Making Best Use Of Your Travel TimeDecember 5, 2015
I’m writing this article on a flight to Raleigh-Durham; I began it last week on a train from New York City, and added a few paragraphs a couple days later on a flight to San Francisco. I’m not alone: the Global Business Travel Association predicts that business travel spending will hit an all-time high of $1.25 trillion in 2015, a 6.5% increase over last year. Even in an era of video conferencing, face-to-face meetings are still an irreplaceable business tool, and many professionals (like me) spend a majority of our time on the road.
Of course, life doesn’t stop when you’re in the air: emails still pour in, and reports and proposals are still expected. Even if it’s a travel day, it’s still a work day. But staying productive on the road — while navigating unfamiliar destinations, schlepping heavy luggage, and dealing with not-infrequent delays and inconveniences — can be a herculean challenge. Here’s how to accomplish more while in transit.
You can engage in professional development by listening to podcasts. Many airport rituals are short and staccato — five minutes in line to check a bag, 10 minutes to get through security, five minutes walking to the gate, and 10 minutes standing in line to board. You certainly can’t whip out a laptop and start typing while you’re standing up and juggling your boarding pass and picture ID. Instead, podcasts are a perfect, hands-free way to mitigate your annoyance and learn something new. If a crackling loudspeaker interrupts your listening, you can easily rewind and replay what you missed. There are countless podcasts available on relevant professional topics, from legal issues to project management toentrepreneurship to marketing.
If you have access to an airport lounge (where it’s quieter), you can also use the time to make a series of short phone calls. Productivity expert David Allen, whom I profile in my new book Stand Out, recommends keeping a “to call” list so that you can cluster the phone calls you need to make and bang them out in a row. Keith Ferrazzi, who writes frequently about networking, is also an advocate of short phone calls as a way of keeping your relationship alive with casual contacts. For instance, Facebook tracks your connections’ birthdays; the thoughtful gesture of making a few quick birthday calls while you’re waiting to board could make someone’s day and cement your bond.
Though internet access is becoming more common on flights, it’s still not a given. Even when wifi is offered, it can be slow or patchy. That’s why I generally focus on writing projects that don’t require use of the internet. I’ll download all the necessary information and supporting materials beforehand, and then go offline to complete projects like writing articles (including this one), edits to book chapters, client reports, or interview questions I’ve committed to answer. The lack of internet access often enables me to focus better and avoid the distracting rabbit hole of online research that can delay my writing at the office.
And remember — as with everything — there’s a balance. Numerous studies have touted the benefits of “strategic renewal.” Instead of using all of your time on the plane to plow through reports or fine-tune a presentation deck, take some time for yourself. Do some pleasure reading – splurge on a magazine or a thriller at the airport newsstand (indeed, according to Airport Revenue News, the average passenger spends nearly $11 at the airport). Taking some downtime away from the grinding pace of work may enable you to be sharper once you get down to business.
Travel has become a standard part of many professionals’ work life. This year,U.S. business travelers will make 488 million trips — about 1.3 million per day. With that much travel, we can’t afford to write off days in transit; using that time wisely is essential to getting our jobs done. With these strategies, you can ensure that a day on the road still moves your career forward.
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out. You can receive her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook or follow her on Twitter.