Whether it’s a special trip to meet a client or your daily commute, there’s no doubt your travels will be sprinkled with 15-plus-minute periods of “bonus time.” Flight or traffic delays, late clients or other unexpected agenda disruptions that will be wasted, however, if you aren’t prepared to make the most of them. Productivity expert Jason Womack has eight tips for making the most of down time when you are away from the office.
“Always Be Ready”
These three words should become your travel mantra. When you follow them, you can maximize your travel time, delays and all. Whether you’re on a 20-minute cab ride or waiting to board a flight, you can reply to an e-mail, make a phone call, amend a meeting agenda, catch up on reading, make changes to an ongoing product, confirm appointments and more. The trick is that you have to “always be ready” with what you need to attack those tasks.
- Be sure to have pens and a notepad at all times. Even if you’re a fast typist, sometimes your most productive work sessions come from “splashing ink.” This is what I call brainstorming, mindmapping, or “idea-ating.” I travel with a medium-sized Moleskine journal, and it’s always out while I’m flying.
- Use pre- and post-airport time wisely. If you’ll be traveling in a cab, keep a list of people you need to call handy and give them a ring while you’re riding. Or use the ride to brainstorm what you’ll be discussing with the client you’ll be meeting with on the trip or to plan out another upcoming meeting. If you’re driving, queue up a podcast you’ve been meaning to listen to so that you can cross it off your to-do list after your drive.
- Organize your travel workspace. Make sure you have a sensible carry-on that allows you to easily access the things you need, and take time the day before you travel to organize its contents for your trip. Stock your bag or briefcase with extra pens, your brainstorming journal and any magazines or articles you’ve been meaning to read. This way, you’ll be ready to work when 15-minute bonus periods come up. I like to write at least one thank-you card each and every travel day. Between the time the gate agent closes the aircraft door—meaning that I have to power down my electronics—and the time the plane reaches over 10,000 feet, I can usually write two to four cards. Of course, I have to make sure I’m always ready with notecards, envelopes and stamps.
- Develop a system for managing receipts. Whether it’s a special compartment in your briefcase, an envelope you keep in your wallet or purse, or your smartphone camera or scanning app, create a system for storing and managing receipts. When you have to compile your expense report, you don’t want to waste time digging through bags, pockets and papers searching for errant receipts!
- Let your contacts know where you are. You don’t need to broadcast your travel plans on Facebook or Twitter, but don’t keep your travel schedule all to yourself! Share with clients and contacts the basics of where you’ll be going and when. You may find out, for example, that a prospective customer is going to be in the same city with you, or that a layover destination matches a client’s home base. When you know these things ahead of time, you may be able to plan an extra meeting or build in some valuable time with a person you wouldn’t otherwise have seen.
- Use the airport. The airport isn’t just a travel hub. It can also be a valuable meeting space. Often, you can rent conference rooms at various airlines’ clubs, even if you’re not a priority member (though in this case, you might have to pay a slightly higher fee). These conference rooms are private and reasonably priced, and if it’s convenient for the other party as well, the location can save you time, stress and hassle.
- Have a business card handy. Traveling offers many opportunities to network … if you’re ready to take advantage of them. Spend one or more hours sitting next to me on a plane, and I’m bound to meet you. Sometimes it’s a short, “Hi there…heading out or going home?” But many times, a greeting turns into a longer conversation. Whenever I meet new people, I’m listening for the kinds of things they are interested in, and how I can learn and gain from that conversation. If they recommend a book, a website or a speaker, I like to follow up with them after I’ve taken some actions. Always be ready—there’s that phrase again!—with a business card so that when you meet someone new you can use the opportunity to build your professional network.”
- Learn something new. You can’t focus on work all the time. Taking an occasional break will keep you sharper and more productive when you are focused on work. Keep a folder of magazine or newspaper articles that you’ve been wanting to read in your carry-on. That way, you can reach for one if you need a work break while on your flight. You could also use break time to queue up a video tutorial for a new software program or just read a good book. I like to catch up on inspiration, so I download TED talks or other educational or informational podcasts. The important thing is to use what time you can expanding your knowledge, motivation and inspiration. You can even pass on things you believe might interest a client or colleague—it’s a great way to connect!
As you incorporate these strategies into your travel routine, you’ll find a work flow that allows you to feel accomplished—even when you’ve spent most of your day on an airplane. More importantly, you’ll find that you have more time and energy (and mental peace!) to devote to your meetings, tasks and exploring the places you’re visiting.
Jason Womack is principal with The Womack Company, which provides training and personal coaching that provides practical methods to maximize tools, systems and processes to achieve quality work/life balance. He has worked with leaders and executives for over 16 years in the business and education sectors. Jason is the author of Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More (Wiley, 2012), focused on improving your productivity one day at a time. You can find Jason’s podcast on iTunes.