Staying productive on a flight.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately.  A whole lot.  So much so that it makes it hard to stay on top of my day to day work.  It’s usually go go go when on1 Bose the road, rushing from one place to the next with little time to do anything else.  In fact the only real time I can find to catch up on things, such as email, is either at my hotel late at night or on the plane.   After a long day I usually have little energy to get additional work done so I often find myself doing catch-up on the plane.

Between uncomfortable seats, disruptive passengers (have you seen the live-tweeting of a passenger meltdown??), and tiny amounts of personal space a plane can be a very distracting work environment. Add to that a heavy work load and you might find yourself procrastinating.  Here are tips for how I stay productive on flights.

Work email offline.  There’s nothing more distracting than trying to get a stack of emails answered while new ones are coming in.  No matter how hard I try sometimes I can’t keep from looking and even responding to new incoming emails while the older emails continue to get older.  If I need Wi-Fi but don’t want to see new emails coming in I’ll choose to work email offline.  I’ve found this to be the best way for me to stay productive and focus on catching up.  Remember to change your email setting at some point towards the end of the flight to “online” so that your emails will send, otherwise they’ll sit in your outbox.  One other thing to keep in mind if you’re working email offline—if you are emailing someone multiple times when offline once you go back online those emails will all send at once.  Make sure a blast emails to someone isn’t going to irritate them.  The Home Warrior told me of horror stories where his Account Executive would work offline and then blast him with a mile-long to-do list at 4:30 on a Friday when his AE clicked back online. Not a way to make friends and influence people!

Use noise canceling headphones.  I’m a big proponent of noise canceling headphones, especially when I’m working.  It can make a crying baby, a chatty neighbor, loud talkers, and the airplane engine noises virtually go away.  I like to listen to music when I’m working like a classical music app.

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Use a privacy screen.  I wish everyone used a privacy screen because I can’t help but look when a screen is shining in my face.  However, from a distraction stand point this is more to keep you from worrying about others watching what you’re working on.  I don’t usually work on confidential stuff but when I have a neighbor staring at my screen while I’m working it tends to distract me.  I use a 3M version but what you’ll need depends on your screen size.  Here’s a list of some privacy screen filters.

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Make sure your batteries are charged and that you have a battery backup.  Plugs on a flight are not always a given.  When I know I’m not going to have a plug I make sure I’m charged up for the flight.  If it’s a long flight sometimes I’ll bring an extra pre-charged battery with me to switch out when the juice is gone on my laptop.  For my cell I use the Jackery Mini Premium Phone Charger, which gives my phone the extra charge it needs to get me through a work flight.

1 Jackery






Use Google as your search engine.  I used to like going to because I would see a lot of interesting news stories when I would go there.  My intentions were to search for something, but I would get distracted by all the news stories and forget what I originally went there for.  That’s not a very productive way to get caught up for work!  I now try and avoid and will use Google instead.  I’m sure there’s a way to use Yahoo without all the distractions but I’d rather stick with Google now that I’ve trained myself to go there.

Start working at the gate.  Motivating yourself to work on a plane when you would rather be resting or reading is not an easy thing to do.  It’s especially difficult when you know that as soon as you open your computer you’re opening the flood gates.  Instead of waiting until you get on the plane, go ahead and start knocking stuff out while you wait to board.  Even if you only can work ten minutes it’s worth it.  Then once you board the plane there will be less of a chance you’ll try and procrastinate because you’ve already put yourself in the working mode mindset. If it’s not practical to get my laptop out for a short period I will flag important emails on my phone so work is prioritized once I’m in the air.

Log out of your social media accounts.  It’s easy to procrastinate when Facebook and Twitter are one click away.  By logging out of the accounts it’s a reminder to yourself that you should be working, not reading Facebook.

Don’t count on reliable connectivity.  Airplane Wi-Fi can be slow, and you can get kicked offline without notice several times during a flight.  Plan to save your work constantly if it’s being saved online.  Also choose work that gives you the best chance to be productive.  If you have offline work get that done so you avoid fighting with internet connections.  If all your work is online try and focus on things that have the least amount of downloadable content.

Eat and drink well.  Make sure you eat before you board and stay hydrated throughout the flight. I find myself losing focus and procrastinating the most when I’m thirsty or hungry.

Plan some rewards.  Set time limits on how long you’ll work based on length of flight. Prepare to watch a show or read something fun once you’ve reach your goal.

Have a plan.  Have some sort of game plan before you board for what you plan to work on and get done.  I usually keep a list of to do’s and knock them out one by one.  Doing this helps me stay organized, and because I can see my progress (or lack thereof) I’m less enticed to procrastinate.

Use the overhead light.  One of my big potential distractions is the overwhelming desire to close my eyes  the minute they turn off the cabin lights.  If they do this use your overhead light to keep yourself as alert as possible.  Don’t worry about disturbing others—the overhead lights are typically positioned in a way where it rarely bothers others.  If they are so sensitive to light that it bothers them, they need to wear an eyemask anyway!

1 Sleep Mask







Readers, what are your tricks for staying productive on a work flight? 

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  1. Pocket app. Allows you to read articles offline.

    During the week I send links to my Pocket account for things I want to read. Then during a flight without WiFi or when in cramped coach I can easily read the stories on my phone.

  2. this maybe a topic of discussion but a web page that’s full of flash video, music, ads, popups is an annoying distraction, to me at least. when i need an hr or 2 of quiet time without interruption i use a browser that allows me to block all of these on demand. pages load much faster and i get things done quicker. It’s like a tivo, but no need to fast-forward to skip commercials, there’s no commercials showing up at all.

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