Staying Productive on a Business Travel Day

By Jessica Sillers

Getting meaningful work done on a travel day is challenging! It’s tempting to kick back and binge on in-flight movies, but frequent business travelers may need to develop strategies to stay productive, even when they’re in transit.

Check In With Colleagues Beforehand

Before you leave, get status updates on any important projects and make sure deadlines are entered into your preferred calendar. Notify your main contacts when you’ll be available to check in, and make a plan to handle any urgent developments. Should colleagues text or send a red-flagged email to signal they need a response ASAP? Can you designate an alternate contact in your OOO message for urgent concerns? Planning ahead can save you from having to put out fires once your plane lands, which can derail your to-do list.

Use Time to Your Advantage

You’re more likely to achieve some real work if you start your travel day with a plan. In fact, it’s best to prepare two lists: short tasks and WiFi-free work.

When you have 20-30 minutes of waiting or downtime, whittle down your list of short, back-burner tasks. Brief stretches are great for responding to a few emails, proofreading a handful of slides, or skimming an industry article. A shuttle ride can almost mimic the famous Pomodoro technique by giving you a short span of time to concentrate your energy on a single task.

If you’ve got hours to kill, but the WiFi connection is slow or spotty, dig into a project you can focus on without Internet. Writing is a great option. Editing photos or reading up on (previously downloaded) research you’ll need to craft a proposal are other solid ideas. Write yourself a schedule with estimates of how long a project should take, just like you’re at your desk.

Don’t forget to allow some time for meals and breaks, too. Relaxing for the last hour or two of your flight can refresh you for when you land. If you’re taking a long-haul flight, a well-timed nap can kick off your adjustment to a different time zone.

Create a Comfortable Work Environment

Spending hours confined in a small environment with recycled air and hundreds of strangers is a recipe for catching a cold. You’ll get better work done if you’re as healthy and comfortable as possible. Stash these essentials in your carry-on:

Water: Plane air is notoriously dry. Staying hydrated can even help combat the fatigue of jet lag.

Hand cream: Again, staying hydrated and moisturized can keep you feeling more alert.

Disinfectant wipes: Armrests and seat trays aren’t necessarily getting scrubbed between flights. Minimize germ exposure by bringing your own supply of wipes.

Seat cover or blanket: Airline blankets don’t get freshly laundered for each flight, either. Better to look like a germaphobe than pick up a bug right before an important presentation.

Headphones: Snoring cabin mates or crying babies aren’t all that conducive to working. Download a white noise or ambient noise app and shut out distracting sounds.

Book a Direct Flight

It takes nearly 25 minutes to regain productive concentration after being interrupted by an email alert or a call. Imagine how long it takes to focus again after dealing with a layover, finding a new gate, and taking off on a connecting flight!

Working on a flight already adds a degree of difficulty to your productivity. Layovers can drag down your energy and mood, making it even tougher to make progress. As much as possible, aim to book a direct flight. You’ll be in a better position to make good use of travel time, and it’ll be easier to get into the swing of things once you’re at your destination.

Simplify Trip Record-Keeping

Submitting business trip expenses to accounting helps the company’s financial team process business travel costs and reimburse employees faster. This task can also be a sneaky productivity-killer. Hunting down misplaced receipts, trying to remember the day’s expenses, and filling out expense reports can eat up a chunk of evening time you could have used for a core task (or simply relaxing and preparing for the day ahead). Taking a photo to capture receipt details and submitting expenses in a few clicks frees you up to focus on essential priorities for your trip.

Working on a travel day takes focus and advance planning. The more you can anticipate potential problems (patchy WiFi, jet lag), the better you can strategize to use your time and energy as effectively as possible. Setting clear expectations with colleagues at home and realistic targets for yourself can optimize your ability to work from almost anywhere.

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