Everything on a laptop

The Tools & Kit I use to Stay Productive as a Digital Nomad Programmer

The first thing you give up as a Digital Nomad is your big comfy chair, second monitor and many of the other comforts you’re used to. But that doesn’t mean your mobile work environment has to be inferior. Here’s my list of hardware and software – built up over the last three years – to stay productive on the road.

Laptop – Hardware

Mid 2012 MacBook Air – 4Gb RAM, 128Gb HDD – I bought this right before we set off. There’s lots of advantages to having a Mac on the road: the build quality is fantastic, and you can go to authorised Apple repair centres all over the world. I would strongly recommend getting AppleCare for your laptop. It’s expensive, but insurance on your main work computer is really essential to keep you going in case of any problems. And if something does go wrong, knowing you can take it to an Apple Authorised place and they will fix it, no questions asked, gives huge peace of mind. In three years I’ve:

  • had the battery replaced in New Zealand
  • had the screen replaced in the UK (I’m pretty sure this one was my fault, but they didn’t question it all)
  • had it checked over for free in Vietnam after it overheated in a Cambodian beach hut

As luck would have it I got my warranty free when I bought my Mac – I probably wouldn’t have spent the extra money on my own. I’ll definitely shell out for AppleCare when I upgrade though.

A few tips for buying a mac:

  1. Look for refurbished models. These come with a full regular warranty from Apple but are up to 20% cheaper
  2. Check out The MacRumours Buyers Guide to check when the model you’re looking to buy is coming to the end of its lifecycle and is due for an upgrade1

RSI

I am really prone to RSI and I find hunching over the laptop brings it on really fast. The solution is to have a separate mouse and keyboard and to raise the screen up so you don’t have to bend your neck so much to look at it.

You don’t need anything fancy to rise your computer, I normally use a tupperware box, but you can also use a big book or anything really.


For a keyboard I got a Rapoo E9070 in Thailand. It’s small and light and has a small number pad which is helpful for the RSI because it prevents my arm from jutting out at an unnatural angle. I just have a cheap wireless mouse as my bluetooth one died.

USB Dongle – I got this from RadioShack at the same time as I got the mouse. I often need to have my phone or an external drive plugged in as well as the keyboard and mouse. Bluetooth is the way to go people. Sometimes I really miss Amazon.

On the rare occasions my RSI does flare up I can get it under control quickly with my Powerball. It’s really like a miracle cure.

I’ve got three 1TB Passport USB 3 drives2:

  • The first is mainly used for my photo library and spare VM Images
  • The second is for movies and TV – it’s formatted to NTFS so it works on most TVs which have a USB port
  • The final one is used for Time Machine backups
Other Accessories
  • Ethernet adapter – I have only used this in three places over the years, but two of those times it was an absolute life saver. I don’t carry a cable as generally the place with the LAN port will have one
  • Thunderbolt to HDMI adapter – great for watching TV from the laptop

Laptop – Software

Development

Development

  • Xcode – You can do iOS dev without Xcode, but you’re a masochist if you try
  • Sketch – I wrote about Sketch here. Although not strictly for coding, it’s a vital part of the overall process
  • Reveal – Great for debugging Xcode views. There’s a basic version of this built into Xcode now, but Reveal totally kicks its ass and you can easily save hours of wasted head scratching
  • Chrome – The development tools in Chrome are fantastic
  • Soulver – Perfect for back of the envelope calculations
  • Sublime Text 2 – Powerful and incredibly extensible but really simple. You can’t go wrong with Sublime for full-on coding or just quickly working on any text data
  • SourceTree – For version control. I also use BitBucket (also by Atlasssian) for repository hosting
  • Parallels Desktop – For testing in Internet Explorer on your Mac
  • yEd – Open source tool for UML, BMPL and any other kind of diagram
  • Dash – If you’re going to be in a place with a bad connection for a while it’s great to keep all your documentation offline
  • Napkin – For annotating screenshots. I often use it for collecting notes on a particular coding problem to add to a incident ticket. Generally helpful for communicating when you’re not both in front of the same screen.
  • Sip – Like a system wide version of the pipette tool from photoshop. After you’ve picked a colour you can copy it in a number of programming formats, e.g CSS, UIColor, Android, Java, etc
  • Sequel Pro – A really nice free GUI MySQL client
  • ImageOptim – Make Google page rank happy by losslessly compressing your images with this free tool
  • Cyberduck – Every so often I try a demo of a paid FTP client, but they are never better than Cyberduck which is free3
Productivity
Productivity
  • Omnifocus 2 – My GTD tool of choice, OmniFocus is a real power tool implementation of GTD
  • SelfControl – Blocks access to distracting websites for a limited period of time. Great for staying focused!
  • DaisyDisk – Quickly get an attractive and easy to navigate overview of why your disk is full. Should be factory installed on machines with small SSDs
  • Day One Journal – You often read about how much of an impact journaling can have on your life. Day One makes it easy and fun
  • TaskPaper – When I first heard about TaskPaper I thought do I really need another layer of productivity software? Well once you’ve tried it you can’t go back. I copy stuff I’m working on today out of Omnifocus and into TaskPaper. It’s really simple and really powerful. And a great scratch pad for stuff you just need to remember while you’re working on something
  • World Clock – The notification centre widget with the slider is fantastic
  • 1Password – You have different passwords for everything right? No?! You need 1Password then! Especially great for Digital Nomads as you can securely store credit cards, passwords, visas and other stuff like that in there
  • Freckle – Freckle is a SaaS time tracking and billing tool. Their little system tray widget helps keep me conscious of how much time I’m spending on a given task and helps me earn more by making sure I track everything
  • Fantastical – Apple doesn’t give its built in Calendar app the love it deserves. Fantastical do.
  • Alfred 2 – Alfred is a launcher app that lets you do a tonne of things right from the keyboard so you can keep focussed on your task and not on changing from keyboard to mouse. (A great extension for Digital Nomads is the Currency convertor). If you don’t use Alfred already this is the one app I’d suggest you try right away
Writing
writing
  • iA Writer – iA Writer is fantastic for clean, simple, distraction free markdown writing. And you can copy the text as HTML into WordPress or your blog engine
  • MindNode – I find it much easier to get started on blog posts when I start with a mind map. It just feels less like a blank page and it’s easy to get my thoughts organised and stay focussed on the main thing I want to say
Web
Web
  • Gmail Web Client – You can’t get Google’s proprietary filtering features on any desktop client, and the web client is pretty nice anyway
  • Safari – I find it to be faster and nicer to use for everyday browsing than Chrome
  • Tweetbot – Because the native Twitter client is shit and Tapbots are awesome
  • uTorrent – Because video downloads SO FAST on torrents
  • VLC – Plays everything you can throw at it and allows you to boost the volume to greater than 100%
  • Wren – Lets you post to Twitter (or Buffer) without having to open Tweetbot, thus saving you from a world of distraction
  • Slack – The de rigueur modern communication tool
  • Spotify – Any music any time. And offline mode works really well which is great for travel and generally saving data

Bag

Thule Backpack

I have a Thule Backpack – they don’t make the exact bag I have any more, but they are all tough as nails with loads of practical features. The hardened ‘sunglasses’ section has been really useful. Not cheap but after three years I can say it’s definitely been worth the money.

iPhone – Accessories

I have an iPhone 6 – 64Gb, because friends don’t let friends buy a 16Gb phone. Looking forward to upgrading to the 6S Plus when I’m home. I have these accessories:

iPhone – Apps

iPhone Homescreen
  • Spotify – The original and still the best. They have some great curated playlists for focussing too
  • Omnifocus 2 – For capturing ideas and checking ‘errands’ lists on the go
  • World Time Widget – for quickly checking the time at home on the go
  • Pomodrone – A Pomodorro timer. I love the fact it doesn’t show the exact time remaining. It has some nice animations too
  • Toshl – Decent app for recording our spending
  • Overcast – It does this clever thing where it cuts longer silences out of your podcasts. So far it’s saved me 37 hours (!)
  • Due – Really good for nagging you into doing your routine chores
  • Squeezy Men – Helps train my weak bladder
  • Progress – Why yes I did make that app! And still use it every day
  • Google Translate – Scary and wonderful at the same time
  • Foursquare – If you want to go to tourist targeting eateries use TripAdvisor or Yelp. If you want to find where locals go use Foursquare

Audio

Audio
  • SoundMAGIC E10 Headphones – Robust, comfortable and award winning headphones with fantastic sound quality for the money
  • Apogee Mic because it was the only USB mic I could find in Hanoi when I needed one quickly. It’s pretty decent, but there are much cheaper options
  • Jawbone Jambox Speaker – Just because you’re travelling doesn’t mean you have to put up with the shitty speaker on your laptop and phone. The Jambox is light weight, super solid and sounds great
  • More for travel than work: Airplane Headphone Socket Adapter & Headphone splitter (so two people can listen to the same thing at once)

Coffee

Coffee

I only drink decaf these days but it’s still an essential part of my work routine and I enjoy the ceremony and the taste.

  • AeroPress – The worlds best coffee maker also happens to be super portable. There’s a whole cult surrounding these things because they make such great coffee
  • Hario Grinder obviously not as fast as an electric grinder, but hella more portable and kind of therapeutic
  • Kenex Scales – Perfect for measuring out your coffee for the perfect cup. All part of the ceremony

The future

I’m happy with my setup, but I’m also planning a few upgrades before the end of the year.

I’ve ordered a new Roost on Kickstarter which I can pick up when I’m next home. I also plan on replacing the MacBook Air with a MacBook Pro when the next generation with Skylake processors is released, hopefully this year.

For the keyboard, I’ve been lusting after the a fancy Logitech Bluetooth one both for the bluetooth and the backlit keys. And as for the mouse, I’m looking to upgrade to this one as it looks amazing and I’ve heard great things.

These are all relatively expensive items, but for the amount of time I spend working on my computer it’s worth having the best stuff I can.

Do you have any killer hardware that you love? I’d love to hear about it in the comments


Gif source: http://giphy.com/gifs/evolution-modern-desk-ylyUQlgvnUIuV2PUtO

  1. Buying right before a machine is due for an upgrade is bad because Apple doesn’t reduce the price of machines during their lifecycle.
  2. Because these bad boys are made in Thailand they are one of the few consumer electronics that it’s cheaper to buy in the Land of Smiles than on Amazon
  3. They charge for the version on the App Store, but if you download direct from their site it’s free