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How to work smarter when travelling

Travelling time is valuable time

Working while we are travelling is valuable time for many of us. Often it's a bonus because we can get things done without 'losing' the time, but it comes with its own challenges, one of the main ones being trying to concentrate when the person next to you is crunching on an apple, rustling a crisp packet, or the kids behind are practicing kung-foo on the back of your seat etc.! Here are our tips for getting the best out of travel time if you have work to do.

Be realistic about what you can achieve

Don't try to work in all the travel situations you find yourself in. Work wherever and whenever it is more optimal (i.e. when it's quieter and more comfortable). When it is not, use that as an opportunity to relax and re-charge.

Plan ahead – set yourself a work schedule or task aims for different stages of your journey. Different types of work can suit different environments, for example a busy noisy environment will be more suited to work that needs short bursts of attention (answering short emails and texts) and simpler cognitive activities, whereas calmer environments will be more suitable for more cognitively demanding activities – like complex decision making and tasks that require sustained attention / memory demands like writing a report or proposal.

Optimal comfort = better concentration

A little effort goes a long way - Take the time to try and set up as best you can, with a laptop stand or wedge stand, and an external mouse. A full laptop stand when travelling might seem a bit cumbersome, but a laptop wedge type stand can improve neck posture but will still be inconspicuous.

Who's got your back? Try to only work for prolonged periods when you are in a seat with reasonable back support.

Stretch - work - repeat - Remember to keep relaxing and stretching your back and neck, look up from your screen regularly. Even if you use a laptop wedge or full stand, and you are in a seat with a backrest, your neck posture is still likely to less than optimal, and will deteriorate the longer you work for. Stretching and looking up and away from your work will help delay the on-set of discomfort, which means you will be able to concentrate better, for longer.

Don't get too comfy - Working on sofas etc. might seem comfy and relaxed initially, but being too comfortable won't help your concentration if it means your body is sending cues to your brain saying 'relax - kick back - take it easy!!'.

Cut out the noise

If you are someone who finds 'noises off' breaks your concentration (many of us do, but not everyone), think seriously about using ear-plugs, noise cancelling headphones, or playing familiar music or white noise via headphones. If you are a bit self-conscious about ear plugs which is understandable, the 3M ClearE.A.R plugs are so discrete no-one will notice you wearing them! They can be washed and re-used up to 50 times.

Stay hydrated

Dehydration is a major factor in reducing concentration levels and making us more sensitive to distractions (read 'irritable'!). Drink plenty of water, especially on long flights and in hot environments.

Take mental breaks

Relax your mind even if your body is stuck - You might not be able to move around too much to stretch physically if you're on a plane or train etc. But if you do find your mind wandering, sometimes it is better not to fight it. Give yourself a short pause and let yourself think about other things for a moment or two, then get back to work with a conscious re-focussing. Use these short pauses to rest your eyes as well – look at something in the distance to relax your eye muscles.

What time is it anyway!? Bear in mind when you are travelling abroad, your circadian rhythms will gradually get more out of sync with the time of day. This will affect your ability to concentrate – so although it might be mid-morning where you are, making you think you can do your usual mental gymnastics, your brain might still think it is late evening and just want to go to bed.

Plan to minimise the effects of jet-lag; take flights that arrive late in the day or at night. Also consider changing your phone or watch to destination local time once you take off, and use that as your guide to resting / working.

Summary

Working when travelling provides a great opportunity to double down on our work which if we are covering long distances, can be a real bonus. But it's important to make that time work for you, by making sure you make best use of it so that you can arrive at your meetings and presentations refreshed and focused.