in person, you save travel time and the temptation to say “yes” to a non-essential meeting.
Instead, invest time in social media networking. Make Twitter lists of important contacts and set aside at least 15 minutes a day to connect with them. You'll be surprised how many new strategic relationships you will foster via social media.
3. You get better at organizing your time.
If your new time zone differs greatly from the one your customer base calls home, the majority of your email will arrive while you're asleep. You can't answer immediately, but there is a great upside: You're not bombarded by one-off email requests throughout your workday.
Obviously, you need to create a backup system to handle urgent requests during your business' regular hours. That built-in redundancy also helps free you up to focus on larger projects.
Go through your email first thing in your morning, whenever that is. Prioritize the most important items and delete the rest. Then check your email inbox again at the end of the day to see if anything new arrives -- just in case. Typically, though, the offset time zones mean the bulk of your messages will be waiting for you at the start of your day.
4. You're less tempted to jump on social media.
Social media in general -- and Facebook, in particular -- can be a huge distraction. If you pay attention, you could discover you're getting absorbed by trivial updates at least several times a day. Many of us are guilty of checking our social media feeds every hour. Once again, the time-zone differential works in your favor. The majority of activity from your friends and family back home will fall on your off hours. You can turn off Facebook (and should) until after you're caught up with updates that require a more personal response.
5. You keep your good habits when you come home.
Being abroad gives you an opportunity to turn these better processes into lasting habits. These take a long time to form. If you're outside of your home country for more than two weeks, you'll have plenty of time to form the groundwork for these new habits.
Keep track of the new approaches and what you've learned so you can apply it to your business. Make a conscious effort to continue these new best practices after you return. You and your company will be better for it.