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How to stay productive while traveling


writing in air plane

Mixing work and travel ain’t easy.

Work too much and you’ll miss out on experiencing your destination. Work too little and you’ll feel guilty during fun activities.

In order to find the perfect work-travel balance, you gotta learn how to stay productive while traveling.

So, whether you’re on a short family vacation or working and traveling long-term, here’s how to be productive AF.


Set your work time in stone

To avoid over- or underworking, define your start and end times in advance.

This helps lazies from clocking out early to hit the beach, and helps workaholics from trying to do “just one more thing”.

You may even find it helpful to schedule fun activities that force you to shut it down at a certain time. If you have plans to swim with dolphins at 1pm, I bet your morning will be magically productive.

When work time is over, force yourself to “turn it off”. You did your due diligence for the day.

Now it’s time to have fun, live in the moment, and do what you came to do—travel.

Swimming with dolphins


Race the clock

Now let’s take it a step further. Not only are you going to set a timer for your workday, you’re also going to set one for each task.

According to science...

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” (Parkinson’s Law)

That means if you set limits, pressure yourself, and race against the clock, you’ll finish tasks faster and have more time for activities.


Be realistic

The key to work-travel success starts with the right mindset.

You can’t expect to be as productive traveling as you are at home. You also can’t expect to sightsee as much as someone who isn’t working.

Expect to travel slower.

Expect to spread out your activities.

Expect to take two weeks to do what a “normal” traveler does in one.

If you think you’re going to get work done while traveling to a new destination every other day, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise.


Obey the “80/20 Rule”

the 80 20 rule time

If you want to enjoy your vacation, you have to be picky with your time.

Just because you’re busy, doesn’t mean you’re productive.

Not all tasks are created equal - focus ONLY on the top 3-5 actions with the highest time ROI.

Nothing else.


Make an offline plan

This one can make or break your travel productivity.

Take a second to list out of all your tasks that can be done offline.

When you have internet, DO NOT do these tasks. Save them for the times you’re sitting around disconnected with nothing to do (plane, bus, train, etc.)

That way, instead of twiddling your thumbs, pondering life’s riddles...you’ll be able to knock out your work (without sacrificing activity time).

on buss thinking about pesos


Take advantage of “downtimes”

Even after having “the talk”, you’re bound to feel guilty when your crew is waiting patiently for you to get your work done.

That’s why it’s important to always take advantage of downtimes.

Think about times of the day when your travel group is busy or won’t miss your absence.

Girlfriend wants her beauty sleep? Crank out your work before she wakes up.

Buddy nursing a hangover and wants a nap? Pop an aspirin and power through.

Kids playing happily by themselves in the pool? Whip out your phone and knock out some to-dos. (Actually, bad idea.)


Create a distraction-free work zone

When you’re short on time, you have to ruthlessly eliminate distractions.

One way to do this is to set up your environment so you can blast out work as fast as possible. That means…

  • Find a desk in your hotel or nearby cafe (working in bed never ends well)
  • Give your travel buddies a countdown to distraction-free time
  • Use noise cancelling headphones or earplugs
  • Get snacks and drinks ready
  • Go pee

It might seem extreme, but work time is work time, not make-a-quick-sandwich time.


Follow your ABC objectives

You’ve had “the talk”. You’ve set your work time. You’ve created your distraction-free zone…

It’s go time.

The key to a productive work session is clearly defining what it means to be “finished” each day.

If don’t set clear daily objectives, you’re more likely to spend time on non essential tasks, leave important work unfinished, and cave into vacation mode early (especially if others are waiting for you). Then, when your supposed to be out having fun, you’ll be thinking about work, feeling guilty.

Setting daily objectives is easy. Each night before bed, make an “ABC priority list” for the next day.

Priority A must get finished.

Priority B is extra.

Priority C is extra extra.

It might look something like this:


Make a “tiny task” list

If a task isn’t on your ABC list, don’t do it during your set work time.

Instead, make a list of these little tasks, carry them around, and squeeze them into unplanned time pockets (usually while waiting for things).

Waiting in line at the grocery store? Plan out your next day.

Waiting for your bus to leave? Update social media accounts.

Waiting for the wifey to choose an outfit for dinner? Make a phone call.

Doing this allows you to stay laser-focused on your ABC list during work time.


Reduce your availability

When traveling, you don’t have to be connected 24/7.

If a customer needs you, they can wait. Most things aren’t urgent. The world won’t end if you unplug for a few days.

The trick to avoiding problems is letting clients know what to expect. Don’t just go AWOL (especially if they’re used to getting responses right away).

Instead, notify them ahead of time. Say your taking a trip, you’ll be less available, and when they can expect a response.

Update your voicemail message and set up an email auto-response.

It’s as easy as that. Once your client’s expectations are set, you can move onto the next tip...


Batch work like a boss

Switching tasks wastes time.

Not only does it take time to physically switch (opening up a bunch of new docs and windows), but it also takes time to mentally get in your flow.

Let’s say it takes 10 minutes to completely change gears. If you’re stopping a project to answer an email, take a phone call, or check your Slack every hour...that’s a lot of wasted minutes.

By creating designated email days, scheduling calls back-to-back, and batching other similar projects together, you can eliminate wasted “switch time” and shave hours off each workday.


Fight for fast internet

For remote workers, there’s nothing more frustrating (or unproductive) than crappy wifi.


If the connection’s slow where you’re staying, your work will be slow. And if there’s no connection at all (heaven forbid), you’ll be forced to waste precious vacay time hunting down a new workplace.

Fortunately, this rarely happens to those who know how to stay productive while traveling.

That’s because productive travelers know the wifi situation before arrival.

They contact hotels asking for rooms closest to the router.

They ask Airbnb hosts to send screenshots of their internet speed.

They search reviews for the word “wifi” to see what past guests have to say.

And when they’ve done their due diligence but still end up with a sucky connection, they bust out their emergency wifi toolkit—a mobile hotspot and USB wifi range extender.


Learn to write faster

Most jobs involve a fair bit of writing, and most people write painfully slow.

By following these speed writing hacks, you can crank out those emails, articles, and ads in half the time.



Be flexible

To be productive while traveling, you have to prepare. You have to make a plan. And you have to be efficient.

But no matter how hard you try, some things are just out of your control.

The sooner you accept that, the better off you’ll be.

So work hard during work time.

Play hard during play time.

Do your best.

Go with the flow.


Travel Productivity Cheat Sheet

  1. Set your work time in stone - Set clear start and stop times each day. Schedule fun activities to force you to get work done fast.
  2. Race the clock - Challenge yourself to get more work done in less time by using timers.
  3. Be realistic - Expect to be less productive while on the road. Don’t disappoint yourself be setting expectations too high.
  4. Obey the 80/20 Rule - Laser in on the high impact activties. Ruthlessly cut (or delegate) low impact time sucks.
  5. Make an offline plan - Use transit time to work on tasks that don’t require internet.
  6. Have “the talk” with friends and family - Explain to your travel group that you aren’t on vacation, and figure out ways they can help you work more efficiently.
  7. Take advantage of downtimes - Squeeze in work during times your travel group won’t miss you.
  8. Create a distraction-free environment - Maximize your limited work time by eliminating all distractions.
  9. Follow your ABC objectives - Know your top three priorities each day, and define what it means to be “finished”.
  10. Make a “tiny task” list - Use unplanned “time pockets” wisely so you can focus solely on ABC objectives during work time.
  11. Reduce your availability - Don’t be afraid to make yourself less available to clients while traveling.
  12. Batch work like a boss - Eliminate time wasted switching tasks by batching similar tasks together.
  13. Fight for fast internet - Take precautions to avoid crappy wifi.
  14. Learn to write faster - Use these tips to slash your writing time in half a finish work faster.
  15. Be flexible - Go with the flow. Things won’t always go as planned. That’s ok.

Hope this helps!


Mitch Glass

mitch glass

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