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10 Tips for Staying Productive on Car Trips

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 July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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