Is business travel a work drain or an engagement gain?
A Tale of Three Travelers
Consider these three employees.
Rick can’t stand the idea of leaving for the airport tomorrow for a three-day work trip to New York. He dreads cramped airline seats, canceled flights and days away from his home and family.
Anna feels like a zombie when she departs on a business trip. She passes the flight watching movies and TV shows to make the time go as quickly as possible. When Anna arrives at her destination, she already feels distracted and depleted.
Ella, on the other hand, has figured out how to stay engaged with her work while she flies the friendly skies. She knows travel burnout can easily lead to work burnout, so she’s taken care to have a plan in place that helps her engage with her work and arrive at her destination energized and ready for meetings.
Too many business travelers are road-weary. They demonstrate the classic signs of burnout: exhaustion, journey fatigue and feeling that their time traveling is wasted time. Workers like this are more than not engaged—they are at risk of quitting altogether.
Job Engagement Is up in the Air
It is not my intent to sound Pollyannaish about business travel, but I believe that traveling to your destination can be an opportunity for excellent engagement with your job while boosting productivity. You can either choose to feel like a prisoner of the journey or the journey can move you both physically and psychologically in a new direction.
Here's something you don’t hear all of the time: I actually look forward to business travel as prime time for focused performance on my work! I find that the physical act of travel also helps to spark my creative thoughts and re-engage with my role. Even though I work during most of the trip, I feel energized and refreshed when I arrive.
The Secret Engagement Sauce
So, how do I do it?
First, a few “road warrior” credentials: I have flown on countless business trips around North America over the past 20 years. Much of my current travel takes between 15 to 30 hours as I travel from Winnipeg to Dubai, Johannesburg, Singapore, Doha, Bangkok, Sofia or Istanbul. My passport definitely gets a workout, to say the least.
But along the way over countless frequent flyer miles, I’ve figured out how to stay engaged with my work. I arrive refreshed and ready to get the job done. You can, too. Here are 10 tips to maximize your job engagement while traveling to your business destination:
- Ready, set... During the week before the trip, start stacking up small projects or elements of work that you will engage with while flying.
- Get off to a fast start. Start working early—as soon as you get to the airport or even in the taxi ride to the terminal. This precludes slipping into premature travel lethargy or performance procrastination.
- Get in the zone. Know your zone of engagement. My e-zone is 11 minutes and 11 seconds. I break my work down into these brief time zones. I experience numerous small wins and accomplishments during the journey, yet I only need to stay engaged at any given time for just over 11 minutes.
- Switch and track. Avoid multitasking but stay fresh with your performance by changing your focus and task after every one or two e-zones. Record and track your progress, as this generally helps to reinforce the desired behavior.
- The medium is the message. Switch work mediums as well as tasks to keep yourself fresh. I will do some work on my notebook, some work on my iPad, some work on my phone, some work with pen and paper and some work with paper reports or nonfiction books.
- Color up. I like to take crayons along to mark up some of my reading material and to draft ideas. This offers a different feel, color and texture to the work. And if I am sitting next to a child, we can share the crayons and it can be a good distraction for them. I believe working with crayons for some of the tasks brings a creative beginner’s mind to the task at hand.
- Zip it. I carry a large zip-top bag to hold work items. It fits nicely in the seat pocket, I don’t have to keep getting up to retrieve items from my briefcase in the overhead storage bin, it discourages me from trying to do too much and I don’t have a briefcase or backpack taking away room for my feet. Because the bag is clear, I can easily find the items I am looking for.
- It's okay to have your head in the clouds. All work and no play leads to exhaustion, so after every five or six E-zone periods, I use the next e-zone to refresh with mindfulness, a short conversation with a seatmate, a power nap or just simply stare out the window at the cloud formations.
- Work now, play later. A very efficient and effective time of performance management while traveling to my destination also frees up time when I get there to walk, jog, swim, sauna or visit a tourist site or museum.
- Return trip reset. High work engagement requires extended relaxation and recovery, so my journey home from a business trip work is set aside for naps, conversation, movies, fiction or an occasional drink.
Are your business trips a time of productive engagement with your work? If not, I encourage you to adopt or adapt some of the tips listed above to get the most from your work and your travel.