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5 Super Productive Tips to Get Work Done While Traveling

a man sits on the floor in a public area working on his laptop, his backpack sitting next to him
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

This post was first published on my Medium blog—follow me there for the most up-to-date entries!

For years, I found it difficult to get work done while traveling. Without access to my usual stuff, I lacked familiarity and felt out of my comfort zone. Hence, my productivity suffered. I asked myself, what was so different about being away from the office?

Well, I couldn’t easily jot notes to myself. I didn’t have access to my scanner. A gazillion voicemails began piling up, and then my mailbox became full or nearly full. Or I ended up plowing through a pile of papers that started out in good order but ended up as a holy mess. Eventually, I figured out how to overcome all those inconveniences and more by using these 5 ways to improve my productivity while traveling.

Plan to work on “portable” projects

It’s no fun to lug around a project that has multiple parts and pieces. Hence, several days before the trip, I try to make a list of completely digital projects or tasks I can work on while traveling. That could include:

  1. Write my blog post.
  2. Edit someone else’s digital document.
  3. Plan future tasks or projects in my task manager (we use Asana).
  4. Return or initiate a bunch of phone calls to friends or colleagues.
  5. Delete emails or files on my computer that clutter up my digital workspace.
  6. Read a Kindle book on my iPad. Business or pleasure.
  7. View and/or download recurring documents (e.g., bank statements) or reorganize files in my Dropbox.
  8. Listen to an educational podcast.
  9. Outline my new course.
  10. Plan the agenda for an upcoming meeting.

Note that some of these are quick or low-energy tasks that can be done while waiting for a connecting fight, whereas others are suited for a block of time, e.g., a Saturday morning. Sometimes getting work done while traveling means figuring out what work is best suited for it.

Ease the pain of paper projects if necessary

Yes, yes, I know, I could rely on viewing PDFs on my laptop or computer. But like many others, I don’t. About 44% of business leaders still use paper on a daily basis.

I don’t think I’m in the “daily” camp, but I’ll cheerfully concede that I prefer to see some projects spread out on a flat surface. And if I need to work on those while I’m on travel, well, with a little forethought, I can be productive and organized with all the related parts of pieces of the project. (And if it’s a car trip, I can easily handle it.)

To stay organized, I use a souped-up 3-ring binder. I have more than one, but I make sure to keep at least one loaded with some standard supplies year-round. My favorite (and Amazon’s favorite) is the Case-it The Mighty Zip. It’s a 3-ring ring binder with tabs and much more. (But it may be overkill in some situations.)

I load it with every desk supply I could possibly need on the road. That might include:

  • Pens: at least a blue gel pen and an erasable FriXion pen, and perhaps a red pen
  • Pencils with functional erasers
  • Highlighters, maybe in different colors
  • Sticky notes, maybe in different sizes
  • Tab dividers
  • Miscellaneous desk items: paper clips, clamps, “flags,”
  • A few regular rubber bands, and at least one BandJoe rubber band. Love them!
  • A few “Forever” postage stamps
  • Envelopes (perhaps in different sizes)
  • File folders

When I’m traveling, I take a very slim, lightweight, lined 5.5 x 8.3 inch notebook with a soft cover that lies flat. And I’m a little persnickety! I like the Simply Genius notebook that has 80-gram thickness with no bleed-through on the cream colored pages. In it I can jot anything related to this particular trip.

I don’t know how I’d manage without the Case-It. It keeps me organized and productive so that I don’t end up with a pile of clutter in the hotel room, or a flock of disordered papers when I return home. I can quickly find everything I need to get work done while traveling.

Use the apps and gadgets

I tend to take my laptop with me whether I think I’ll need it or not. I’ve been using a Mac for more than three decades, and it’s my good buddy.

When I’m trying to get work done while traveling, however, I use phone apps that help me tackle my workload and obligations. For example, I use “voice memos” when I’m in an airport. I use FocusKeeper to help me to do at least a few minutes of pesky tasks that I frankly don’t like doing and feel I don’t have time to do while traveling. In the absence of a real scanner, I use ScanGenius. These are just a few of the phone apps that I would use infrequently or not at all in my office, but that help improve my productivity and organizational abilities when I’m traveling.

Planner Apps

If I’m working while traveling, I reach for the “Reminder” app on my iPhone very frequently. I use the microphone to speak into it, and I make sure I specify when I need to do the task or the follow up to the task: “Call Jane on Monday December 12 at 3 PM.”

You’re wondering, gee, Marie, why aren’t you using your planner or your Asana for those reminders? Or even your beloved Evernote? Well, those take a little more time and trouble than I want to mess with when I’m traveling. The reminder app is quick and easy to use, and it can even “group” tasks by location. Nice.

I use Evernote many times a day at my office, but I use it a bit differently when I’m traveling. I might add a tag such as “Dallas” for notes related to my business in Dallas. And, since I’m more likely to be using it on my phone rather than my laptop, I’m more likely to use the dictation feature; Evernote can handle up to 30 seconds of dictation.

Voicemail management

Meanwhile, are you wondering what to do about those voicemails that pile up when you’re working and traveling? The ones you don’t want to delete, but you’re afraid to keep because your mailbox is full or nearly full? No problem.

If you have an iPhone, you can move your messages out of voicemail and keep them as long as you wish. Here’s how. Watch this short video that explains exactly how to move messages out of your mailbox. You can choose what you want to do with the audio files. I prefer to move them into email. I label them with the year, month, and date so I can easily sort them by date (e.g., 2024-xx-xx). Works like a charm.

Don’t forget the chargers

If you’re planning to get work done while traveling, be sure to pack a 3-in-1 retractable USB cable. Remember that completely digital work you vowed to tackle while traveling? You won’t get much done if you can’t recharge in your devices.

You never know what you’ll find in a hotel room. So go fully prepared with a retractable USB charging cable. I have an Onn that comes with a little pouch, but I cannot find it now. I found one that’s similar. It offers Micro USB, USB-C, and iP Lightning port. Just plug it into a standard outlet.

If you want to make sure you can always charge several different devices, get this gizmo. And don’t leave home without it!

Reduce the noise

Have you ever stayed in a hotel and found it difficult to be productive because of the noise? I’ll bet you’ve been annoyed and distracted by the squealing toddler (or puppy!) across the hall, the thump-thump of teenagers dribbling and shooting hoops under your window, or even the clang-clang of the pots and pans and plates in the breakfast area of those hotels with the big atriums.

It can be even worse in older hotels. You know the hotels I mean, right? The grand dame hotels of yesteryear with the massive chandeliers in the lobby. (I once remember being in an elegant seventh floor room of such a hotel, and my husband remarked, “Oh, wow, this room is equipped with special windows that make it really easy to hear the traffic noise 7 stories below!”)

I can’t work done while traveling with all that noise.

I have the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) Wireless Earbuds, and I use the “noise cancelling” feature on a regular basis. To the best of my knowledge, these are most noise-cancelling earbuds on the market. I love them. I use them all the time.

But what if those AirPods (or even their less expensive siblings) are beyond your budget? Plain old earplugs work fairly well for reducing unwanted noise.

Flents Quiet Time earplugs work great. You can buy a small handful of them at Walmart for less than $4, or a bigger jar of Flents from Amazon.

Even though I rely on my AirPods, I keep a pair of Flents stashed in my computer case, my suitcase, and my purse. (Yes, a pair in each place!) They’re there in case I run out of the house without my AirPods or the battery runs out. But I can also give them to a fellow traveler who is as annoyed as I am by the noise that interferes with getting work done while traveling. A word of caution: you must “prepare” them according to the directions or else they don’t work worth a hoot.

Bring your planner with you — and more

You’ve heard me say it before. I love my Full Focus Planner. But I find it difficult to haul it around with me and actually use it while I’m traveling. However, I’ve found a few hacks that do work.

After about 5 years of using the bound version, I now use the loose-leaf version of this planner. When I’m traveling, I bring only the pages for my week(s) with me. I put the pages into an envelope and slip them into my computer case. (Sometimes, I cut the envelope down to hold those pages more securely.)

However, I don’t want to drag around a whole weeks’ worth of loose planner pages when I’m teaching a course or sitting in a client’s office. In those cases, I’d rather use that slim notebook I mentioned. It’s a great place to jot times or notes to get work done while traveling.

Plan for productivity

Being productive on a trip is about setting yourself up for success. You won’t be able to do exactly what you do at home, and certainly not the same way. You have to be mindful about what you take on and how. If you plan a narrow set of tasks for yourself and pack the items that will help you do them, you can get work done while traveling with the best of them!

What are your best ideas for staying productive even when it’s difficult?

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