How to Stay Productive While Traveling
Being Efficient on the Road
Travel is often one of the perks of working with team members or customers around the world. Doing business with people face-to-face is often more effective and productive than doing it over the phone or via email, and working with colleagues in different countries can be exciting and rewarding.
But how can you stay productive while you're on the move? Irregular work schedules, limited resources, disrupted sleep, lack of exercise, and separation from friends and family can all take their toll. You may feel tired, and accomplish less than you'd planned as a result.
In this article, we'll explore how you can be happy and effective while you're away from your office.
How Travel Affects Work Productivity
In 2013, Americans logged 452 million trips of one night or more away from home, according to the U.S. Travel Association. And research shows that business travel results in an average of 6.9 hours of lost productivity for each trip.
According to travel management consulting firm CWT Solutions Group, the top five travel stressors are:
- Delayed or misplaced luggage.
- Lack of Internet connectivity.
- Having an uncomfortable seat on a long flight.
- Impractical flight times.
Tips for Staying Productive While Traveling
So, how can you stay productive when you're away from the office? Here are four strategies you can use.
1. Travel Smart
Organize as much of your itinerary as you can in advance, and make a list of everything you need to pack. Keep your travel information close at hand, including your flight details and hotel confirmation – you can store these on your smartphone or carry hard copies with you.
Plan ahead for misplaced luggage or delayed flights by packing essentials such as keys, medication, electronic devices, toiletries, and perhaps a change of clothes in your carry-on bag. This means that you can continue working if there are any unplanned disruptions to your journey.
Research Your Destination
Research unfamiliar destinations before you travel, so you don't waste time looking at maps or asking for directions when you arrive. Check the area around your hotel for restaurants, coffee shops, convenience stores, and things to do in case you have downtime during your trip.
Avoid Long Security and Customs Lines
There are several programs, such as TSA's Pre✓program, CLEAR and Global Entry, that provide fast and efficient security screening and customs processing for low-risk travelers (mainly U.S. citizens and citizens of a small number of other countries) in some U.S. airports. Research options to fast-track the security and customs process in your destination country, so that you don't spend unnecessary time in the airport.
Dress for Travel Success
Wear comfortable but professional clothes, in case your flight is delayed or a client or colleague meets you at the airport. Avoid wearing suits or dresses, which can be uncomfortable during a long trip, and opt for business casual attire instead, so that you're presentable for meetings even if your luggage is misplaced.
Wear slip-on shoes, avoid belts and excess jewelry, and keep your pockets as empty as possible so you go through security quickly.
2. Rely on Technology
Use Virtual Tools and Smart Devices
Use online tools such as To-Do Lists, notepads and calendars/reminders to stay organized when you're on the go. Cloud-based products such as Google® Docs and the Microsoft® Cloud give you access to your documents from multiple devices wherever you can log on to the Internet.
Smartphones and tablets save you time and help you keep in touch with your team while you're on the move, and laptops can often be tethered to these, giving you access to the Internet wherever you are. There are a vast number of apps available that can improve your productivity while you're traveling, including mapping and location resources, communication tools such as Skype®, and email clients.
If you're traveling in a foreign country where English is not a primary language, download a translation app to translate printed words or guide you through conversations with local people. Read our article on Cross-Culture Communication for more on these.
You can also use apps like Expensify to photograph and organize receipts, or you can take a photo of them using your smartphone and email them for processing.
Access Secure Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi is increasingly important to remaining productive when you're away from the office, and there are a number of ways to go online as you travel. For example, some airports, hotels and flights offer inexpensive Internet access, or you can create a Wi-Fi hotspot using your smartphone and data plan.
Although flights with Wi-Fi may be more expensive, the additional cost is likely worth it, especially for longer journeys. Weigh the cost against the value of the work you can get done during that uninterrupted period. If you are booked on a number of flights, consider buying a day-long Internet pass.
Be extra vigilant about security when you use public Wi-Fi. Others sharing the network may be able to intercept private information about you or your organization, so avoid sending or accessing sensitive information until you're on a protected network. Your IT department will be able to advise you on this.
Staying in touch with your colleagues and clients is a top priority, so make sure that your electronic devices are fully charged before you set off. Carry your power cords with you, or invest in portable battery packs or a solar-powered charger for your mobile devices – this is particularly important if you're using them as Wi-Fi hotspots, as you'll use more power.
3. Meet Your Business Needs
Prepare for Limited Access
It's important to keep other people informed of your availability when you travel, so share your working schedule with your team members and clients so they know when they can contact you. Set up your email out-of-office auto-reply and record a voicemail message, so that clients and colleagues know why you cannot respond immediately. If possible, provide the details of another team member who they can contact in an emergency.
Keeping documents in a cloud-based application gives your team members access to important information, even when you aren't available. Moreover, collaborating through the cloud allows you and your people to continue moving projects forward, no matter where you are.
Stick to a Routine
It's easy to fall into bad habits when you're traveling. So, set specific working hours, keeping a running list of deadlines and tasks, and set aside an hour or two each day to return phone calls and emails, so that you remain organized and don't fall behind.
Organize Your Workspace
Many hotels cater specifically for business travelers, so, if possible, book a room with a desk. Organize your room to your liking, move the furniture to create a separate, comfortable working space if necessary, and ensure that your room is sufficiently well lit.
Find out what the opening hours of your hotel's business center are (if it has one), and ask about the equipment that's available. The hotel staff should be able to recommend a local copy center to handle any printing needs you have.
4. Meet Your Emotional Needs
Stay Connected With Friends and Family
Traveling to an unfamiliar place and following an unusual routine can leave you feeling stressed and unfocused. Connecting with your family and friends can help you feel better, so use Skype, FaceTime® and social media to keep in touch with them regularly.
Travel can make you feel tired, especially if you cross a number of time zones. This can stop you being productive and performing at your best, so include time for rest and relaxation in your schedule.
Eating well and staying hydrated will boost your energy and keep you alert in meetings and while you work in your hotel room. Instead of indulging in fatty, heavy meals, choose lighter, healthier options, skip the dessert, and minimize the amount of alcohol you drink.
A good workout while traveling can be a great stress-reliever. Visit your hotel's gym or swimming pool, attend a local fitness center that offers day passes, or ask the hotel concierge for safe and interesting running or walking routes. Some hotels may even bring exercise equipment to your room upon request. No matter what you choose, exercise can provide massive benefits for your mind-set as well as your health.
Tie up Loose Ends When You Return
You may be tired when you arrive home, but start preparing straight away if you have another trip scheduled soon. Clear out your luggage, sort your clothes for the laundry, and make sure that you've refreshed your travel kit with toiletries.
Also, don't wait too long to prepare your expense report, or you may lose receipts or forget to include a charge. Organize your paperwork and complete any required forms while everything is still fresh in your mind. This is also a good time to follow up on meetings you had while you were away, connect with the contacts you made, and take action on any new objectives.
If you're like most people, work travel can be a major stressor, and it can hamper your productivity and prove costly for your employer. However, you can take a number of steps to remain effective while traveling.
Ease the stress of travel by carefully scheduling your trip and taking steps to avoid long security and customs lines at airports. Improve your efficiency by using technology to stay connected, such as portable Wi-Fi connections and cloud-based applications. Let colleagues know about your availability, and stick to a regular work schedule to reduce the pressure on you while you travel. Finally, stay centered by connecting with your friends and family, eating well, exercising, and setting aside downtime.