My favorite ways to stay productive when traveling

by | Oct 13, 2015 | General Productivity


Takeaway: My eight favorite ways to stay productive while traveling: anticipating productivity obstacles ahead of time and planning ahead; keeping a template packing list that I use for each trip; not ordering takeout; drinking alcohol and caffeine strategically; investing in backup power for my devices; knowing how much my time is worth; carving out time for doing absolutely nothing; and creating a Downtime List for lulls in the trip.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes, 39s.

As I write this, I’m on a six-hour flight, traveling from Ottawa (where I live) to London. I don’t mention this to humblebrag; to be honest, while it’s nice flying here and there for speaking engagements and the like, a big part of me also values staying at home reading, or writing about a productivity experiment I’ve conducted. (Plus, my Tempur-Pedic mattress at home is pretty sweet.)

However, I know that traveling is now a fixture of my business, and chances are that it’s here to stay—at least for a while. Thankfully, as my time in airplanes and other cities has taken off, I’ve discovered a number of tactics to stay productive amidst all of the fun interruptions to my daily routines.

It can be surprisingly difficult to stay productive when you travel. Habits, routines, and rituals are insanely powerful as far as productivity is concerned, but traveling can disrupt almost every one you have.

That’s why I’ve collected my favorite ways to stay productive while traveling. Hope you find them as helpful as I do!

  1. Tower-RZAnticipate obstacles and plan ahead. This is the most important item on the list, so in case you’re pressed for time, I’m putting it first. It is almost impossible to travel without disturbing your daily habits and rituals, but when you anticipate disruptions, they become infinitely easier to deal with. If you wait until you arrive at your destination to figure out how you’ll eat well or keep up with your crazy exercise regimen, it will likely be too late. But when you plan ahead, and do things like book a hotel room with a healthy continental breakfast, stay at an Airbnb that’s close to a gym, or plan out your days so you get enough sleep, you can make sure your trip doesn’t interrupt your most productive habits—unless you want it to, of course.
  1. Keep a default pack list. Over time, keeping and continually updating a packing list has saved me hours of work and stress. TextExpander ($45) is one of my favorite apps for the Mac, and I use it to keep track of my packing list. The idea behind the app is simple: it lets you store snippets of text with a corresponding key phrase. When I type a corresponding key phrase, the app automatically expands to the snippet of text. So whenever I type “ppacklist,” it expands to my travel packing list, which includes toiletries, clothes, tech stuff, and the prep I have to do—like phoning my credit cards, and checking in for flights.
  1. Don’t order takeout. Energy is the fuel that you burn over the course of the day to become productive. Even though your brain weighs just 2-3% of your body mass, it burns 20% of the calories you consume.1 Eating healthy, whole foods is important when it comes to your energy levels. Whenever I travel for business, or I’m on a trip where I need lots of energy, I prioritize putting healthy food into my body—even if that means paying a bit more at a restaurant, or travelling to a healthy place across town. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with takeout, but as a rule, I steer clear of foods loaded with salt, sugar, or fat. The extra energy is almost always worth the effort.
  1. coffee-in-the-airRZDrink caffeine and alcohol strategically. Same idea here. Caffeine and alcohol can cause huge swings in your energy levels. With coffee, you invariably crash eight hours after drinking it, and with alcohol you crash the next morning. During my productivity experiment to drink only water for a month, I had the chance to observe how my energy and productivity was affected when I stopped consuming sugary drinks, caffeine, and alcohol. I strongly believe that it’s worth stepping back to drink all three more deliberately, and if possible, less. That includes when you travel.
  1. Invest in backup power for your devices. One of the best things I’ve bought recently is a $25 portable USB charger. It is capable of recharging your phone four times, is small enough to fit in your coat pocket, and when it bails you out of an emergency, it immediately pays for itself. Plus, you instantly become 10x cooler when someone’s phone is about to die, and you pull this charger out of your pocket. I highly recommend it.
  1. Know how much your time is worth. The other week I published an article on how to calculate what your time is worth—in precise dollars and cents. This calculation comes in handy when you travel. For example, when I land in London, I have a long layover—just over 11 hours—and I plan on paying to use the airport lounge to do my work. Assuming the lounge costs about $50, spread out over 11 hours that equals $4.50 an hour—and that’s a paltry price to pay for 11 hours of productivity.
  1. Carve out time for doing absolutely nothing. Doing nothing is underrated. On every business trip, I make sure there is at least one afternoon or evening where I can turn my brain off, and do nothing. Especially if you’re more of an introvert—who can only take so much social interaction every day before getting tired—scheduling time for doing absolutely nothing can be important for recharging and staying productive for the rest of the trip.
  1. Make a downtime list. When your energy is high and you don’t need to recharge, it’s worth taking advantage of the gaps in your schedule to be productive, rather than mindlessly tapping around on your phone or tablet. When I travel, I typically schedule downtime to either catch up on work (i.e. the email that has inevitably piled up), or work on tasks that I keep on my Downtime List. Leading up to a trip, I update this list with tasks I can tackle when I have some spare time and I’m looking for something to do. My list usually includes items like listening to certain podcasts or TED talks, reading articles I’ve collected on Instapaper, reading a chapter or two of a book, or simply letting my mind wander and capturing any thoughts and ideas that come up.

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Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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