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Improve Productivity: Do Your Best Work on Planes

Make your time management skills fly!
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31 Oct 2016

Improve Productivity: Do Your Best Work on Planes

The scientific conference season has started so here are my top tips to being more productive whilst travelling.

Plan in advance and make sure you download what you need. It’s an excellent time to catch up on reading academic papers and reports, reviewing that grant or paper, writing that book5-314x224 chapter, completing reference requests or making figures for your thesis or paper because we all know they take longer than you think! However you can never be sure that internet access is going to work so make sure everything you need is on your hard drive or USB.

Minimise distractions. One of the joys of being on a plane is that your phone isn’t ringing and there’s no automatic access to Wi-Fi. It is, in fact, pretty boring. That’s why flying is a great time to pay attention to detail, analyse data and think deeply because you genuinely know that there’s nothing better you could be doing with your time.
pencil-918449__340Have a backup plan. What happens if your flight is delayed, your laptop or phone runs out of juice or you can’t use your laptop because the traveller in front of you has their seat so far back you can see their whole face upside down? Bring some paper based work; a pen/pencil and notebook. Sometimes it’s just not comfortable or possible to use your laptop and there is a lot you can do with pen and paper from jotting down ideas, preparing your presentation notes or writing a to-do list.
laptop-crammed-in-a-plane-jpg-pagespeed-ce-kyba_1ngyvIf you’ve got a presentation, printout your slides on paper so you can go through it. Sometimes there is so little space it’s difficult to even open your laptop fully. You could put your papers on tablet/iPad so you don’t have to have your full laptop open for reading.

Do your best to get a good seat, aisle seats can be the best option as first-class-weeit means you can get in and out with little fuss and once everyone settles down you can stretch your legs into the aisle. Travel in the quietest spot you can find or afford and if it’s possible, ask to move if you find you’re being distracted by fellow travellers nearby. Away from the toilets as you often get folk hanging around and queuing.

Take the right tech. Make sure everything is as portable as possible, I love my Samsung Portégé Ultrabook it’s so light, and for mac users the MacBook air is superb. Remember to pack everything you need in hand luggage – head phones (noise cancelling if possible) power cables, USB/memory cards if required. Download the apps that will make your travel as easy as possible it means you can also book in online for flights. Make sure all your batteries are fully powered.

headphone-1672627_1920Noise cancelling headphones are a worthwhile investment for the regular traveller. They not only helps to mask the drone of the engines it can make the sound of the baby crying or the raucous stag party across the aisle.

Take your drink in a bottle so you can put it in the seat back so you’re not juggling a drink on your laptop tray. Know yourself – on a long haul you might want to chill out until after they’ve served food and then once that’s all been cleared away you can really focus whilst you’ve got the mental energy and then towards the end, of the flight when you find yourself flagging you can stop again and watch the TV.
You might not yet be able to upgrade on flights but at least make sure you’ve signed up for the airlines mileage programme so that maybe one day (you can at least dream) If you can find a way to get access into a lounge somehow that will help you relax before your flight.

If you find you get sleepy: my colleague who regularly travels to Australia from the UK (a very long flight) always carries a water 124h-weespritzer but washing your face in cool water will have a similar effect of making you feel refreshed. Mints or brushing your teeth can help too.

Avoid jet lag by thinking carefully about the flights you take – different folk require different approaches. For me I find it difficult to sleep on planes so prefer to arrive in my destination very early in the morning and then grab some shut eye once I get home or to the hotel so I can wake up before midday and feel revived. Sometimes, if you are going to an intense conference you just need to survive on adrenaline and very little sleep. Jetlag Rooster provides a calculator that helps you work out how to adjust your sleep schedule to the new time zone before you travel.

Try to keep yourself well by doing a bit of exercise, moving about, standing up and stretching – don’t just do the” curl and uncurl toes whilst sitting down stretch”, drink plenty of water when flying and if you can, avoid eating airplane food. I always take my own food with me, something fresh and refreshing such as salad and fruit as well as other snacks. I find it makes a huge difference to how I feel.

Playing Angry Birds on a smartphoneOn the way to wherever you are going – plan and strategise. On the way back from places then think about what’s happened, what you learned, what you’re going to do to follow up and use all the information you’ve gathered to generate new ideas. Remember you won’t have time when you touch down!

Don’t overdo it – if flight time is the only chance you get a break to watch mindless TV, play Angry Birds and eat food from a tray then relax and enjoy the peace!

Let us know if you have any more tips for busy travellers.