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11 Tips for Business Travelers to Help Maximize Productivity

These well-traveled business owners have a few ideas on ways to help keep your productivity levels high during your next business trip.
Columnist, American Express OPEN
July 25, 2017

When you're a business traveler, every minute spent traveling counts—lost time can mean lost productivity. But there's no reason your work or deadlines have to suffer on account of being on the go.

I surveyed multiple road warriors (just wait till you see their flight per year stats) to bring you 11 tips that can help you make smart investments—with your time and finances—to make every moment away from your office count.

Before the Airport

Getting to the airport early is a piece of well-known travel advice. But what about before you even get to the airport?

1. Create go-to travel outfits.

No, this isn't a fashion column. It's just good sense for travel. Neen James, an Australia-based leadership and productivity expert, logs 85-100 domestic flights per year and lists travel outfits as one of her top tips. 

"Choose fabrics that don't crease and don't forget to be comfortable," says James. Also, when you have standard attire for business travel, you can spend less time packing and figuring out what to wear and more time working.

2. Skip the checked baggage.

Laura Gassner Otting, a Boston-based philanthropic advisor with Limitless Possibility, logs a minimum of 60 flights every year. She advises business travelers to only travel with a carry-on bag whenever possible. 

"If you control your bag, you control your time," says Gassner Otting. You can then save time spent checking and fetching, not to mention avoid costly hassles related to lost luggage.

3. Take the first flight out.

Tom Webster, vice president of strategy and research for Edison Research, logs 97 flights per year. His advice? Always take the first flight out. 

I look at my flight options and then come back to clients with meeting times. This way, I can minimize my travel and ensure that I'm not staying overnight for no real reason.

—Mitch Joel, president, Mirum

"For my frequent trips from BOS to RDU, that amounts to a JetBlue flight at 6:10 a.m. Unthinkable, you might say—but that flight leaves on time, every time," says Webster. "The later the morning gets, the more airports like LAX, EWR and ORD get stacked up, even on sunny days." 

Flight delays can affect everything downstream, from meetings to your mood on arrival. Leave early, arrive on time, save yourself and arrive fresh.

4. Sign up for PreCheck or Global Entry.

Frequent international travelers can save time in customs with Global Entry and frequent domestic travelers can enjoy shorter security lines and less screening rigamarole with TSA PreCheck

Both have application processes and fees but can help save you invaluable time spent in general security lines at airports all over the world. That can translate to having more time you can spend online while at the terminal or in a frequent flyer lounge, which can up productivity levels all around.

5. Be prepared and travel with a power strip.

Airport terminal power outlets are hot commodities. Scott Stratten, a professional keynote speaker based in Canada who logs 125 flights per year, carries a four-outlet power strip with him while traveling. 

"If I find the elusive outlet in the airport and it's being used, I can ask the person if I can plug them into my 4-pronged block," Stratten says. 

And not only will you keep your phone and laptop charged for longer domestic flights without on-board power, you'll help fellow business travelers out with their power needs as well.

6. Book your meetings around flight times.

While many set meetings and then book flights, Mitch Joel, president of marketing agency Mirum out of Quebec, does the opposite. 

"I look at my flight options and then come back to clients with meeting times," says Joel, who  has logged over 100,000 miles in the air per year "This way, I can minimize my travel and ensure that I'm not staying overnight for no real reason." 

This can help avoid the stress of last-flight-out scenarios because a meeting ran long or is scheduled late. You can focus on servicing your client with low-stress travel arrangements instead.

On the Plane

There are as many ways to lose productivity on the plane as there are reasons for flight delays. These suggestions can help you reclaim the time you spend in the air and stay productive throughout your entire flight.

7. Invest in noise-canceling headphones.

Jason A. Miller, global content and social media marketing leader for LinkedIn, logs more than 50 flights per year—and he won't board without a pair of noise-canceling headphones. 

"Being able to block out the world completely at any given time is a necessity when on the road," Miller says. "That, along with a few custom playlists, and I'm always entertained and in a better mood when I get where I'm going. 

Noise-canceling headphones can also help get rid of productivity zappers like chatty seatmates, crying babies and any noise that might be distracting you from finding just the right words for a critical proposal.

8. Make an in-flight list.

Daniel Lemin, who logs about 50 flights per year, prepares a "flight list" before every flight. 

"This is a set of tasks that I'm often not eager to do in real life, but in the confined quietude of an airplane cabin become welcome distractions," Lemin says. "It helps me stay on top of all the annoying little things about running a business."

9. Skip the in-flight Wi-Fi.

Scott Stratten, the road warrior mentioned above, eschews in-flight Wi-Fi and instead, slays his inbox. 

"I find flights are the most productive time for me if I stay off Wi-Fi," says Stratten. "I get through most of my emails that way, without more coming in or the 724 other things that beg for attention online."

At Your Destination

Now that's you've arrived and maximized your travel time, there's no reason to let productivity screech to a halt. These tips can keep you productive during the duration of your business travel.

10. Live in one time zone.

Ian Altman, a sales expert who logs at least 75 flights per year, saves himself the jet lag and sticks to a single time zone: home. 

"For trips in North America less than one week, I just stay on Eastern time," Altman explains. "This means that in California, I might be in bed by 9 p.m. and awake by 4 a.m." Maybe you'll miss out on nightlife, but you probably won't lose valuable productive hours on account of jet lag, either.

11. Tip the hotel staff.

Brad Gosse of stock illustrators purveyor Vectortoons travels frequently for speaking engagements. He's a big fan of taking care of the hotel staff upon arrival. 

"Always tip the hotel front desk people," Gosse says. "It will get you a room upgrade most of the time. If they decline the tip it's because they have no upgrades." 

A better room can mean a better, quieter floor away from the leisure travelers and better amenities (think a soaking tub, in-room sound system, faster Wi-Fi) that can help take care of you when you're working and help you keep from feeling overworked.

Regardless of your favorite ah-ha moments from above, your productivity during business travel should never be in question. Find your hacks, know what works for you and don't be afraid to stay in control of your time both before and during your trip. This way, you can create your perfect productivity system, whether at sea level or 36,000 feet—and have your business follow you wherever the road takes you.

Read more articles on work-life balance.

Photo: Getty Images
Columnist, American Express OPEN