Staying productive on prolonged business travel trips is difficult. Not only does a great deal of your work/life get eaten up in meetings, presentations, events, and transit, but your access to the usual amenities of doing business becomes curtailed. Consequently, even the simplest tasks become a challenge.
One, I’m talking about reliable phone service and, two, a quiet place to use said phone. Three, I’m also talking about convenient access to a printer that can churn out large documents — after all, reading a 50-plus page Microsoft Word or PowerPoint piece on your laptop is nearly impossible. The all-too-rare ability to catch a good whiff of Wi-Fi or reliably connect to the VPN for your email often feels, technologically, like living hand-to-mouth.
If you’re new to this routine, adjusting your work/life can be tough. You’ll probably shed some of your hitherto awesome productivity and well-cultivated work style. Losing this vim and verve can be discouraging. In fact, depending on how disconnected you feel, it can easily put you into a nasty, sad spiral of feeling isolated — with the result that you don't get much done. If I sound like I’ve visited this dark place, it’s because I have and the barkeep knows me by name. But I haven’t been back there in a long while, and I’ll tell you why: I’ve learned how to cope. I find that these coping mechanisms also improve my work habits when I’m back from the road and in the office.
Rule #1: Respect your Monday morning. Who wants to be back at the old grind first thing Monday morning? So, even if you are still reveling in how good the weekend was; even if it ended too soon; or even if you worked all weekend (in which case it’s time to respect Monday even more), Monday morning is your time to reflect and plan. What I like to do is grab a strong cup of joe and a pen and notebook (the paper kind), and for a good 30 minutes or so mull over how things are going vs. how they ought to be going. I review my strategy and sketch out new tactics.
What unexpected disasters did you have to handle last week — or the week before — that unexpectedly pulled you away from the kind of core progress you wanted to make? Did you handle those things well? No? Well, this is a new week for you to shine and impress the daylights out of your peers and superiors.
Here's the larger point: Taking the time first thing Monday to make note of your top goals for the week, while staying focused on the big picture, will force you to focus, that is, to realistically prioritize your time and resources. Engaging in prioritizing every day is just too granular; and doing by the month lets time slip away too fast. Monday morning prioritizing done right will become a bit like conducting your own quarterly review each week. I find that sometimes the best place to do this is in a coffee shop or in an empty office, with door closed, and no interruptions.
The way this your Monday morning ritual alleviates that dark cloud of unacted-upon Action Items when you’re out on the road is that you automatically have a better grasp of where you will be and how much time you will have. It enables you knowledgeably plan, in broad strokes, what you can do and when you can do it.
Rule #2: Shut that Internet thing off. I taught myself to take advantage of the time when I'm untethered to the Internet — such as tucked on a plane, sitting in a lobby, even parked on an elevator. Wherever it is, when I'm alone with my thoughts I invariably divine the solutions to pesky problems. Being detached from the ubiquitous umbilical of the World Wide Web removes a powerful distraction. It gives you the compartmentalized time to translate your elevator thoughts into today’s modern business art forms: Excel, PowerPoint, Word, Visio, etc. Pushing yourself away from the table called information overload can be a blessing in disguise. I often prove this to myself on a long night flight, sans Internet, which seems to be when I do my best work.
I also don't fight the tendency that I often have following long meetings on long trips of disengaging my brain. It's a natural thing to want to do because your physical and creative energy is just plain sapped. Listen to your body. Take time out if you've been burning the candle at both ends. Watch that inane movie on the plane; do that recreational reading. Someone once said that the harder you work, the more you need play. I know that my performance suffers when I put off too long taking a break.
Rule #3: Print out industry reports and white papers. Whatever field you work in, you recognize that it is your responsibility to know your industry's ins and outs, and latest developments. One of those times when you are following Rule #2 and taking a break from the task at hand, why not close the laptop lid and pull out one of the white papers you’ve been meaning to read. You know what I mean — those long reports by the consulting firms and think tanks, or maybe even your own company, on the state of things. Survey results, focus group findings, a business book you bought at the overpriced airport terminal bookshop — all of that stuff. Now's the time to read it.
Why? Because this stuff can be more engaging — and stimulating — than what you’re working on. Thirty or 45 minutes of business reading is actually a nice refresher for your cognitive self. I find I return to my former task with renewed energy. If this seems frivolous for the deadline-stricken road warrior, it's not. Just as your mind needs time off from work, it needs to periodically shift from one topic to another to stay creative and productive. I find that when I'm traveling, it needs that balance all the more. It's one of the work/life secrets of not falling behind on the road
Road Warrior • Miami • www.us.amadeus