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10 Tips for Staying Productive on Car Trips

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10 Tips for Staying Productive on Car Trips

Most of the time I work from home, which comes with its own set of distractions and challenges. It also comes with great perks, so I’m happy to work through the difficulties.

Quite often, though, I hop in the car with my husband, who is, I kid you not, a traveling salesman. We wind our way through the exotic hills and byways of rural Missouri and Illinois. He stops and talks to customers. I work, or nap, or pass snacks back to the kids.

Did I mention that we have four kids, aged eight and under, and we bring them with us?

You may not find yourself in exactly our situation (though if you do, I’d really like to meet you) but if you do any traveling by car, these tips for staying productive can apply.

1. Bring your own power

Your back-up battery pack. Your charging cables. Your car charger. And your own wi-fi if possible.

You know something that is not fun? Racing against your computer’s dying battery to finish an article on time. Competition can induce productivity, sure, but this type of work does not usually result in high-quality anything.

Better, far better, to over-prepare for all the device life you need, for phones, iPad, laptop, or anything else you might require for your work. When I travel, I charge and bring a battery pack that I can use on any of my devices, as well as a car charger that lets me plug in two USB cables.

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Wi-fi may not be necessary for you, and there are ways to work around bringing your own wifi with you (see the next point). But even when I follow my own advice in tip #2, I still tend to find little things I’ve forgotten that I can take care of with wifi. And sometimes hotel wireless is slower than molasses on Christmas. Finishing up work at the hotel goes a lot faster when I have a high-speed connection.

2. Separate your work into two categories: “travel-friendly” and “office-friendly”

Of course you can rename the categories whatever you want. The point is that there are some parts of your work that you can easily do in a mobile environment, and there are some that are a hassle without your full office set-up.

Doing online research, pulling source documents, and digging through government or academic archives for the studies I want is a lot easier when I’m in my home office. It’s doable on the road, but slow and frustrating. So I look ahead when I’m about to travel, and spend the day before doing all the research needed. Then I save the documents to my Kindle or tablet and can read at leisure enroute.

Figure out what part of your work can travel well and what can’t. Do the office-friendly work before you leave or schedule it for after you return.

3. Use your headphones

And find your jam. Your work jam, that is. You probably already have a playlist that gets you into work mode. If not, spend a little time putting one together and saving it to your device.

When it’s work time, plug in your headphones and let yourself get into the zone. Having the same “trigger” music helps your brain realize that it’s work time even though you’re in a moving vehicle.

4. Bring healthy snacks and water with you

Road food is not good food. Well, sometimes it’s good, but it’s usually not healthy. What you want when you’re working are healthy, energy-rich snacks that will boost your brain power without putting you into a food coma. Gas station Slurpees and a giant bag of Flamin’ Cheetos do not fall into this category.

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Bring an insulated lunch bag with a couple of bottled waters and some snacks. Maintain your energy by snacking moderately every hour or so and staying hydrated.

5. Take exercise breaks

Any major US highway will have rest areas along it. Most small towns will have a park or two.

And then, no matter where you go, there’s this thing called “Nature.” Maybe you’ve heard of it? Breathtaking, really. Trees, rocks, hills, valleys, grass, sometimes flowers. And this “Nature” thing is ideal for an exercise break.

Fifteen minutes of exercise can boost your brain and energy and help you get focused on work again. When you feel yourself lagging, stop and take a brisk walk, do some jumping jacks, climb a tree, stretch, show off your yoga poses. If you have kids, a game of tag or kickball can do the trick. (P.S. If you’re traveling with kids, a fifteen-minute exercise, um, play break can do wonders for them, too.)

6. Set up your portable office

This could be a bag, a briefcase, a box, or the entire backseat of your car. Whatever works best for you. Put together a pile of the stuff you need for working in the car: all that power-related paraphernalia from tip #1, plus the devices themselves, along with any books, notebooks, and supplies.

Then find a good container for it all; one with compartments is best. If you don’t have a compartmentalized bag or tote, create one by using smaller containers within a larger one.

For example, you can use pencil bags to store charging cables; a travel-sized file box to hold your papers, books, and notebooks; a small tote or zippered bag to hold your supplies.

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This may seem OCD (okay, it is) but having all your work stuff organized and sorted, easy to grab, and easy to put away in the right place will make working in the car a much better experience.

7. Make and follow a plan

When you know you’ll be in the car for six hours, you might think, “Awesome! Think of all the work I can get done in six solid hours!”

Well… maybe.

Most humans can’t work, or at least not very well, for six solid hours without some breaks, some variety, and a good plan to follow. So spend the first fifteen minutes of your trip making a plan. (Or do this before you even leave.) Make a list of the tasks or projects you want to work on. Then decide how much time you want to work on each one. Leave yourself enough time for snacks and exercise breaks.

A breakdown of your six-hour trip might look like this:

  • 15 minutes: make a plan
  • 45 minutes: do Task 17 of Project A
  • 15 minutes: snack break
  • 1 hour: do Task 12 of Project B
  • 15 minutes: exercise break
  • 1.5 hours: tackle Tasks 1 – 3 of New Project
  • 15 minutes: snack break
  • 15 minutes: exercise break
  • 1 hour: follow-up on Finalized Project
  • 15 minutes: snack break
  • 30 minutes: wrap up any unfinished tasks from the day
  • 45 minutes: chill and enjoy the ride

8. Get audiobooks for on-the-go learning

If you’re driving, or if even the thought of looking at your laptop in the car makes you nauseated, no worries. You can still be productive, and I don’t just mean by having another power nap. (Though there’s nothing wrong with those, either.)

Get a subscription to Audible, or visit LibriVox for free audiobooks. Download a few selections before you leave. (Downloading en route will eat up your data usage in a hurry).

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9. Use voice capture for quick and safe note-taking

Listening to all those audiobooks can spark a lot of great ideas. (Yay! Inspiration!) Make it easy and safe to capture those notes by using the voice capture option on your phone. Record notes as you simply speak aloud.

If you’re driving, use one of your exercise breaks to get your voice capture queued up and ready to go, so you’re not fumbling with buttons while you’re operating a moving vehicle. Because you’re not that stupid, right?

Good. I’m on the road out there, too, and I have kids in my car.

10. Set your devices and screens up for work-readiness

This is best done before you leave home. Clear your devices of any battery-draining apps, and clear out or relocate stuff that is taking up all your memory.

Then set up your device screens for work-readiness: Move all of your personal, fun, distracting apps to a difference screen(s). Put shortcuts and widgets for your primary work apps on their own screen(s).

If you have particular apps that are addicting (I’m looking at you, Candy Crush), you might even go so far as to remove them from your devices for the trip.

If you really want to be productive, why make it hard on yourself? Remove the distraction. When you reach your hotel (or whatever), you can download it again and play without guilt, knowing you’ve done a good day’s work.

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Featured photo credit: timo_w2s via flickr.com

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Are You Addicted to Productivity?

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Are You Addicted to Productivity?

“It’s great to be productive. It really is. But sometimes, we chase productivity so much that it makes us, well, unproductive. It’s easy to read a lot about how to be more productive, but don’t forget that you have to make that time up.”

Matt Cutts wrote that back in 2013,[1]

“Today, search for ‘productivity’ and Google will come back with about 663,000,000 results. If you decide to go down this rabbit hole, you’ll be bombarded by a seemingly endless amount of content. I’m talking about books, blogs, videos, apps, podcasts, scientific studies, and subreddits all dedicated to productivity.”

Like so many other people, I’ve also fallen into this trap. For years I’ve been on the lookout for trends and hacks that will help me work faster and more efficiently — and also trends that help me help others to be faster. I’ve experimented with various strategies and tools . And, while some of these strategies and solutions have been extremely useful — without parsing out what you need quickly — it’s counterproductive.

Sometimes you end up spending more time focusing on how to be productive instead of actually being productive.

“The most productive people I know don’t read these books, they don’t watch these videos, they don’t try a new app every month,” James Bedell wrote in a Medium post.[2] “They are far too busy getting things done to read about Getting Things Done.”

This is my mantra:

I proudly say, “I am addicted to productivity — I want to be addicted to productivity — productivity is my life and my mission — and I also want to find the best way to lead others through productivity to their best selves.

But most of the time productivity means putting your head down and working until the job’s done.” –John Rampton

Addiction to Productivity is Real

Dr. Sandra Chapman, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth points out that the brain can get addicted to productivity just as it can to more common sources of addiction, such as drugs, gambling, eating, and shopping.

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“A person might crave the recognition their work gives them or the salary increases they get,” Chapman told the BBC.[3] “The problem is that just like all addictions, over time, a person needs more and more to be satisfied, and then it starts to work against you. Withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, depression, and fear.”

Despite the harmful consequences, addiction is considered by some experts as a brain disease that affects the brain’s reward system and ends in compulsive behavior. Regardless, society tends to reward productivity — or at least to treat it positively. As a result, this makes the problem even worse.

“It’s seen like a good thing: the more you work, the better,” adds Chapman. “Many people don’t realize the harm it causes until a divorce occurs and a family is broken apart, or the toll it takes on mental health.”

Because of the occasional negative issues with productivity, it’s no surprise that it is considered a “mixed-blessing addiction.”

“A workaholic might be earning a lot of money, just as an exercise addict is very fit,” explains Dr. Mark Griffiths, distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “But the thing about any addiction is that in the long run, the detrimental effects outweigh any short-term benefits.”

“There may be an initial period where the individual who is developing a work addiction is more productive than someone who isn’t addicted to work, but it will get to a point when they are no longer productive, and their health and relationships are affected,” Griffiths writes in Psychology Today.[4] “It could be after one year or more, but if the individual doesn’t do anything about it, they could end up having serious health consequences.”

“For instance, I speculated that the consequences of work addiction may be reclassified as something else: If someone ends up dying of a work-related heart attack, it isn’t necessarily seen as having anything to do with an addiction per se – it might be attributed to something like burnout,” he adds.

There Are Three “Distinct Extreme Productivity Types

Cyril Peupion, a Sydney-based productivity expert, has observed extreme productivity among clients at both large and medium-sized companies. “Most people who come to me are high performers and very successful. But often, the word they use to describe their work style is ‘unsustainable,’ and they need help getting it back on track.”

By changing their work habits, Peupion assists teams and individuals improve their performance and ensure that their efforts are aligned with the overarching strategy of the business, rather than focusing on work as a means to an end. He has distinguished three types of extreme productivity in his classification: efficiency obsessive, selfishly productive, and quantity-obsessed.

Efficiency obsessive. “Their desks are super tidy and their pens are probably color-coded. They are the master of ‘inbox zero.’ But they have lost sight of the big picture, and don’t know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.”

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Selfishly productive. “They are so focused on their own world that if they are asked to do something outside of it, they aren’t interested. They do have the big picture in mind, but the picture is too much about them.”

Quantity-obsessed. “They think; ‘The more emails I respond to, the more meetings I attend, the more tasks I do, the higher my performance.’ As a result, they face a real risk of burnout.”

Peupion believes that “quantity obsessed” individuals are the most common type “because there is a pervasive belief that ‘more’ means ‘better’ at work.”

The Warning Signs of Productivity Addiction

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you think you may be succumbing to productivity addiction. After all, most of us aren’t aware of this until it’s too late.

  • Can you tell when you’re “wasting” time? If so, have you ever felt guilty about it?
  • Does technology play a big part in optimizing your time management?
  • Do you talk about how busy you are most of the time? In your opinion, is hustling better than doing less?
  • What is your relationship with your email inbox? Are you constantly checking it or experience phantom notifications?
  • When you only check one item off your list, do you feel guilty?
  • Does stress from work interfere with your sleep?
  • Have you been putting things off, like a vacation or side project, because you’re “too swamped?

The first step toward turning around your productivity obsession is to recognize it. If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then it’s time to make a plan to overcome your addiction to productivity.

Overcoming Your Productivity Addiction

Thankfully, there are ways to curb your productivity addiction. And, here are 9 such ways to achieve that goal.

1. Set Limits

Just because you’re hooked on productivity doesn’t mean you have to completely abstain from it. Instead, you need to establish boundaries.

For example, there are a lot of amazing productivity podcasts out there. But, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them all in the course of a day. Instead, you could listen to one or two podcasts, like The Productivity Podcast or Before Breakfast, during your commute. And, that would be your only time of the day to get your productivity fix.

2. Create a Not-to-Do List

Essentially, the idea of a not-to-do list is to eliminate the need to practice self-discipline. Getting rid of low-value tasks and bad habits will allow you to focus on what you really want to do as opposed to weighing the pros and cons or declining time requests. More importantly, this prevents you from feeling guilty about not crossing everything off an unrealistic to-do list.

3. Be Vulnerable

By this, I mean admitting where you could improve. For example, if you’re new to remote work and are struggling with thi s, you would only focus on topics in this area. Suggestions would be how to create a workspace at home, not getting distracted when the kids aren’t in school, or improving remote communication and collaboration with others.

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4. Understand Why You Procrastinate

Often, we procrastinate to minimize negative emotions like boredom or stress. Other times it could be because it’s a learned trait, underestimating how long it takes you to complete something or having a bias towards a task.

Regardless of the exact reason, we end up doing busy work, scrolling social media, or just watching one more episode of our favorite TV series. And, even though we know that it’s not for the best, we do things that make us feel better than the work we should do to restore our mood.[5]

There are a lot of ways to overcome procrastination. But, the first step is to be aware of it so that you can take action. For example, if you’re dreading a difficult task, don’t just watch Netflix. Instead, procrastinate more efficiently,y like returning a phone call or working on a client pitch.

5. Don’t Be a Copycat

Let’s keep this short and sweet. When you find a productivity app or technique that works for you, stick with it.

That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way or try new tools or hacks. However, the main takeaway should be that just because someone swears by the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you.

6. Say Yes to Less

Across the board, your philosophy should be less is more.

That means only download the apps you actually use and want to keep (after you try them out) and uninstall the ones you don’t use. For example, are you currently reading a book on productivity? Don’t buy your next book until you’ve finished the one you’re currently reading (or permit yourself to toss a book that isn’t doing you any good). — and if you really want to finish a book more quickly, listen to the book on your way to work and back.

Already have plans this weekend? Don’t commit to a birthday party. And, if you’re day is booked, decline that last-minute meeting request.

7. Stop Focusing on What’s Next

“In the age when purchasing a thing from overseas is just one click and talking to another person is one swipe right, acquiring new objects or experiences can be addictive like anything else,” writes Patrick Banks for Lifehack .

“That doesn’t need to be you,” he adds. “You can stop your addition to ‘the next thing’ starting today.” After all, “there will always be this next thing if you don’t make a conscious decision to get your life back together and be the one in charge.”

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  • Think about your current lifestyle and the person you’re at this stage to help you identify what you aren’t satisfied with.
  • By setting clear goals for yourself in the future, you will be able to overcome your addiction.
  • Establish realistic goals.
  • To combat addiction, you must be aware of what is going on around you, as well as inside your head, at any given time.
  • Don’t spend time with people who have unhealthy behaviors.
  • Hold yourself accountable.
  • Keep a journal and write out what you want to overcome.
  • Appreciate no longer being addicted to what’s next.

8. Simplify

Each day, pick one priority task. That’s it. As long as you concentrate on one task at a time, you will be less likely to get distracted or overwhelmed by an endless list of tasks. A simple mantra to live by is: work smarter, not harder.

The same is also accurate with productivity hacks and tools. Bullet journaling is a great example. Unfortunately, for many, a bullet journal is way more time-consuming and overwhelming than a traditional planner.

9. Learn How to Relax

“Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but, banning obsession with productivity is unhealthy,” writes Leo Babauta. “When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax.” Don’t worry about being hyper-efficient. And, don’t beat yourself up about having fun.

“But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever?” he asks. “Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier.”

“And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation,” Leo states. “Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love when you get excited.”

But, how exactly can you relax? Here are some tips from Leo;

  • Spend 5 minutes walking outside and breathe in the fresh air.
  • Give yourself more time to accomplish things. Less rushing means less stress.
  • If you can, get outside after work to enjoy nature.
  • Play like a child. Even better? Play with your kids. And, have fun at work — maybe give gamification a try .
  • Take the day off, rest, and do something non-work-related.
  • Allow yourself an hour of time off. Try not to be productive during that time. Just relax.
  • You should work with someone who is exciting. Make your project exciting.
  • Don’t work in the evenings. Seriously.
  • Visit a massage therapist.
  • Just breathe.

“Step by step, learn to relax,” he suggests. “Learn that productivity isn’t everything.” For that statement, sorry Leo, I say productivity isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.” However, if you can’t cut loose, relax, do fun things, and do the living part of your life — you’ll crack in a big way — you really will.

It’s great to create and push forward — just remember it doesn’t mean that every minute must be spent working or obsessing over productivity issues. Instead, invest your time in meaningful, high-impact work, get into it, focus, put in big time and then relax.

Are You Addicted to Productivity? was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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