I’ve just got back from spending two months in Seville. I’ll share a few thoughts about Seville itself at the end, but more relevant to you is how an extended trip like this can shake up how you work – in a really positive way.
Two months away feels like longer than two months at home
Not surprising, because being somewhere new means your brain is doing more “active” processing and not going through so much of the day on autopilot, which has the subjective effect of stretching time. It felt like we were away for a really long time, and when I thought back to things that had happened in our first couple of weeks of being there it seemed more like a year ago.
As one of my main preoccupations is time passing too quickly, this is a huge benefit of travel for me.
It’s worth questioning your preferences regularly
Before we went away, I’d been working in a coworking space pretty much all day every day. When we went to Seville I couldn’t find a suitable space (Spanish coworking spaces are weird – a whole other story), so ended up working from cafes in the morning and from home in the afternoon.
This was my biggest concern about being away: I thought not having a regular space to work from the majority of the time would put a major dent in my productivity and happiness. In reality, it turned out to be the opposite.
I enjoyed having changes of scenery, and found it helped my productivity to say “I’ll do an hour at this cafe and get this specific thing done, then walk to another cafe and do these two other things, then go home and catch up on emails”.
In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’m completely changing my work routine in London to match.
Moving to a new place is the perfect opportunity to shake up your routines, because you don’t have much choice. We plan to keep doing at least two month-or-longer trips away each year, so I’ll keep getting the opportunity to do so – but if we weren’t, I’d be looking for other triggers to review my routines.
Physical distance produces mental distance
I felt more distant from the day-to-day dramas of work because I was physically separated by a larger distance. This would make sense if I usually worked in the office with the rest of our team, but I don’t: I’m usually physically separated by a couple of hundred miles, so why would adding a few hundred more make any difference?
It could be the psychological trick of being in another country. It could come from being in a different culture and climate, even though the distance wasn’t vast. I really don’t know. But the daily drama got me down less, and the quality of my thinking was better because I had more emotional distance.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but if I tended to work in the office I’d be looking for opportunities to get some physical distance (maybe just working remotely for a day per week) to get some mental perspective.
A small time difference really helps
In Spain I was an hour ahead of the UK, which I found helpful. I start work by 9am at the latest, so with an hour’s difference I got an hour when nobody would want to have a call and I could get ahead of the game. Often I start several hours earlier, so I could get big chunks of important work done before the UK working day had started.
The downside was that on days when I had calls scheduled solidly from first thing in the morning through to 1pm (which is normally a couple of days per week), that became 2pm – so I had less time left in the afternoon to get work done. This was actually fine though: I just lowered my expectations for what I’d get done in the afternoon. That’s a sensible thing to do anyway, because meetings drain my energy so I’m never capable of doing much quality work after a heavy morning of calls.
Nobody found it weird
I had lots of calls with new contacts who I’d never spoken to before. I never tell people I’m away spontaneously (because it’s either irrelevant to them or might seem braggy), but often it came up because of the international dial tone or when we were talking about scheduling an in-person meeting.
Nobody seemed in the slightest bit surprised that I was spending two months abroad while still working, and most said it seemed very sensible and they’d do the same if they could. This has been a huge shift in the last couple of years: previously, even after I’d explained the situation, most people would ask when I’d be back from holiday so we could speak properly.
I don’t know what’s caused this. I can only assume that greater awareness of remote working and services like Airbnb have filtered through to the point where most people have already encountered someone doing something similar, so it doesn’t seem unusual by the time they talk to me.
What about Seville itself?
Seville worked perfectly for me because it’s big enough to have plenty going on, while still small enough that most places are walkable and everything feels relaxed.
It also has the “right” amount of expats and tourists: enough that there’s some kind of expat community and English is spoken in some places, but not enough to stop it feeling like a “real” city that’s designed around the people who actually live there.
In common with everywhere I’ve been in Spain, it’s extremely child-friendly: it’s normal to take children to bars and restaurants, and everyone is warm and kind to random kids on the street. This benefit can’t be underestimated when you’ve got a bonkers toddler who’s not absorbed the London “keep quiet and avoid any contact with anyone” attitude yet.
Weather-wise, February to May is probably the ideal time to go. We’ve been there in January twice, and would avoid it in future: it’s still better than the UK, but because the buildings aren’t designed for cold weather it feels bloody freezing even when it’s not. We’ve not been there during the summer, but by all accounts it gets ludicrously hot and lots of people leave the city.
So as a place to sit out the grimmest part of the UK winter without going long-haul, I’d say Seville is pretty hard to beat.