Update (1:40 PM): Delayed again and no chance of making the connection. Fortunately, I saw this coming, so I called United and scored the last ticket for a Saturday morning flight before everyone else rushed to the desk.
Update (1:23 PM): My flight connecting to Denver just got delayed and I may miss the only connection out. Am I freaking out right now? Nope. Stocked with food., plenty of material to work on and prepared with plenty of power.
Over the years, I’ve found myself traveling quite a bit for my job. Even now, as I write this blog, I am sitting in SFO waiting for my flight over to Memphis. Unlike most people, I find the process of travel — getting to the terminal, waiting around, being transported — to be extremely helpful for my productivity. No office, little distraction from those around me, and often limited or no connectivity to the Internet. It sounds crazy, but there are times when I get more done during a few hours of travel, than I do being in the office for a week. Since I know frequent travelers, I thought I’d share some of my tips on how to be productive.
Always be Curating
Traveling involves a lot of boring logistics (transportation, waiting in lines, waiting for bags/people, etc.) that require enough of your attention that you can’t fully immerse yourself in actual work. I use these times to curate material for research I have planned, things I want to learn or news I want to catch-up on.
My toolkit of choice is any information source (Twitter, NY Times, YCombinator, etc.) and Pocket. I am able to quickly skim for interesting content, and with one-tap, it’s pushed into Pocket, saved offline and ready to go for when I am on the plane, lose connectivity or find myself in one of those logistics situations. And because I am doing this on a regular basis, I often have a backlog of at least 100 articles that span all different subjects.
If you’re a seasoned traveler, you know the value in being prepared. Not every airport has power outlets, sometimes Internet connections don’t exist and if your trip is delayed, you may be hard pressed to find some decent food. Fortunately, airports and other transport terminals are stepping up their game, but even still, I come prepared.
In whatever bag I carry, I’ll have some sort of snack (a few Cliff Bars), an octopus cable (all different adapters), a multi-hour battery (charged), extra cash and a pen. In the event that my travel plans run into issues, I have enough to sustain for several hours without the need to rush around or panic.
Embrace the Disconnect
This is the key to being productive. You’ve curated material, planned for your adventure and now it’s time to sit back, go offline and focus. Even when my mode of transportation offers the Internet, I don’t bother to use it; it’s a distraction and takes away from my productive mission. It doesn’t matter if I am writing, preparing a presentation or doing development on our products — disconnecting is key.
For tasks that generally don’t require a connection, it’s pretty easy to see the gains you get in productivity — no one to interrupt you, no distractions, forced contemplation of your thoughts. Development is a different beast and requires a bit more planning.
When starting a development project, I always ensure I download all the libraries, dependencies and technical documentation. Most of my projects are hosted on a Linux virtual machine or hosted via a web server. Before I embark on any travel, I test my builds to ensure they function offline. Once I have a clean slate working, I begin to use it as if it were production. All my actions, records, and other bits of information are cached within the local environment, ensuring I have material to work with once I am offline. Beyond that, I’ll pickle any web responses or other data I need from remote sources and that’s it.
What I love about being offline and doing development is the constraint of not having the answer at your fingertips. Forgot how to implement that algorithm, think harder. Not sure which import to use, go explore past projects. Solution not coming to you right away, plan and write it out. These are valuable problems to have and seldom encountered in a world of always connected.
Being productive while traveling is totally possible. I recognize that not all of these tips will apply to those who read the blog, but maybe they will be enough to inspire new methods. These tips work for me and despite them feeling like commonsense, it’s taken many hours of travel and heartache to find these solutions. And as if the time just melted away, it’s time for me to board my flight. Safe travels to the road warriors.