How to Stay Productive While Traveling

Businessman Holding Cell PhoneTraveling for business has both positive and negative side effects. Some of the plus sides to traveling are that you get a break from your daily routine, have face-to-face meetings with clients or prospects, attend learning conferences, and have some fun along the way. However, that doesn’t change the fact that you have responsibilities at work, and the distractions of travel can cause you to fall behind.

As a professional speaker and consultant I am on the road more than most. It is not uncommon for me to wake up in a hotel and need a moment to identify my location. When not paying attention, the airports, taxis, hotels, restaurants all tend to look alike over time.

I enjoy being on the road and always take advantage of networking opportunities to meet new people. It’s also a great time to reconnect with old friends and business associates. However, a four-day trip can leave me with hundreds of unread emails and a mountain of looming deadlines upon my return. Some people are great at juggling all their responsibilities with the ongoing pressures of travel, but I tend to get distracted by enjoying the experience of whatever city I find myself in.

Work in 15-Minute Increments

My rule is not to beat myself up for not having ample time to be extremely productive while on the road. I learned from productivity expert and speaker, Neen James, to take advantage of small blocks of time. James is on the road almost every week, and her trick is to “think in 15 minute increments – what can you do in the next 15 minutes that will get you closer to your goals”. If I have a small chunk of down time, I find something to check off my list.

Keep It Organized and Manageable

Professional speaker and restaurant marketing expert, Gerry O’Brion, logs many hours of travel each year. He is very focused on working while traveling, but he, too, cautions that a traveler should “Set realistic goals and organize work into manageable chunks. Time on the road can be very productive, especially on planes with no phone or email. However, bringing a huge pile of work can be paralyzing. Bring a reasonable amount and split each project into a separate folder”.

Stay Balanced Physically and Emotionally

When traveling it is also important to stay balanced both physically and emotionally, as when you get worn down you will be unable to keep up with all your responsibilities.  Women’s wellness expert and speaker, Eliz Greene, recommends getting enough water, sleep, activity and nutrition to allow you to focus on work. “Simple strategies such as making sure you walk at least 10 minutes between gates at the airport. Done three times, the short walks add up to 30 minutes of exercise”, says Greene.

Greene adds “Dehydration is the enemy of productivity on the road. Without enough water your eyes will tire more quickly, your blood will be thicker, and your brain is less elastic. Drinking at least 60 ounces of water per day will ward off headaches, keep your thoughts clear, and support your immune system”.

Ms. James echoes the advice on staying healthy, and suggests that travelers “protect their sleep patterns by eliminating all distractions in your hotel room. ie: alarm, light, interruptions”. If you do not get enough sleep you can never be at your best.

Spend a Day Wrapping It Up

It is also beneficial for me to block off an entire day when I return home with no meetings, calls, or deadlines. I use this open day on my calendar to completely wrap up my trip, like filling out expense reports, follow up correspondence, and completing any other “to do” items that were created while I was away. I also unpack and do laundry so that all aspects of the trip are wrapped up. If I come home and jump into other work it can be overwhelming and too many things can slip through the cracks.

Those who travel for business must be realistic about what they need to accomplish while on the road and be honest with themselves about their own commitment to work, health, and fun while visiting a new place. The first few times a business professional travels it can seem like it is all fun, but those who travel often know that being on the road is still work. Being clear about what works for the individual is the key to their success.

Thom Singer is a professional speaker, corporate trainer and the author of ten books on the power of business relationships, networking, presentation skills and entrepreneurship.  Known as “The Conference Catalyst,” he regularly speaks at conferences across all industries and helps create and atmosphere for impactful engagement that leads to more powerful business connections.  Visit his website at and follow him at @thomsinger on Twitter.

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