Everyone is busy, and the time-poor, hard-working frequent business traveler can often boast the busiest of busy agendas. Being busy and being productive, however, are not the same thing. And how to be productive continues to gain plenty of attention with wellness commentators, executive boards, and even national governments. But what are the top hacks for maximizing productivity when you travel?
Technology has the potential to make a huge difference to how organized and therefore how productive you can be on the road. Think hard though about what you take with you -a phone, tablet, and laptop are probably not all necessary at the same time, especially for shorter trips. If you’re avoiding typing up written notes from meetings, apps like Evernote allow you to keep longer documents and shorter notes together and simultaneously updated over different platforms.
Cash-free payment is more and more common, with fee-free or low-fee global debit, credit, and prepaid money cards offering a secure way to keep travel expenses clear and separate from your personal account. There are apps like Concur which manage your spend on the road for you and which will generate expense reports making the claims process smoother and quicker for everyone in the business. Alternatively consider an email address purely to have receipts emailed to you.
The huge expansion in accommodation options for business travelers provides great opportunities to save money, but it’s worth looking at it critically before aiming for an apartment over a traditional hotel room. True, if you are traveling as a group for a major conference an apartment can offer great value for money as well as the chance to get to know colleagues better. Beware of false economy though. Business travelers need to be able to get to where they need to be quickly and easily, and a challenging commute in an unfamiliar city where even getting a (expensive, peak-hour) taxi may not work due to traffic can make for a stressful start to a day of important meetings. Then there are human needs: hours spent hunting for groceries in a jetlagged haze may translate into lost time and added stress, meaning you aren’t on your game in the very meetings you’ve traveled to attend. You may also find it beneficial to move during a business trip. Staying in the city may work well for the duration of your stay, but if you have an early flight out, grabbing a room near the airport may be useful to maximize your sleep and therefore wellness on return home.
One of the main sources of lost time, energy, and stress is transiting through airports, in particular through security and immigration. While there’s little that can be done about security apart from allowing plenty of time, knowing the security checks, and bringing as little with you as possible, taking the time to apply for expedited clearance schemes, like the USA’s Global Entry scheme, is a real boon to frequent flyers. If you’ve turned an hour-long wait into one of a matter of minutes, your brain can be free to focus on something else.
Moving away from technology, productivity is also improved by stepping away from work and looking at things with a new or different perspective -something which business travel can easily deliver if you just plan ahead a little.
Traveling provides new ways to network. Making an effort to look up old contacts, make new acquaintances, and immerse yourself in new ideas is a tremendous use of what could otherwise be dead time. Look into industry-relevant meetups when you’re in town, or reach out to contacts suggesting a quick coffee or bite together. The emphasis need not be on revenue-generating activities, but rather gaining market knowledge and learning about different approaches to similar problems.
Productivity can be as much about knowing when to stop as when to find time to do more. The temptation to be available all-day, every day while traveling with work is hardly compatible with ensuring you are at your best when it really matters. You can practice mindfulness anywhere when you have a few minutes to spare. Packing running gear means you can get out and explore your surroundings, with an increasing number of hotels and apps such as Map My Run offering local running routes. Or simply just take a long walk. Physical movement and natural daylight are a terrific way to combat jetlag and a stroll around an emerging, creative, or tech district of a city can be an eye-opener. Everything from local advertising to the office environments can provide creative ideas you can take home and use.
Some things have yet to replace fully the human touch. The ability to translate anything via Google Translate may be one of the most remarkable developments at our fingertips but talking or typing into a phone remains no substitute for the respectful gesture of being able to communicate with your host -and the cultural insights that brings can make the difference between a good deal and a great one. Reach out to your hosts, ask questions, take a break to just talk to them. Having a learning mindset has applications in the workplace beyond picking up skills like this and is a very positive signal to send to colleagues.
Lastly, it’s vital to remember that business travel has two words in it: business and travel. The reason business travel is often thought of as a perk is that it offers the chance to combine seeing the world with working in it. Even with an hour to spare you can see something of the place you’re passing through -you should have plenty of local knowledge at your fingertips, after all. Making inquiries about how best to use whatever time you have will mark you out as someone who takes an interest in your surroundings and can throw up some surprising suggestions -and may even result in an invitation or two.