How to Get Things Done When You’re Traveling

A lot of my clients travel —either for work or pleasure—on a regular basis. Overall, 1.3 million people travel for business every single day in the United States, and another million travel for pleasure.

This never-before-seen scale of travel is extremely disruptive to our workflow.  Yet we still think we can pluck ourselves from our regular lives, hurtle through space in a metal tube at 600 mph, and come out the other end just as energetic and focused.

The truth is, all our routines get interrupted when we travel. 

But it’s still possible to be productive on the road. My husband and I meet people all the time who travel and stay on top of their workload. We’ve come to be pretty good at it ourselves since becoming fully nomadic. Last year, we traveled to 12 countries, while running our online business. Here’s our best tips  for getting—and staying—productive while traveling.

You’ve Got to Pre-Plan

Pre-planning is a simple yet effective trick.  Several weeks before you start your trip, look ahead in your calendar and game out what your life and work will be like then. Like a general preparing for battle, the goal is to get on the offense instead of slipping into defense.

People usually assume they’re going to be able to get practically the same amount done as they would in the office when they travel.  And while that’s a noble goal to aspire to, most of us know that’s unrealistic if not foolhardy.  My formula is pretty simple.  Everything you do when you travel is going to take twice as long, so assume you’re going to get half as much done. Cut your task list in half and delegate, eliminate or push off the rest!

Once you’ve cleared out obstacles and optimized your calendar—no meetings or deadlines scheduled during your travel—the next step is to chunk up your work into 30-minute, or even 15-minute, segments. That way, you can bust out your laptop in the lobby when you unexpectedly have to wait half an hour for your hotel room to be ready. 30 minutes may not seem like very long, but you can get a lot done in that short time if you’re prepared.

I get hours of work done in transit between airports, taxis, and other dead time just by having my task list laid out in small chunks.  That doesn’t include working on the plane, however. I rarely work in the air.

Pro hack: Have your pre-planning to-do list open on your laptop at all times while you travel. Whenever you open it up, you’ll know exactly what you need to get done and how long it’s going to take!

Assume There Will Be Very Bad Wi-Fi

Unlike your office, Wi-Fi isn’t a guarantee in every place that you’re going to be while traveling. Wi-Fi is particularly slow and unreliable in airports, hotel lobbies and at conferences.  There are two ways to approach this setback.

First, create your own Wi-Fi opportunities. Most smartphones are hotspot enabled.  Contact your carrier about the specifics of getting your personal hotspot ready to go on your phone. You can also buy mobile Wi-Fi devices that enable you to connect your laptop to the Internet no matter where you are.

You’ve also got to be able to work offline. That means you’ve got to make all of the tech and documents you need available whenever and wherever you need them. For example, my team uses Google Docs/Sheets/Slides for pretty much everything. Before we hop on long haul flights, we make sure to enable offline editing.

Establish A “Bare Minimum” Morning Routine

A lot of people complain that their morning routine gets sabotaged while traveling.  That’s a real bummer when you return home and have to establish the habit all over again. The solution to this is not to abandon your morning routine completely on the road.  Instead, condense it into a travel-friendly routine.

Your travel morning routine should last about 5-7 minutes. That means focusing on the one or two most important aspects of your personal morning routine. For some people, that’s journaling, for others, that’s stretching. Keep the parts that really wake you up and get you focused for the day, and then get rid of the rest.

Jetlag hack: It can be torturous, but you’ve got to immediately adjust to local time. If it’s breakfast time, eat breakfast. If it’s bed time, go to bed.  In fact, I’ll start changing my sleep schedule on the plane. I recommend getting a solid workout in the first day you arrive as exercise will help reset your body clock.

Replace Physical Cues with Digital Cues

We naturally cue ourselves to our physical environment.  We can make coffee in our own house with our eyes closed, we know walking into the office signifies it’s time to work. But when we travel, all of these cues are stripped from our daily routine which can make getting into the zone pretty hard to do.

My top tip for overcoming the lack of physical cues is to create digital cues for yourself. You can create auditory cues for important productivity events throughout your day using your phone and computer. This could be always listening to the same soundtrack or playlist to cue you to start working or having different alarms on your phone for starting or finishing work.

These digital cues can help you transition from your travel haze to your work mindset a lot quicker, and cut out the unnecessary time spent confused and distracted.  Once you open your laptop and your pre-planning list is in front of you, you can dive right into the work you need to get done!

Level up Your Travel Tech

Eliminating all of your excuses to avoid work is a foolproof way to stay productive. Some handy dandy tech can squash most excuses! Here are some of my travel necessities:

  • Noise canceling headphones: seems like a novelty, but is actually a necessity! If someone sits next to you with a crying baby in an airport, it’s impossible to focus. Unless you’ve got noise canceling headphones. I use them religiously.
  • Power blocks: nowadays, there are power blocks with enough power to charge certain laptops.I recommend getting one that holds at least ten charges for small devices.  We charge our phones, Kindles and portable wifi devices with ours and only have to recharge it once a week.
  • Light-blocking eye masks: a simple tool that makes a huge difference when you’re trying to sleep in an airport or on a plane.
  • Disposable face masks: they dial back the intensely cold, filtered air in airplanes and prevent germs from getting you sick.

Energy hack: If you have a sensitive stomach, stick to bland healthy foods in small quantities when you travel.  I eat as little airplane food as possible and nothing with sodium or sugar.  It dramatically improves my energy directly after landing.

These tips have transformed how I travel so I can stay in control and still move my agenda forward.

Travel should be a great experience, so remember to relax and enjoy the journey! Unforeseen issues can derail your plans, but accepting that some things are out of your control is the only way to handle it. If you’re prepared for whatever is thrown at you, you can still be a productivity rockstar on the road.

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