As I write this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Seattle preparing to head off for a week of travel. It doesn’t matter when travel takes place, it is disruptive. This disruption can wreak havoc on your productivity and can even carry over beyond your travel period if you don’t deal with it accordingly.
I’ve been there and it’s not fun. Travel doesn’t have to be so disruptive that it throws you completely off your game. Even when your environment changes, there is one constant: you. So if you have a strong foundation (and productivity framework) to take with you everywhere you go, then you can stay on track.
If you don’t know where to start or if you are looking for tactics you can use to take your productive travel to the next level, then you’ll appreciate this guide. According to Tripit, I’ve clocked over 175,892 km (109,294 miles) while taking 50 trips over the last five years. This is a guide to what I do (and don’t do) whenever I’m on the road – and I’ve made this process as simple as possible.
In fact, I did all of these before heading out on this trip.
1. Put Your Email Autoresponder On Early
A lot of people put their email autoresponder on the day before they are traveling. Some people do it the day of travel. But I set mine up far earlier than that.
Before this trip, I set my autoresponder up on the Friday prior to my travel day. I wasn’t leaving until Wednesday, so I’d given myself a three day head start on the activation of my autoresponder.
Now that didn’t mean I made myself completely unavailable through email (although the last tip explains that I have a buffer in place for email response times as well). By setting up the autoresponder early, I’m being proactive for my own sake and the sake of those trying to reach me. What happens if an important client who needs to get in touch with me before I leave town? By putting the autoresponder on and saying I’d be more difficult to get a hold of in three business days, this notifies the client to please call me instead of using email.
Proactive and productivity go hand in hand. The first three letters in those words are “pro” and you’ll look like one if you craft an autoresponder that is as proactive as possible. This step gives both you and your contacts some breathing room before you begin travel.
2. Have Extra Items Always Packed
Here are five items that I purchased duplicates of to ensure they are always in my suitcase:
- A bathing suit
- A hairbrush
- Workout clothes
- Vibram Bikila shoes
- MacBook Pro power cable
I also keep a Dopp bag replenished with travel toiletries. It is already packed, so when I grab my suitcase to pack, I already have a headstart on the process. When I get home from travel, I make sure to refill anything as is needed in my Dopp bag. I then clean my spare clothes and shoes and repack everything listed above in my bright orange suitcase.
This type of proactivity falls into the same category as President Barack Obama having duplicates of the same suit to prevent decision fatigue. You probably don’t have to make the same kind of decisions he does, but anything you can do to save time and energy by removing this kind of friction from the travelling process, the better.
3. Stick to Your Themed Days
Remember your overarching focus for the day. For example, this piece was published on a Thursday, which is an Administrative Day for me. So I’ll be dealing with emails in the morning and other administrative tasks until I get on my early afternoon flight. Once I land and settle in to my hotel, I’ll review any further administrative tasks and take care of them as well. On Friday, I’ll spend time learning and reading because it is my Learning Day. Saturday and Sunday are usually Family Days for me, but they aren’t with me on this trip. But I’m at an event all day Saturday and the early part of Sunday, so that theme will be challenged.
You see, since my brain knows that both of those days are Family Days, I’ll do the following tasks (which I’ve placed in my task app and tagged with whatever modes are applicable…as well as Family Mode):
- Call the kids on FaceTime
- Shop for souvenirs for the family
- Create a screencast for my wife that she needs
- Talk to friends in San Antonio about a possible visit with the family next year
- Find family things to do in Austin for future reference
Now just because I theme my days, it doesn’t mean that the only type of activity I do on these days are related to themes. I will be writing every day – especially on the flight down. I will be doing some administrative stuff on Friday if needed. I even need to do some of the audio production tasks I usually reserve for Wednesdays at some point.
The key is that theming your days gives your brain something to look to when everything else is disrupted or stuck. That’s why having them in place has been one of the biggest protectors of my time and my boundaries while traveling. They’re important to have in place when I’m not travelling. They’re crucial to have in place so that I can do the things that I want to do while still getting done the things that I need to do.
Theming your days gives you permission to construct your tasks at hand in a way that works for you and doesn’t forsake the time on hand while doing so.
4. Schedule Gap Days
It’s critical that you schedule what I call a gap day on either side of your travel. If you can, use the gap day before travel to get all your ducks in a row so you can hit the road with less stress and more confidence. Then use the gap day when you return home as a total recovery day. A time to reset yourself so you can be more effective when you get back to work.
Even if you can’t take entire days, at least create gap days in your email autoresponder. That way you know that you at least have a day’s grace on either side of your travel where email can wait.
5. Set Realistic Expectations
You need to get realistic and understand that things out of your control can happen while on the road. You can’t control the behaviour of others, only your own. With that in mind, you need to be smarter about what you can and cannot do while travelling – as well as what you can and cannot do right away once you get back.
Here are three things you need to “get real” about:
- When you’ll get back to emails once you return. Give yourself at least 48 business hours to respond to emails that landed in your inbox while you were gone. Make sure you indicate this in your autoresponder so you can set expectations and boundaries from the onset.
- Arrive early and you’ll be less surly. Most of my flights are international these days, so the rule of arriving two hours before departure is one I apply to all air travel. So tomorrow when I leave the hotel I’ll get to SeaTac at 10:35 AM. I’ll have two hours to clear security and so on, but that’s fine. At least I’ll be there. I can work from there (administrative work, mostly) and be able to do so with the confidence that I’ll be on my flight. It’s a freeing feeling!
- Take advantage of Airplane Mode. When you’re at 30,000 feet, it’s still generally accepted that you cannot be reached. Be sure to take advantage of that by shutting down email and focusing on the work that’s best suited for “airplane mode.” This is a great time to catch up on your reading, review a document or write a report. Now in this case, the boundaries are set by others. Perhaps you can start to craft your own boundaries during your time in the sky. (After all, I started to set boundaries around my time for the first time during a flight from Vancouver to Toronto.)
There will always be some tasks that would have been better to do from home or the office than from the road. But as you start to use simple tactics and tricks like these to set yourself up for a more productive travel experience, you will be able to better identify what really needs to be done versus what doesn’t.
If you’re consistently proactive before you leave for travel, you will set yourself up for success and find ways to be productive…no matter where you are.