My colleagues and I often chuckle about some of the stock photos used to represent telecommuting—a woman lying in a field of flowers with her fingers poised above her laptop keys, a man in a three-piece suit sitting at a desk perched at the top of a cliff, and so on (as above). Although they convey a sense of freedom that’s very much in line with the ethos of telecommuting, these photos are, of course, hardly accurate depictions of a typical remote work environment.

By and large, my own work days take place at a desk in my small and messy living room, where I often sit in my pajamas for hours in the morning before even getting dressed. Definitely not photo-shoot material.

But now that I’m working in Hawaii for a few weeks, it seems like those stock photos might not be so far off the mark after all. I’m living just minutes away from the beach, so shouldn’t I just be able to throw on a swimsuit and lounge around on the beach all day, as long as I have my laptop handy?

The reality is, just because I’m mobile, and just because I’m somewhere tropical, doesn’t mean I’m in a fantasy world. Work is work, and I have to be just as focused, organized, and committed here as I would be back home. After all, I used to live and work in New York City, and somehow I managed not to get swayed by the sea of tourists to spend my days bouncing between Broadway shows.

So, how does that play out in practice? Here are five things I’ve done to make my time here as productive as it would be anywhere else:

Recognize that it may take extra effort to work somewhere new.

I may be in a vacation destination, but I’m not on vacation. And in fact, I find it actually takes me more effort, rather than less, to work from somewhere new. At home, I have a dedicated work space. I have a steady internet connection. I have access to quiet when I need it. I know all the local roads, coffee shops, and public transit routes.

Here in Hawaii, I’ve had to take extra steps to get to know my surroundings as quickly as possible. My first day after we landed was spent examining maps, learning bus prices and routes, coordinating schedules with our host family, and generally getting my bearings. Each day since has required structure in a way that I’m not generally accustomed to in order to make sure I don’t find myself stuck on a noisy bus somewhere when I’m supposed to be participating in a conference call, or in a dead cell zone when I need to send an email.

Get the right technology tools.

I’m not someone who jumps on the latest technology as soon as it becomes available. At home, I’d been happy enough with a clunky old laptop with a battery that no longer held a charge, because I only used it at my desk. I had the cheapest cell phone plan because I was always on a home WiFi connection and could use web conferencing tools for my phone calls.

Coming out here though, I realized I had to upgrade. I finally got myself a new laptop that has a five-hour battery life and weighs about half as much as my old one. I also switched to a cell phone data plan that gives me anytime access to a “personal WiFi hotspot”. This means that wherever I am, as long as there’s a cell connection, I can use my phone to get my computer online (amazing!).

Now I can whip out my laptop anywhere that’s comfortable without worrying about finding a power outlet. And I can get online anytime, anywhere, whether there’s a public WiFi connection available or not.

Scope out quiet, comfortable work spaces, and be ready to move.

I don’t have a personal work space here the way I do at home. As a result, I’ve had to get more creative than usual in finding good spots to work. All I need tool-wise is my phone and laptop (and, being old-fashioned, my paper notebook for note-taking). But for me to be comfortable working, I prefer to be sitting upright at a desk (or table). I also favor using a mouse rather than my laptop trackpad, so I need a decent surface to rest it on.

Some days, I’m able to work from the kitchen table in the house where we’re staying. Other days, I’ve worked at the Honolulu Regus business lounge, at various coffee shops, at the local library, and even, on occasion, at picnic tables outside by the ocean. None of these options is perfect by itself (the library’s hours vary and I can’t make calls from there, the Regus office is a two hour bus commute from where I happen to be staying, working outside is only possible when the lighting is right), so it’s a juggling act to find the right place for the right time, and I find myself on the move throughout the day.

Take advantage of the new location.

I did my research before coming to Hawaii to see if it might offer opportunities that I wouldn’t have in my normal location. Sure enough, one of our 1 Million for Work Flexibility Supporter organizations (WorkOptions) is based here. That turns my remote stint into a perfect chance for a face-to-face meeting.

Being so far west also means that I can get most of my calls done early in the morning (a lunchtime conference call at home is now a breakfast call here), leaving my afternoons more available for head-down focusing.

Enjoy the surroundings.

During work hours, I’m an employee not a tourist. But that still leaves plenty of downtime for me to explore my temporary home and take advantage of all that Hawaii has to offer. That’s the true magic of this flexibility; I don’t have to choose between getting my job done and enjoying a surfing lesson or a luau — with some planning and organization, I can do both.

Readers, what’s your experience telecommuting or working remotely? What are your best tips to truly work from anywhere?

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