How to Be Productive When Traveling

In the past year, I’ve been to Austin, Chicago, San Diego, Atlanta, Breckenridge, Denver, Boise, Portland, and Nashville. It’s the most amount of traveling I’ve done in a 12-month period in the past 10 years.

It used to be that I would step on to the plane with the excitement of having a few hours to work on whatever I want — I figured that I would have several hours to put on my headphones and just write. But over the years I’ve learned better. In reality, when it comes to doing creative work such as writing, I am just not productive on flights.

Some folks can write an entire novel over a series of airplane flights. Not me. Though sometimes I will edit content that I’ve already written (such as moving an article from the “idea” folder to the “edit” folder).

If you’re looking to be productive when you travel, my best advice is this:

Have a specific goal in mind and be prepared for it.

(That advice goes for quite a bit beyond just travel productivity, btw.)

In short, don’t step onto that plane with a blank canvas and the hopes of being inspired. Instead, know your desired outcome and prepare ahead of time. What are you hoping to get done? What do you need to do to make it happen? What will you be doing on the flight?

A little bit of preparation goes a long way. Because then, once you’re on the flight, all that’s left for you to do is get to work.

Here’s What I Do

As I said, I’m not good at creative work or inspirational thinking when on a plane. Therefore I have found other ways to still make the most of my time (though I’m also not above watching a good kung fu movie).

Before my flight, I download a few podcast episodes or an audio book. Then I listen (with my B&O H7 headphones) and take copious notes.

Listening to a podcast or audiobook while taking notes is a great way to learn the material. It’s also a more passive form of creativity and work. It’s been helpful for me, and the results from the notes are always a huge asset. For example, my book club articles for Rhinoceros Success and The Dip both came about from times I was traveling this past year.

After listening to my podcast episode(s) or audiobook, I’ll then watch a movie or read a novel and just relax. Or sometimes I skip the note-taking altogether and get straight to the movie.

How to Be Productive When Traveling