Staying Productive When You're Traveling for Work

I once saw a man get on a 3 hour flight with nothing. He had nothing to read, no laptop or tablet and there was no in-flight entertainment. He didn't sleep. He just sat there. I still don't know whether this is deeply disturbing or whether he should be applauded for reaching some level of inner Zen stillness that eludes most of us.

For now, I am going to go with "deeply disturbing". 

Every week I fly from New York to Chicago. And every week I fly back. It's 10 hours a week, door-to-door and, unlike Mr Zen, I am determined to NOT throw those 10 hours away. So here are ways I have come up with to get things one in the car, at the airport, or on the plane.

Things you can do in the car


To get some extra sleep for early morning flights, get a cab to the airport and do your makeup in the car. My top tips are:

  • firstly, only do the kind of makeup that involves smearing things all over your face. Moisturizer and foundation, yes. Eyeliner, no. Save that for the airport bathroom.
  • get this flat-top Shiseido foundation brush (USD$30). You cannot do detailed blending of concealer in the back of a car. I just apply the concealer and stamp this brush on my face to blend it in. Works like a dream.
  • A big-ish mirror like this aluminum compact mirror from Muji (USD$8.50).
  • a light-source if you're heading off at 6:30am in winter, as I have been. I use my iPad.
  • After I get through security, I check my makeup in the bathrooms at the airport. Sometimes I look completely flawless (and I high-five myself mentally). Sometimes I look, well, like I put my makeup on in the back of a car, but it's nothing that a few touch ups can't fix.

Call your friends and family

Catch up with friends and family while you're in the car, or waiting at the airport. You might as well.

Have a blue-tooth headset to facilitate all the talking and walking. I bought a cheap one but with so much background noise, I'd suggest investing more. Also handy is a phone re-charger. I have the Anker "lipstick-sized" charger (USD$10) and these four headed cables (USD$12).

Have a phone meeting

A car is quiet, so why not knock off one or two meetings for the week, freeing up time when you're at your desk and could do some actual work.

Listen to a podcast

My absolute favorite is The Entrepreneurs, a podcast by Monocle magazine. I also listen to Michael Hyatt for talks on leadership and organization. I'll do another post on my favorite podcasts - I have a few.


You can, sort of, sleep lying down in the back seat of the car with your seat belt on.



In the car in the mornings, I eat my oatmeal from a Thermos food jar (USD$12). Security has swiped it for analysis a couple of times but they've never taken it from me.

Things you can do at the airport

I like to spend as little time at the airport as possible. But sometimes you are stuck there. Here's what you can do:

Get food

The purpose of plane food is to make airport food look good. So stock up while you're still on the ground. I like Tortas Frontera at Chicago O'Hare, Pret a Manger at London Heathrow and Andela Mexican at San Francisco's SFO. For a healthy breakfast, I like the oatmeal  with all the fixin's at Jamba Juice, which has 20+ airport locations. So delicious.


On my Travel List app I have "Download files you need onto your C drive" and "Charge laptop". Things to do at home so you can work on the flight. 


Download things to read into Instapaper, for reading offline on the flight. Refresh your news apps on your phone or tablet to get the latest info.

Do your expenses

No better time to keep on top of your travel expenses than when you're actually traveling. I pull out my receipts and scan them with my iPhone using the Scannable app. It is better than just taking a photo because (1) it crops around your receipt and (2) it flattens out the receipt & enhances the words so everything is readable (3) it converts to pdf.

Things you can do on the Plane


For working on the plane, get a privacy screen like this one from 3M (USD$31).


If you can, catch some much needed zz's.

Do you have any tips for staying productive while traveling? Please let me know. 

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