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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 January 13, 2022

How to Use Travel Time Effectively

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How to Use Travel Time Effectively

Most of us associate travel and time with what we’re going to do one we get to our destination. Planning and mapping out what to do once you arrive can certainly make for a more pleasurable vacation, but there are things you can do while you are on your way that can make it even better.

Sure, you can plan for the things you’re going to do on your vacation while you are travelling en route – but what about making use of that time for other things that you don’t usually do when you’re at home? You don’t need to have your gadgets with you to do it, and you can really connect with yourself if you take the time to manage your life while heading towards your vacation destination.

Here are some great tips to help you with your time management while you travel, some of which are more conventional than others. Nonetheless, you can find out what works best for you and apply them accordingly depending on when and how you are travelling.

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1. Take Your Time Getting There

As I write this, I’m on a flight to San Francisco. Flying is the fastest way to get from place to place, and for many people it’s really the only way to travel.

But I’ve often taken the train or ferry on trips so that I have extra time without distraction to get more done. I’m not worrying about navigation or lack of space to do what I want to do. Instead I’m able to focus on getting stuff done during the time I’ve got without feeling rushed. For example, when I took the train from Vancouver to Portland, it was an eight hour trip and I managed to get a ton of writing done and closed a lot of open loops. It also was less expensive than flying, which was a bonus.

Sometimes taking the long way to get somewhere on vacation can be the best thing for you to get somewhere with your life.

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2. Go Gadget-Free

This is going to be a tough one for a lot of you. But why do you need to bring your gadgets with you when you go on vacation? It isn’t be a bad idea to leave all but one of them behind, and only pull out that one when you absolutely need to do so. In some countries, you’d be wise to be discreet with them anyway since flaunting them in front of those that are less fortunate than you isn’t a good practice. While it may not seem like flaunting to you, in different cultures it can definitely come across that way.

If you can’t go gadget-free, then at least go Internet-free. If you use a task management app that requires syncing across your multiple devices to be effective, remember that if you only have the one device with you then it can be the “master device” for the time being and will store your data locally anyway. Just sync up when you get home.

3. Reflect and Prepare

Finally, going on any sort of excursion gives you the perfect opportunity to reflect on where you’ve been. The fact you have removed yourself from where you usually are can give you a perspective that you simply can’t get when you’re at home. You may want to journal your thoughts during this time – and by taking more time to get to your destination you’ll have more time to dig deeper into it.

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After a period of reflection – however long that happens to be – you can then begin to not only prepare for the rest of your travels, you can prepare for the rest of what happens afterward. The reflection period is important, though. You need to really know where you’ve been in order to properly look at where you want to be. Time away from things gives you that chance.

Conclusion

Traveling isn’t always about where you’re going and how quickly you can get there. In fact, it’s rarely about that at all.

More often it’s where you’re at in your head that will dictate how much you benefit from traveling. So don’t just go somewhere fast. Instead, take your time on the way there and take the time to connect with not only where you are but who are while you’re there.

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If you do that, you’ll have a better chance to be who you want to be when you leave.

Featured photo credit: bruce mars via unsplash.com

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