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How to Work Productively on a Plane

Posted By Nicole Avery 25th of August 2017 Be Productive 0 Comments

How to work productively when flying

If I look back at the key products and services I’ve created, they’ve all been influenced by productive groundwork done while travelling. Australia is a long way from most places, so when travelling to places like the USA, there are plenty of hours on the plane that can be filled with deep work.

I realise not everyone will want to spend time working as they travel. But it can be a super effective way to be productive. There are still distractions to deal with, such as meal trolleys and the other people around you. But your commitment and responsibility to them is completely different to those around you at home or in the office. These distractions are much easier to ignore.

But you can’t just hop on the plane and expect to work productively. You need to be prepared, and undertake a little bit of planning before you go.

Here are some steps you can take to give yourself the best chance of making the most of your in-flight time.

Book an aisle seat

Most people have a definite preference for where they want to sit on the plane. But if you want to work on the flight, I find an aisle seat works best. You’ll be awake for long periods, and as you’ll see from points below, being able to move about will be important for staying focused on the task at hand.

Have a plan before you go

A week or so before the flight, plan out the work you’ll do on the plane. Start getting together all the notes, documents and spreadsheets you’ll need to complete the work. Remember, you may not be able to get online.

I’ve found planes to be perfect for both creative and planning work. On flights I’ve completed:

  • Blog content plans. Creating a yearly content plan for your blog takes hours, and being able to focus on it for several hours without interruption has huge benefits. You can take a top-level view of the content over the year, and then narrow down to topics by quarter, month and week. Creating topics is taxing work for the brain, and a natural reaction is to switch to an easier task when you start to run out of ideas. But if you push through the resistance because you’re stuck in your seat, you force your mind to become more creative and think beyond surface-level ideas. And that can help you come up with some very unique and creative blog post ideas.
  • Online course content outlines. Creating an online course can be broken down into many mini projects, including creating the course outline. Working without distractions or the internet means you can’t escape the task by doing more “research”. Chances are you already know everything you need to put the course outline together. You just need to focus and stick with it. And a long plane flight can be perfect for that.

Rest first if you need to

A lot of people wake up early to catch a flight, or stay up late the night before the flight getting everything ready their trip. Either way, you can find yourself sitting in your plane seat feeling very tired.

If you have a long flight ahead of you, take a nap before you start working. It can be tempting to do it the other way round. “I’ll get through the work quickly, and then I can nap as long as I like.”

However, the reality is your productivity decreases in proportion to how tired you are.

Concentration, working memory, mathematical capacity, and logical reasoning are all aspects of cognitive function compromised by sleep deprivation. {source}

You’ll get less work done than you normally would, and the work you do get done probably won’t be  as good. So recharge your batteries before you get started.

Have all the tech gadgets you need

Write a list of all the tech gadgets you’ll need to work productively on the plane. As we tend to be using them until the moment we leave for the airport, it’s easy to leave them behind. Make sure they’re fully charged before you leave, and double check your list to make sure you’ve packed everything, including headphones, battery packs, charger cords, etc.

It’s important to know the battery life of the devices you’ll be using, and what (if any) charging facilities are available on your flight. For instance, while most planes have chargers for phones/tablets on the back of chairs, very few will have a way for you to charge your computer. This information can help you plan out what work you’ll do on what device. For example, I could write a short document on Google Docs offline or a blog post on my phone. But I struggle with anything more detailed than that, and so I  save the battery on the computer for more complicated work.

Go without wifi on the plane

Some flights now offer wifi, either for free or for a fee. I highly recommend not connecting to the wifi. Chances are you’ve created an out of office reply to let people know you won’t be answering your emails. Take this opportunity to disconnect and do some creative/complex work without interruption.

Take breaks

Just as you would when working in your office, make sure you take regular breaks and get out of your seat. I’ve yet to see a plane that lets you work in an ergonomic position, so you need regular movement to offset it, not to mention the potential issues with deep vein thrombosis on long-haul flights.

It may feel a little weird, but you can do some mini exercises at the back of the plane—calf stretches, twists to get some movement in your back and arms, etc. This post lists seven exercises (with pictures) that you can do on a plane. Movement like this will help invigorate you and give you more energy. The break from focusing also gives your brain a rest so you can let it recharge a little before you get back to work.

Load up your devices

Is there an online course you signed up to but are yet to complete? Many courses let you download the materials onto your computer, which means you can finally start the course that will help you in the next step of your business while flying to your destination.

You probably have loads of books and podcasts you want to listen to. Load up your devices in advance, and create a list of what you’ll listen to. Prioritise them according to how they’ll will help you with your blogging goal for the year. And don’t just listen passively. Take notes on what actions you can take once you’re off the plane.

Take along pen and paper

While some of you happily take notes on your device, pen and paper can also be a great option on the plane. You can map out your notes and your next action steps. It’s also useful to have pen and paper in case technology fails you. While it may be a little slower and require typing up later, you can still plan and create on pen and paper if the battery in your computer has run out of charge.

Drink and eat well

To work productively, it’s important to eat and drink well. Skip the free alcohol, and have extra water instead. It’s easy to become dehydrated on long flights, so making sure you drink plenty of water is important. Hence my first point about making sure you get an aisle seat. It gives you easier access to the toilet, which you’ll need when you drink more water :) .

Consider taking some snacks with you on the plane, or even meals. Your brain uses more energy than any other human organ, so it’s important to keep it well fuelled on long-haul flights so you can work as productively as possible.

What other tips would you add to help bloggers work productively on flights?

Photo by Bambi Corro on Unsplash

About Nicole Avery
Nicole Avery is a Melbourne mum to five beautiful kids aged seven to 17. She is the master organiser behind the popular parenting blog Planning With Kids and and the creator of the Planned & Present e-course, a step-by-step guide for mums on how to organise the chaos of family life while still leaving space to enjoy it.
  • PBJ

    I don’t know if I’d skip on the free alcohol but I appreciate all of the points in this post!!

  • Lucas Smith

    These are some great points. I have to admit, during travels, whether by plane or bus, I stare blankly outside the window, thinking about work. I have no idea why this sort of thing didn’t pop into my mind.
    Thank you for sharing Nicole!

  • Subraa PD

    I use my MAC whilst travel and usually read articles [offline] at the Go. Creating estimates and business plans best work during overseas travel with required documents in hand.

  • I have a long flight ahead of me this week. Trouble is though, one of my travelling companions is only three. He’s a great little seasoned traveller, but it makes it hard to get into deep work. I like your suggestions for what to work on. I’ve been thinking about what I can prepeare where I won’t need Wi-Fi.

  • Hey, Thanks for such insight on work productively on plane but have you Any consideration of an offline trello ?

  • That’s interesting, we get a lot time in plane. Using that time productively can make change.

  • Great tips Nicole! This is perfect for bloggers and business owners who are always on the go.

  • Make sure you have headphones – especially noise-blocking headphones if you can. Play some music to block out ambient noise so you can concentrate on your work.

  • viral

    Your take on the subject is wonderful. I agree with your opinion.