Travelling for work: 7 principles for productivity and value


Over the last 9 weeks I’ve been on a plane every week, have been on 26 flights or inter-city trains, and delivered 28 keynotes or workshops across 8 countries. This week I will be at home all week :-).

I have long had the concept of “the right amount of travel”, that is enough but not too much. How much that is depends on personal temperament, your relationship and family situation, health, life stage, and many other things. I do love travelling but there is certainly such a thing as too much. Fortunately on the European segment of my recent travels Victoria and the girls spent four weeks based out of Paris to overlap with me, so we were able to spend time together there and in London, which made it a lot more palatable.

The nature of my work is that I do have to travel extensively, so it is critical that I get the most out of my time travelling. I need to work at getting better at it myself, but here are some principles that I try to work by, and you might find useful.

1. Travel is the ultimate learning experience.
I am fortunate in that I travel widely rather than to the same places all the time, so I always have things to learn wherever I go. Wherever I go I look around myself continuously to learn from what I see, whoever I meet I ask about what they are seeing change, whatever companies I engage with I observe their unique culture and experiences. While all of this is of course essential to a futurist, I believe we all need to take every opportunity available to learn what is happening across the glorious global diversity of business, society, and humanity.

2. Travel allows us to open out our perceptions and thinking.
We all get caught up in routines. While travel itself can easily become a routine, it gives us an opportunity to break the patterns that limit the scope of what we perceive. Our prefrontal cortex filters out signals we see many times, but when we are in a new environment our brains in fact allow us to see more. I find some of my best thinking about my business strategies happen when I’m in the air, literally able to get the proverbial ‘30,000 feet perspective’ on issues. There is a saying in Neuro Linguistic Programming: “You never know how far a change will go,” suggesting that if we enable ourselves to open up our thinking while travelling, we can retain that even as we return to routine.

3. Travel is about connecting.
For the first years after I returned from London to Sydney to start my own business ventures, I made sure that I did a round-world trip at least once every year, spending all of the time I had in every city to catch up with old friends and meet new people. While social media has expanded our ability to connect with people to an extraordinary degree, there still is no substitute for face to face meetings. Whenever I am anywhere other than home, I feel immensely frustrated if my schedule is not completely full of meetings with interesting and worthwhile people. Real world connections overlaid with social media can create an amazing network.

4. Have big-picture projects to work on.
Take advantage of the wider frame you will be thinking in as you travel to develop big ideas. I developed quite a few of my visual frameworks while I was flying. In the brainstorming phase of creating frameworks I create digital documents with long lists of ideas and possibilities, print them out, and then consider them and make brief notes in the many open spaces when travelling, for example when digital devices are switched off at take-off and landing. During a long flight or over the course of a shorter more intense trip you can easily develop big-frame ideas just in the gaps between your scheduled activities.

5. Focus on health and fitness.
It is very hard when you’re on a busy schedule, but it is critical to do whatever you can keep fit and healthy while you’re travelling, not just to make the most of your travel, but to be in good shape when you get back. Make sure you only stay in hotels that have a gym and bring lightweight sports shoes, or you can develop a yoga or other fitness routine that you can do in your hotel room. Limit how much you eat, wherever possible eat healthy food, and minimize alcohol (especially on flights). Admittedly this last point doesn’t always fit with the reality of conference or social schedules, and the idea is not to miss out on enjoyable experiences, but where there is a choice, keep well.

6. Work our your personal jetlag strategy.
Everyone needs to work out a strategy to minimize jetlag that suits the idiosyncracies of their body clock. I am fortunate (I sometimes describe it as a competitive advantage!) in that I am good at changing timezones, not least because I can usually sleep a full night’s sleep if I’m tired, irrespective of jetlag. I always make sure to stay awake until bedtime in the new timezone, choosing flights that will make that viable, and take sleeping tablets – the only time I ever take them – if I need to sleep early to achieve that, for example on Sydney – San Francisco flights. I find very helpful to take melatonin for the first two nights in a new timezone. While I’m happy to step off very long flights to do speeches or other intensive sessions, this requires running on adrenalin so can’t be sustained. Mood can be significantly affected by jetlag, so avoid big life decisions in the days following major timezone disruption.

7. Ensure everything you need is in the cloud.
There are many solid reasons to shift to cloud for all your communication platforms and business documents, but the most immediate and one of the most compelling is to make travel easier. Cloud working has transformed business travel, so make sure you can access what you need, or lobby hard to get your organization to see sense on this.

There are of course plenty of useful principles on the logistics of extensive travelling, such as packing, scheduling, and so on. Many others have shared good advice on these topics so here I’ve just tried to stick to some of the things that matter most to me in making my travel productive and valuable.

Happy travels!