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5 Ways to Make Business Travel More Productive

You clicked on this headline because you think I'm crazy, didn't you? Well, you may be right. But bear with me.

I travel a very great deal, especially between Europe and the US. Having run businesses and lived in both places, I like to imagine I have some understanding of both and particularly like sharing what I learn from one place with another. So when people ask me where I actually live, more often than not the answer is: Seat 7A. Sad? Not completely.

I used to approach business travel with dread, thinking of it as normal work with the added inconvenience of jet lag, logistics and being away from home. Then I realized that, since it wasn't going to get away, I needed to find a positive way to do it, and think about it. Now I seize upon it as an opportunity to stop the daily grind and renew creative energy.

1. Do the Spring Cleaning
Before each transatlantic trip, I'm seized by a desire to leave everything in good shape. Emails get cleared, invoices dispatched, accounts brought up to date, wardrobe sorted, suitcases from earlier trips finally unpacked. The deadline of departure provides some urgency and a lot of chaos gets cleared up.

2. Give Yourself Thinking Time
Knowing I'll be traveling for anything from 8 to 18 hours means I'm going to have a lot of time on my hands. So I pack a lot of reading: academic journals and books mainly. Plane time is often the only uninterrupted time I have when I can start a book and finish it. But I also always pack a good work of fiction. I want to use the opportunity to think differently, give the old left brain a rest. I do much of my best thinking on planes because I can't do anything else, and I treasure that. It's my chance for blue sky thinking. What I don't do is bring work along for the plane -- or watch movies.

2. Get Out of a Rut
Like everyone, I do a lot of repeat visits to New York, Boston, LA and San Francisco. But even those familiar places jolt me out of my routine. I see different things and I see expected things differently. Most importantly, I am usually meeting a new set of people, whose preoccupations and disciplines are quite different from my own. In itself, this constitutes a form of travel. America and Europe look (and are) completely different and a radical shift of perspective shakes up a lot of preconceptions. I used never to do anything for fun; now I try to visit a museum, go to a concert, watch a play. Culture often tells me a lot more than data. I carry a constant question in my head: what am I seeing here that I haven't seen elsewhere?

4. Take Time to Digest
During the French Revolution, you could get an honorable discharge from the Army for homesickness and I can relate to that. More than a week away and I do start to go slightly mad. So I love getting home and catching up with my family who invariably treat my return as a non-event. On the other hand, they take me for granted less. And however tired I may feel physically, I'm invariably psyched by what I've seen and heard; now I have material to reflect on.

5. Relish the Power of Inefficiency
Why does this work for me? I'm not doing what I see most business travelers do: grinding through spreadsheets, working all the hours available. So what I do looks highly inefficient. But I'd argue it's quite the opposite: enriching and sustaining.

How often can we say that about work? What do you do to make business travel more rewarding?

Further reading:

How to be Productive: Stop Working
How to Recover from Vacation Blues

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