One of the most difficult demands on their time that entrepreneurs face is how to balance a busy travel schedule and their workload. Like many entrepreneurs, I travel a lot. Sometimes as often as once a week and at a minimum, I’m in the air at least once a month. As I write this, I’m sitting in my hotel room in Tokyo, where I flew in directly from Las Vegas where I was attending a conference. In two days I’ll be flying to Guam and then Singapore. It will be about a month before I am back home in New York again. With such a demanding travel schedule, I’ve had to work hard on perfecting my systems for productivity and time management while on the road (and in the air). Here are some tips for what I found most productive.
1. Plan Entire Weeks in Advance. If you implement this one system and nothing else, it will save you untold problems, missed deadlines and stress. For every week that you are traveling, plan the entire week ahead on the Sunday before. This means planning your tasks lists for each day of the week (as best as possible barring unforeseen needs that arise), organizing your entire schedule hour by hour for each day of the week and outlining the top priorities that need to be accomplished by both you and your team that entire week. Put it all on paper. This does many things: it saves significant time by getting as much planning done as possible in advance, gives you a mental calm knowing that situations are under control and it makes sure you stay on top of your most important priorities all week amidst the myriad of inevitable distractions that occur while traveling, attending events, holding meetings, etc.
2. Delegate As Much as Possible Before the Week Starts & Set Clear Guidance. Once you’ve planned out every aspect of your entire week in advance on paper, you should have a pretty good idea of what you will need your team to get done over the course of that week. Delegate all of that out to them in a clear and organized before the week begins instead of waiting to delegate it once you actually need it. Send your team their instructions for the entire week on Sunday and you are saving yourself a whole lot of time and energy as well as making it immensely easier for your team to plan out and organize their whole week as well. The second part to this is making sure to set very clear guidance and instructions for whatever you are delegating. Even if you delegate everything on Sunday, if people are having to come back to you 8 times a day on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with questions and clarifications, you aren’t saving any time or energy. Set very precise guidance in advance for each task you delegate and let your team take it from there.
3. Your mornings are most valuable — use them. By far the most valuable time of the day that you will get anything done while traveling is early mornings. And sometimes that even means very early mornings. Whether I am traveling or at home in New York, I wake at 4:30am everyday. So my most productive hours are generally before 9am anyway before the phones start ringing and my staff needs my attention. But especially when I am traveling, 5am-8am are hugely productive and impactful hours for me. When I’m in the zone, I can often complete the equivalent of an entire day’s workload before 8am. So get up early and put in the work. It will make the rest of your day a lot less stressful.
4. Use a To-Do System. When you’re traveling you’ll never be able to complete every single task that needs to be done as soon as it arises. You need to have a very well organized to-do list where you can write down tasks as they arrive and then go back to them later when you have time to complete them. It will also allow you to take the task off your mind and refocus back on what you are presently doing. If you are attending conferences or in transit during the middle of the day when new tasks arise, add them to your list and go back to them during your working time blocks such as early morning or late evening when you are back at your hotel.
5. Utilize Airplane Time. After early mornings, the next most productive blocks of time are when you are on an airplane– the longer the better. Your phone will not be ringing, texts and social media will not be blowing up and you have nothing but solitude to focus on that task you have been putting on the back burner for days because of the day to day fires that need to be put out. Now is especially the time to tackle any tasks that require extensive writing, reading or planning. Some of your best brainstorming and creating can happen while on an airplane. Don’t waste that time watching movies.
What you need to remember most is that business travel is generally chaotic. Even the most seasoned entrepreneurs and CEOs have trouble keeping up while attending conferences and hopping from city to city. It’s difficult work and requires patience, calm and discipline. Don’t fret about what you may be missing. Stay focused on your top priorities, organize your time and take advantage of your quiet hours to get ahead.