My morning routine — coffee, figure out my day. The croissant is long gone.
I am frequently asked how I spend a typical day as a working expat. It’s the second most frequently asked question after how much I spend on groceries. I’m a single person who doesn’t like to cook. My grocery bill will not correspond with yours. Trust me.
Most of the expats in Portugal, especially those from the States and other European countries are retirees. But I’ve also noticed that many want or need to supplement their income. Even though it is less expensive to live in Portugal than many countries, it’s not Thailand or Mexico. You can get by on about $1,500 a month but you won’t be eating out as often as you’d like or hopping over to Ibiza for the weekend. (Me, frantically Googling Ibiza to see if that’s a thing…)
It was never my intent to find a job in Portugal or work with Portuguese clients; my clients are U.S.-based and very specifically targeted. (Independently published business authors—how’s that for niche?) I’ve been a freelancer (or a small business owner if I want to sound more stable) for twenty years. I have met about half my clients in person. All of my business is conducted online, through email and Zoom meetings, which made moving to a new country much easier.
The Time Difference Can Work for You
Today is as typical as it gets. I stayed up late last night reading which meant that I slept in by an hour or so. Because I am five hours ahead of the US East Coast, it doesn’t matter. It’s 2:00 pm here when the clock hits 9:00 am there. If I’m not up by 2:00, I’m probably dead.
I love that five hour time gap. I am not a morning person and I start slow. For months, I was walking every day before my coffee, something that stopped when the weather turned cold. It’s starting to warm up again, so my morning walk will be reinstituted. Tomorrow. Probably…
I get a fresh croissant from the bakery next door every morning except Mondays when they are closed, hit the coffee maker, and sit outside on the balcony with my planner. I have a weekly to-do list with certain tasks set for certain days. I check to see what I haven’t done that I should have done and sometimes make a prioritized daily list to keep myself on track.
All my mornings are given over to writing. That’s what I do for a living, but it’s also what I do for fun. Mondays I write the expat post. I may or may not have it posted by Monday night, but it is written and posted on Tuesday at the latest. Fridays I send out my Friday Happynings newsletter. (Yes, of course you can subscribe. The form is in the sidebar to your right. Thanks for asking!) Both of these things take up as much time as I have to give them. They can take three hours to write or one. Writing is a fickle business. Sometimes the words flow, other days you’ve got nuthin’.
Tuesdays I have a writing group that meets from 3:00 to 5:00 pm my time. That gives me most of the day to take care of any other business. Wednesdays I share out a blog post on Medium. Sometimes two if I’m being very efficient. I admin a couple of Facebook groups and I make sure the various weekly posts are up on time.
I try to schedule all client calls on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. I am available on Mondays and Fridays, but Mondays are Mondays—there’s always stuff to catch up from the weekend, and Fridays are my finishing up days. I check to see what didn’t get done during the week that really needed to, what got overlooked that really shouldn’t be put off, and try to take care of it on Fridays.
A typical day as a working expat in Portugal looks very much like a typical day when I was in the States. I write in the mornings, work with clients in the afternoons. In the States, client calls were never before 10:00 am and rarely after 4:00 pm. The six hour appointment window is now five (sometimes four) and has shifted: Client calls now run from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm Eastern.
I run my business on East Coast time and I keep my laptop set to it. My Zoom settings and Google calendar are set for the Eastern time zone. It means my normal day goes a bit later than it did in the States. Sometimes I have to take a meeting at 7:00 or 8:00 pm. I have been on webinars at midnight.
Sometimes the Time Zones Work Against You
Working with a client on the West Coast means that the earliest meeting will be at 4:00 pm, but it’s usually after 5:00 pm. I like my clients so it’s not an annoyance to have a call at 6:00 pm. I knew when I moved here that I would have to make some accommodations for the time difference. If you are working remotely for a company, you may have to show up for Zoom meetings outside of typical work hours. That’s part of the deal.
Working with people in Australia is difficult for me. It was a 13 hour time difference when I was in the States; it’s now 18 hours. There’s really no good time for a meeting with someone in Australia. Probably the Philippines, too, for that matter. I’ve only had one or two clients from that side of the globe, so it’s not a problem for me. If you work with a lot of Aussies or if you have a VA in the Philippines, the time difference may present a few hurdles.
Running on two time zones is a little schizophrenic. It’s also a bit of a trap—it can lull you into a false sense of efficiency. If I have my newsletter ready to go by 7:00 am Eastern, I’m patting myself on the back for getting it out early. But really, it’s noon time in Portugal. I didn’t get it out early and it may have taken me longer to write than it should have. But looking at my laptop’s clock and having the bulk of my work done by 9:00 am Eastern gives me a nice dopamine hit.
The Non-Work Stuff
Once a week, usually on a weekday, I take an Uber into town and do my grocery shopping. I should go to the Municipal Market on Saturdays for fresh produce and all sorts of locally grown stuff, but as noted above, I am not a cook. (I also don’t like vegetables, olive oil, or fish, the products that make up at least 90% of the offerings there.) My cooking style is totally predicated on getting the food to my mouth in the least amount of time while using as few pans as possible.
Flavour Café is a regular stop when I’m in town. Their mochaccino is basically a dessert.
I usually combine errands when I’m in town. I’ll hit a doctor’s appointment, a charity shop, maybe explore a section of town I haven’t really seen before. I might have breakfast, lunch, or just a coffee while I’m there. I can run into town in the morning and be back in plenty of time for afternoon client calls.
Today I did a load of laundry and it is drying on the rack in the sun. Dryers are rare here and everyone hangs out their clothes. It takes most of the day for things to dry (sometimes overnight for heavier items) so I don’t do more than one load a day. I suppose I could get a second rack if I wanted to do two loads in one day, but there’s no need. I do about three loads a week—the same as I did back in the States. If you have a family, you’ll feel like doing laundry is a constant. It’s probably a constant now. Some things don’t change.
The Super Advantage to the Time Zone Difference
The most notable thing about my typical day as a working expat is how similar it is to my days in the States. Except for a few evening appointments, my days are almost identical. I am more likely to be able to have a glass of wine at 5:00 pm now, mostly because I have that uninterrupted time every morning to get things done. And that’s HUGE. It’s a game changer.
When I worked for an insurance brokerage, I would often go into the office on a Saturday morning to catch up on work or to work ahead. I could get more done in three or four hours on a Saturday than I could in two weekdays because I had no interruptions—no phones to answer, no one popping in to ask me a question, no need to deal with the persnickety copier that someone had jammed.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to be more efficient in my work. Now I understand why some people get up at four in the morning to get a “jump” on the day. It’s impossible to be efficient when you’re constantly interrupted. Moving here solved that problem for me.
My mornings in Portugal are free from phone calls, appointments, emails, social media pings. I can get my work done by noon here, 7:00 am Eastern. If I don’t have any client calls or anything pressing, most days I can take the afternoon off. I spend my weekends working on my own writing, but even that is getting handled during the week.
My typical day as a working expat may involve the same tasks, but I am able to complete them more quickly. The result is that I am a lot more relaxed, less stressed about work and for the first time in years I have no need to hustle or grind. I’ve stopped being busy for the sake of being busy and it all gets done. It’s an entirely different mindset and it works for me.