I’m from Australia but I’m currently based in Mexico.
Last month I was in Dubai and before that, I lived in Vietnam.
I work with people all over the world: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Kenya, New Zealand, Singapore and USA.
That’s a lot of time zones to keep track of and – just between you and me – I really struggle to wrap my head around it most days.
I don’t trust myself to keep track of time differences and the varying deadlines they come with. So I’ve put a few systems in place that help me make sure that
- my work is always completed on time, and
- I’m not working 24/7 just to keep all my international clients happy.
Here’s how I manage to stay on track while juggling multiple time zones:
1) Use tools
I’m currently in the GMT-5:00 time zone while some of my clients in Sydney, Australia are in GMT+10:00. Even if I try to do the math, I cannot work out a good time for a Skype call.
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I don’t trust myself to get it right so I put my faith in these tools instead:
The iPhone World Clock
This is basic but so handy. The iPhone World Clock lets you add in cities from around the world and shows you what time it is there and how many hours they are ahead or behind you.
Add in the time zones for everyone you work with so you can easily refer to it before you shoot off a Skype message to them.
(I’m sure Android phones have an equivalent built-in clock. If not, you can always download the World Clock mobile app for Android and iPhone.)
Every Time Zone
For at-a-glance conversions while you’re on your computer, I use Every Time Zone. It shows your current local time and the corresponding times for various major cities.
Another good one is the World Time Buddy (the web version of the mobile app mentioned above). Add in the cities you need to find a suitable time to communicate with clients in that time zone. It’s a handy meeting scheduler as well.
To easily schedule meetings without the back and forth of “what time suits you?“, send clients a link to your Calendly calendar.
I have set up Calendly with the times I am available, in my local time zone. The client can view my availability in their own time zone, pick a time that suits them and set up a meeting with a few clicks.
The meeting is synced to my Google Calendar and voila! No more drama over cross-continental meetings.
For more great apps and tools, check out: 10 Awesome apps for productivity and project management
Every time I change time zones, I make sure my clients know where I’m going to be.
I have a basic Google spreadsheet that I have shared with clients for easy reference. I update it with my current location and time zone. I also use this to note any days I will be in transit or might otherwise be unavailable.
The purpose behind this is to set expectations with clients. I don’t want to give off the impression that I’m available 24/7.
My clients know I usually work during business hours in my local time zone, so if they know where I am, it helps them figure out when to expect a response from me.
3) Remain available
While it is super important to set expectations with clients, it’s also important to leave a little room for flexibility. After all, my clients are the reason I have a business.
For example, while I was living in Thailand, a US-based client wanted to have a meeting and our best overlap time was at 11pm Thai time.
I’m a grandma and normally in bed by 9pm but hey, it was a once-off, it was important, and it convinced the client that our time differences wouldn’t get in the way of me providing quality work.
Read more about using flexibility to your benefit here: A freelancer’s greatest attribute and how to leverage it
4) Be crystal clear
When setting deadlines for projects or setting up a meeting, I always communicate in the client’s time zone and make it very specific, leaving no room for confusion over time differences.
After all, it’s not the client’s job to keep track of my time zone changes.
For example, say “Let’s Skype at 9am AEST” or “Let’s Skype at 9am Sydney time.”
If talking deadlines, don’t use words like “tomorrow” because that’s too vague. It’s already tomorrow in Australia! Instead, try, “The article will be done Friday 10pm, Sydney time.” If it’s necessary, add in the exact date as well.
This prevents any confusions that may arise over figuring out whose tomorrow or whose 9 AM.
5) Rely on your calendar
Don’t count on yourself to properly determine deadlines across varying time zones! Let Google Calendar figure it out for you.
When I move to a new time zone:
I immediately change my timezone on the calendar. (Usually, the calendar will detect this and automatically prompt me to do it.)
Otherwise, I just go into the calendar settings and change my country and my current timezone. This means all my deadlines will now be adjusted to display in my local time.
When I need to add in a new deadline:
First, I consider where the client is located (e.g. Sydney). Then, I create a new event in my calendar with the date and time of the deadline and make sure I set the timezone of the event to Sydney.
Once I save the event, it will appear in my calendar, automatically adjusted to my local time in Mexico.
Now that I know that I have this 1 am deadline on Thursday, I’ll make sure my work is completed by the time my work day ends on Wednesday. Deadline met and no graveyard shifts required.
6) Keep track of daylight savings
I have never lived in a place that practices daylight savings, so it’s one of those time concepts I struggle with.
You don’t want to miss a meeting because you forgot about daylight savings. Trust me, I’ve done it and it’s embarrassing!
Google Calendars will usually auto-adjust this for you; but to combat this confusion, I have set up additional reminders in my calendar for any clients that are in a time zone where DST is applicable.
As a digital nomad, traveling and constantly moving between time zones is my choice of lifestyle – not my clients’. I’ve always been completely honest with my clients about my location and make sure they know their business will not suffer due to my travel plans.
By having systems and tools in place, my deadlines don’t go into a tailspin just because I’ve changed time zones. It also means I’ve finally stopped worrying about not being available while I’m asleep.
I finally feel sane again!
I keep up the quality of my work, no matter where in the world I may be. I’ve realized that’s all that really matters to my clients. As a result, even the ones who were skeptical about my location-hopping ways no longer care whether I’m working from Vietnam, Mexico, or Timbuktu.
Do you work with clients in different time zones? How do you stay on track? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Want more on traveling and freelancing?
Check out these posts:
- How to freelance while traveling the world: my 6 pieces of advice
- How I built a freelance career while traveling the world
- A solopreneur’s guide to working (or not) while on vacation
- I spent 6 months traveling & working: Ask me anything
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