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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

6 Ways to Stay Productive on a Business Trip

Business travel takes you not only away from the office, but also far from your usual routine. When you’re not sleeping in the same bed, eating the same food, or working at the same desk, it can be tough to get into your typical hard-working mindset.

Yet, in spite of the jet lag and the back-to-back meetings you probably have planned, there are some easy steps you can take to adjust, making any work trip a productive one. To learn more, I spoke with four successful road warriors who revealed their secrets for getting down to business quickly, staying focused, and producing great work—even when you’re on the go.


1. Let Technology be Your Assistant

Before you depart, decide which of your gadgets will serve you best on the trip, and pack accordingly. Do you need your laptop for heavy-duty writing projects, or will your smartphone and tablet be enough? Depending on the focus of your trip, you may be able to lighten your load and leave some devices at home.

Whatever you decide to bring, having access to reliable Wi-Fi is essential. Most major airlines offer this as an in-flight service, but double check availability and pricing before you book a flight. For frequent flyers, Amanda Augustine, job search expert for TheLadders, recommends purchasing a plan from a service like Gogo, an in-flight internet service that covers multiple airlines. Of course, you’ll need to work after your flight, too—so make sure to verify Wi-Fi availability at your hotel, conference center, and meeting space.

2. Plan Everything 

Even in the electronic age, long-time business approaches still apply. “Before you leave, put a list together of what you need to bring,” suggests Meryl Pearlstein, owner of MDP Publicity. Consider anything you could possibly need—from business attire and office supplies to cosmetics and battery chargers—so that all your must-haves are faithfully by your side, even miles away from home. Many road warriors also like to bring a few comforts from home (like a pillow from home or a favorite comfy sweatshirt) to help them adjust quickly to their home-away-from-home environments.

And since traveling never seems to go exactly as planned, make sure your to-bring list accounts for potential emergencies and delays. If you’re checking a bag, pack a change of clothes, a toothbrush, some makeup, and anything you’ll need for your first day of work inside your carry-on. (Or, learn how to pack more efficiently and take only a carry-on!)

In addition to the essentials, Dawn Wilcox, managing director of the Social Impact Practice at Allison+Partners, likes to keep a folder with her flight schedule and travel details in her carry-on for easy access. On that note, she also suggests always booking a direct flight instead of a connecting one. As fun as an extra six hours in the Las Vegas airport sounds, delays can seriously impact your mood, productivity, and meeting schedule.

3. Communicate to Your Office Before You Leave

One of the most difficult parts of business travel is keeping up with your normal workload when your day-to-day routine is suddenly nothing like normal. So, preparation is key to make sure everything at the office stays on track while you’re away.

Before heading out, meet with your project teams to get status updates and review upcoming deadlines. Augustine emphasizes that it’s extremely important to communicate to your team when you’ll be available by phone or checking your email, and when you’ll be totally unavailable. Also let everyone know how you’d like to be contacted in case of emergency (by text? By emails marked “Urgent?”), so you can address pressing issues between meetings.

Then, set your out-of-office message to indicate a point person for inquiries and set communication expectations (e.g., “If you have a question pertaining to the sales conference next month, please contact Amanda Johnston. I will respond to general inquiries when I return to the office on Monday.”)

4. Get Familiar With Your Destination

Before you actually arrive, find out where you’ll be staying and what’s nearby. Where’s the closest grocery store where you can grab some snacks? Is the conference center within walking distance? Pearlstein suggests figuring out how hard it’ll be to find a cab, particularly at night (if you’re not in a high-traffic area, it might be better to arrange for a car service).

Knowing this information before you arrive will save you valuable time when you get there—so you can settle in and get right to work. (But since you’ll probably still have to make some on-the-fly decisions, load up your phone or tablet with apps that make travel a lot easier, like OpenTable for dinner reservations and Uber for car service.)

5. Set To-Dos to do While in Route

Take advantage of your commuting time to be productive, instead of saving it for your destination. “Make a list of goals for what you’re going to do in transit,” recommends Randi Brill, CEO of Quarasan and founder of Teacher Peach in Chicago. “If you say, ‘I’ll do it when I get to the hotel,’” she adds, you probably won’t get to it—after a full day of traveling, you’ll be exhausted. But, don’t wear yourself out—Wilcox prefers to work during the first three quarters of her flight and then spend the last leg relaxing.

To help boost your productivity in-transit, consider signing up for hotel or airline loyalty programs or business credit cards that offer travel perks. Susan Baroncini-Moe, an Indianapolis business strategist and author of Business in Blue Jeans, uses her airline’s club lounges whenever possible, but “also invested in some high-quality noise-canceling headphones,” which help her work well in crowded spaces.

6. Find Your Focus

Once you land and check in, do whatever it takes to optimize your time and comfort, says Baroncini-Moe. Whether unpacking immediately helps you feel more organized, or stocking your mini-fridge with iced coffee gets you revved up to work, recognize what helps you feel settled in—and do it.

When you’re working in your hotel room, Pearlstein suggests sitting at a desk or table and setting it up to resemble your regular workspace: Unpack your laptop, find an outlet for your phone and computer chargers, connect to the Wi-Fi, organize your files, and arrange any office supplies you need. With your desk ready to go, you’ll have an easier time getting right to work when you pop into your hotel room between meetings.

But no matter how productive you are, it’s also important to figure out how to unwind at the end of a long day. Baroncini-Moe prefers to recharge with some alone time: A quiet dinner, good book, phone call with her husband, and meditation. When you find time to relax at night, you’ll be more alert, productive, and energized the next day.

Finally, “Take advantage of the fact you’re traveling,” suggests Pearlstein. At the end of a trip to Vancouver, during a two-hour airport layover, Pearlstein decided to go on a speed-sightseeing tour of the city, returning just in time to catch her flight. Of course, the main reason for your trip is business—but that doesn’t mean you can’t see the sights, too.

Photo of woman working in hotel room courtesy of Shutterstock.