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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.)
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.
Featured photo credit: timo_w2s via flickr.com