Travelling and productivity

Category: [Corporate rat race]


3min read

Two things I want to talk about here: how travelling affects productivity and how to alleviate some of its effects.

Since October 2016, I have been travelling in out of the Philippines for a data science project. Between October 2016 to February 2017, I made 11 trips to the Philippines, each trip spanning on average about 1 work week.

At first it seems fun; which young professional wouldn’t want to experience a work life of constant flying, staying in 4 or 5 stars hotels while working on interesting projects? I would be lying if I said these didn’t excite me at the start.

But, there is one major downside to all the travelling - the loss of routine and schedule. If you are someone like me who values routine for maximal productivity, then you may not like travelling as much. I recall my most productive times when schooling and working is when I follow the same schedule, week in, week out. With travelling, you are almost guaranteed to lose most, if not all of this scheduling.

Of course on the plus side, you get uninterrupted time on the flight, lest for mealtime and the “please put your seat back up upright sir” from the air stewardess. I usually take this time to read or do some writing or thinking. It does helps, actually, that you have no internet connection.

So, to help mitigate the lowered productivity due to travelling, these are some of the things I do:

  1. Have a business trip packing list. This reduces my mental burden when packing. By referring to the same list whenever I pack, over time I know this list is reliable and has everything I need - which means I can pack mindlessly from then on.

  2. Ensure that I have an aisle seat. As a tall person, I need to have an aisle seat, otherwise it will be an extremely extremely miserable flight. No way I can do any work if I’m not even comfortable. To ensure that I have an aisle seat, I constantly check seats availability online. You can do so for Singapore Airlines even before check-in is open.

  3. Check-in for my flight. This is so that when I get to the airport, I can go straight to the “internet check-in” queue which is a lot faster. This is especially important for MNL-SIN flights because there aren’t any self check-in machines at the Manila airport, and the SIA queues are usually long.

  4. Go to the airport early. Yes early, not “just nice”. This is best for productivity because I can work in both Changi Airport and Ninoy Aquino Airport. More importantly, reaching early means I can break my working time up in larger chunks. Compare this to reaching the airport just 1 or 2 hours prior - you get inside the transit area, grab a bite and try to settle down to work. By the time you unpack your laptop and notebook and truly settle down, its probably time to go to the gate.

  5. Bring a book and a notebook in my carry-on. Needless to say why.

  6. Get to the hotel as quickly as possible after touch down and check-in. If I’m taking the 7pm SIN-MNL flight, I will go to bed immediately so that I can still get up early the following day. If I’m taking an earlier flight, then I can take my time, check-in and spend the rest of the day working on personal stuff. I usually don’t head to the office on the same day of my flight unless there’s an important meeting.