If you travel for work, you already know that business trips are anything but vacations. But maybe you’re relatively new to business travel. Here are the things I wish someone had told me before I hit the road, almost 25 years and 1.5 million miles ago.
All too often, business travelers use their trips as opportunities to rest up for the next round of work; however, the savvy, productive traveler always makes good use of the time many consider "lost hours." Working while traveling offers a unique opportunity to accomplish tasks with few distractions or interruptions. The more you get done while you're traveling, the more time you'll have available to be with your loved ones when you return. I don't sleep, watch movies, or mindlessly play computer games on the plane—I work. Here’s how I make 100,000+ miles a year on airlines productive. I’d love to learn from you as well, so please leave your best tips in the comment section!
Before you ever set foot outside your house, map out every step of your trip. Start well in advance by planning for any contingencies. As a professional speaker, I never book the last flight of the day, so I always have a backup. If a storm strands you in an airport concourse for 24 hours, what will you do? What if your luggage goes missing, or someone steals the bag containing your medications? Make backup provisions for everything you can think of. Meanwhile, unless you're already thoroughly familiar with your destination, conduct some Internet research. At the very least, find a few decent dinner options near your hotel with Yelp.
Track everything in your personal organization system, so you have your itinerary close at hand. My favorite productivity app is TripIt. I forward confirmation emails to email@example.com from airlines, hotel, and ground service, and it automatically populates my itineraries. Then I can access the details for my travel either online or from my mobile devices. No more printing, filing, and hauling paper on my trips!
Know when you'll face downtime, whether in the airport concourse, on the plane, or in your hotel room, and plan the most reasonable type of work for each period. It may be easiest to write a report in your room, with Wi-Fi and a stable work desk, while the concourse may work better for responding to email on your iPhone.Consider your plane a mobile office—a place where, with the help of a laptop and a set of noise-reducing earphones, you become super-productive. Whatever the case, block out distractions and get right to work.
I've long since written car service into my standard speaker's contract. In the 90 minutes round-trip to and from the airport, I do much more valuable work than it costs me in car service. Get to the airport well before your flight, so you have plenty of time to deal with lines and unexpected complications. You'll score even greater time-savings if you use a pre-check program like TSA Pre√ or CLEAR to pass more quickly through security.
Confession time: I once flew from Denver to Frankfurt, Germany and back in less than 24 hours—so I could log the 10,000 miles I was short to reach 1K status with United Airlines that year. I don't regret a second of that flight. Achieving 1K status provides me with free upgrades, simplified check-in, short security lines, priority boarding, club lounge access, and other premium amenities when I travel—all of which I use to get tons of work done. Plus our family of five takes at least four free vacations a year, thanks to mileage seats and our exclusive use of the MileagePlus credit card as well (no, I don’t work for United). So if you take a lot of trips as I do, choose one airline and fly it exclusively, so you can rack up points on their loyalty plan. Given the conveniences and comfort that go with preferred passenger status, I find it well worth an occasional higher fare or slight inconvenience.
Try not to load up your schedule the morning you return to the office. You need time to unpack, reorganize, and process all information through your system. Fill toiletries so they are ready for the next trip. Immediately reorganize your briefcase, cords, and receipts. Write reports, complete documentation, and generate invoices while the information is fresh in your mind. Enter all business cards into your CRM and schedule any necessary follow up. Otherwise, if you have multiple trips back-to-back, you'll soon get confused about what goes with what. In other words, close the loop. By giving yourself some space and not scheduling too much upon your return, you’ll feel more confident during your travels.
Just a few decades ago, business travel was an exercise in frustration. Not only was the travel itself often boring and unpleasant, it was hard to get anything productive done when in transit or parked in a hotel room. That changed with the advent of handheld electronics and widespread WiFi. Today, if you have the right systems in place, being productive is simple, no matter where you are. Put it together with logical planning and preparation, and there's no reason you can't get nearly as much done on the road as you can from your office. Never again should you utter the words, “Sorry I didn’t get back to you; I was traveling!” As a bonus for your hard work on the road, you’ll have more time when you return to spend with those you care about.
Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE, aka The Productivity Pro®, gives speeches and seminars on sales and leadership productivity. For over 25 years, she’s worked with Fortune 1000 clients to reduce inefficiencies, execute more quickly, improve output, and increase profitability. Laura is the author of seven books, including Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time.