In the last year, I boarded a plane at least once 48 weeks out of 52. And I’m not alone in my travel habits: In 2016, Americans went on close to 460 million business trips. I used to be convinced there was no way to get actual work done between the noise, the close quarters, and the constant interruptions of travel.
Deadlines, however, don’t care about your travel plans. I have more than 200 emails to sift through, a podcast to produce, and content to create in addition to client work. When I’m in on-site meetings with clients, my focus is on the person in front of me; travel is the only time left to get the rest of my work done.
But working while traveling doesn’t have to be a nightmare. I’ve learned how to maximize travel time, whether I’m waiting in line, stuck in a taxi, on a crowded flight, or sitting in an airport terminal. Others who struggle to stay productive while traveling can learn, too.
Track your progress anywhere, any time.
Whether you’re on the go or in the office, using an omnichannel platform to communicate with your co-workers and keep track of project statuses is crucial. Important information should be accessible to you whether you’re working on your phone as you wait to go through customs or you’re making use of a terminal’s Wi-Fi.
I use Wunderlist, a productivity tool synced across devices to assign tasks to myself and keep my to-do list updated. Its interface is simple, and it helps me keep track of tasks, communication with co-workers, potential podcast guests, blog topics, and any other information I might need.
Smartphones, of course, are another godsend for traveling businesspeople. When I’m in a line or stuck in a cab, I can still answer emails and share travel stories with loved ones and my business audience alike. That way all of my smaller tasks are complete by the time I reach the airport, leaving work that requires a laptop and more thought — like content creation — until I’m at my gate or on the plane.
Keep a handwritten to-do list.
As nice as all of these technological advances are, the time will come when you forget your charger or you’re waiting in a Wi-Fi dead zone. These occasions are when old-fashioned handwriting comes in handy. Besides acting as a hard copy, writing helps me sort through my thoughts.
I keep a journal of ideas on me at all times: It gives me a place to sketch, update to-do lists on the fly, and jot down notes as they come to me. If something needs to be transmitted to Wunderlist or another platform, I’ll circle it. Later, these notes will be entered into a folder of Word documents on my laptop, titled by date or subject.
In addition to my journal, every night I write down my top three tasks for the next day on a Post-it and stick it to the left of my laptop’s track pad. These tasks are all kept in Wunderlist, too, but the act of writing them down lets me mull over these three items before it’s time to tackle them.
Treat yo’ self…to a break.
Although it might seem counterintuitive, it’s also important to give yourself some downtime. I always travel with my iPad that I load with plenty of books. This gives me a chance to cleanse my mental palate between completing larger tasks — especially the three tasks I’ve prioritized for the day.
I’ll also resort to bribing myself. If I finish my first major task of the day, for example, I might reward myself with an hour of reading my mystery novel, guilt-free. It sounds silly, but it’s a good way to navigate a killer to-do list.
Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” is also a proponent of this method. Rewards, he notes, are deeply personal and should be tailored to your own preferences. That might mean you get a latte from the Starbucks by your gate if you finish writing a blog post or a 20-minute Instagram break once you’ve answered a few emails. Whatever it is, the reward should be something you truly enjoy.
Working while on the go is never ideal — it’s much easier to stay accountable when you’re in the actual office, but business keeps moving quickly no matter where you are. Whether you’re visiting clients on site or spending half the week at a conference, you can’t let your productivity suffer because you’re traveling. Incorporate these habits into your routine, and you’ll have no trouble staying up-to-date.