Working Productively While Traveling [Audio]

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Aaron: You’re listening to a podcast from Asian Efficiency. I’m Aaron.

Thanh: And I’m Thanh.

Aaron: And today we’re going to talk about working while you’re traveling.

Thanh: So what do you define traveling [as] Aaron?

Aaron: So I define traveling as anything where you spend more than a day outside your normal working environment, whether that’s your office, or your house, or a cubicle. So for some people, traveling can be a short business trip where you go away for meetings or to meet or to network with contacts, and for others, traveling is something more of a lifestyle where you spend anywhere from a week to many months away, usually in another country, while working online.

Thanh: OK, so there are different lengths of time and that distinction is really important because the more time you spend outside of your own environment, the more adjustments you have to make when you’re working. So, for example, if you’re away less than a day, you probably don’t need as much equipment and tools than when you’re, uh, spending a couple of weeks outside of your own environment.

Aaron: Yeah if you’re away less than a day, all you probably really need is your smartphone or a tablet, and maybe your laptop if you know that you’ll have an uninterrupted period of time to work on documents or to clear emails or something. But even then you can do that on your smartphone pretty easily.

Thanh: Yeah some of the things that I like to do if I’m away less than a day, is to either work on my email, so either respond to emails or clear my inbox, or to do a little bit of reading, catching up on articles either in Instapaper or things that I need to read anyway.

Aaron: Yep. So anything longer than a day we consider a “long trip”. So this is a trip usually to a different city for a conference or for a set of meetings. So the secret with working productively while you’re away on a long trip, is to prepare properly. And that’s to plan in advance what your schedule’s going to be, what equipment you’re going to need, and to answer a couple of important questions.

Thanh: So the first question you want to ask yourself, is how can people reach you, either by phone or through email or Internet access or some other form of access to you. So the first equipment you want to bring with you is your phone, right. So once you have your phone with you, if you go to another country you want to check out if you are able to call people and receive calls when you’re there. So either turn on roaming on your phone, or get a SIM card while you’re in another country.

Aaron: Obviously if you’re making a domestic trip within the US, you can just use your regular cell service. As to whether to get a SIM card or to turn on roaming when you’re going overseas, it really depends on your carrier and how much they charge you. As a general rule, if I am overseas less than a week I usually won’t get another SIM card. If I’m there longer than a week, then it’s usually worth getting a prepaid SIM card.

Thanh: So the next question you want to answer is how will you get Internet access.

Aaron: Yeah, and this usually depends on where you’re going and what part of the world you’re in. So, you want to find out if the hotel or wherever you’re staying has Internet access. Usually either through a plug-in cable for your laptop, or through a wifi network.

Thanh: Whereas if you travel domestically, usually that’s not an issues. Especially if you have a smartphone with data, if you are in an area where they don’t have Internet readily available, you can always tether your phone to your laptop.

Aaron: Yeah. Another alternative is a lot of countries nowadays have wireless dongles, so you can plug it in and access their mobile data network straight on your laptop.

Another question you want to ask yourself, is where do you want to be located in a city. And this is especially important for visiting large cities like for example New York or LA, where the travel time between places is quite considerable. If you’re going for a conference, you want to stay in the same hotel as the conference itself, even if it’s not the nicest hotel available. The reason for this is because you get the convenience of being able to get to sessions and meetings held within the conference very easily, and it usually outweighs the added little bit of luxury that you would get staying in a nicer place.

Thanh: Another thing to add to that is, while you’re staying at the same hotel it’s very easy to get back to your own hotel room, either to take a break or to take a nap or either change or shower and go to the next meeting. So you save a lot of time, but also save a lot of costs in transportation.

Aaron: Yep. If you’re in a city for a set of meetings, a better way to go about it is to look at transportation, so whether that’s public taxis, or whether it’s a subway system, or whether you even just hire a driver for the couple of days that you’re there overseas.

Thanh: An optional thing to look out for is a business center. Now if you have listened to this podcast and you have the right equipment with you, most of the time you won’t need a business center. But the one time you do need it is when you need to print something out. So, if you are staying at a hotel, figure out first if they have the business center that you might have to use.

Aaron: Yeah, and usually at better business hotels, the front desk will be able to manage printing and faxing for you as well, if you just ask them. So when you’re preparing for a long business trip, or a long trip in general, where you know you’re going to be working, you want to bring your main gear with you. So, you want to think about it as having the bare minimum office gear you need to work. So this means your laptop, your smartphone obviously, and usually any papers or contracts that you’re going to need on your meetings.

Thanh: So what are some of the mindsets that are behind working while you’re traveling?

Aaron: So the first one to have is no matter what environment you’re in, you want to stick to your routines as much as possible. So this means that even while you’re traveling, you want to go through your morning ritual as per normal and your evening ritual at the end of the day as per normal.

Thanh: Yeah it’s very easy to get caught up in your environment, and to do things that are normally outside of your routines. So you should try to stick to your own routines as much as possible. Now the second mindset that we want to talk about is that you can get work done even when you’re outside your own environment. And sometimes this can be really hard especially when you go to a different city, or even visiting a different culture, it can get very easy to do things that you’re normally not used to doing and feeling like that you can’t get any work done because you’re not in the right environment. So think of it as the mindset that you can get work done no matter where you are, even if you are in an unknown environment.

Aaron: Another mindset that you want to have, is that just because you’re traveling for work, or even if you’re vacationing overseas but planning to work during that time, just because you’re away from your office, it doesn’t mean that you’re able to procrastinate more or slack off from work more. Now the main reason for this, is because when you’re traveling, if you don’t keep up your work and you don’t remain productive, you’re going to regret it when you get back home, because you’re going to have a giant load of uncompleted tasks that you should have done when you were overseas or traveling, but you didn’t do for whatever reason.

Thanh: Yes, so try and keep up with your tasks and things that you need to do. Because if you don’t, it will eventually catch up with you at some point, and the last thing that you want to do is catch up on those things that you need to do at home, while you just got back from your vacation.

Aaron: Yep, so let’s talk about a couple of the challenges that you usually face when you’re traveling, and how they effect your ability to work. So the first is having lots of interrupted time. Now what we mean by interrupted time, is you might have five minutes spare here before you have to get to somewhere, or maybe ten minutes spare here while you’re waiting in a hotel lobby for someone to arrive. The best thing you can do during those times is some light reading or taking notes, the second best thing is to clear your email if you have Internet access at those points.

Thanh: Yeah another challenge is not having access to the things that you really need, and at different points during your trip. So for example, if you’re traveling a lot for your trip, sometimes you will be in remote areas where you don’t have access to either your cell phone or cell phone reception, or even Internet. So you always want to be careful of how you plan your trips and what you do during those points of your trip. So if you know or if you’re expecting that at certain points of the trip you don’t have access to certain things, try to plan what you can do during those points.

Aaron: Yeah, and remember it never hurts to ask. So for example, if you know that you’re going to need to a printer, scanner, fax machine, just call ahead to your hotel and ask them – do you have these facilities available, if not can you arrange for them for when I’m there.

Thanh: OK, so let’s talk a little bit more about the tools that you really need while you’re abroad and traveling. So we already talked about having a laptop with you. What are some of the accessories that you need?

Aaron: So a short ethernet cable never hurt. You’ll be surprised how many hotels don’t provide you with a ethernet cable for your laptop but will provide you with a dataport. Your charger is obviously an essential tool. A laptop lock is also very useful if you want to keep your computer open and at the desk rather than having to lock it away in a safe every single time.

Thanh: So we already discussed the smartphone. Now the great thing about having a smartphone is that while you’re traveling, you can have many more features that you normally don’t use. So for example if you have a smartphone that has a capability to take pictures, your smartphone then can become a scanner while you’re traveling. So it can be used as a tool to scan your documents. And we’ve written about this a lot in the article about going paperless with Evernote and your iPhone – just to show you one way to use it. Another thing that you can use a smartphone for, is that it can become a fax machine for you. And I know Aaron, you use this tool called PamFax?

Aaron: Yeah, it’s essentially a software application that works with Skype and lets you send faxes to anywhere in the world from your computer.

Thanh: Now another thing that you need for your smartphone is a SIM card, especially if you go to different countries. So, keep in mind that if you are going to be in another country for a long period of time, like Aaron just said, get a SIM card, it will be worthwhile for your costs. Now, it’s a good idea to keep all your SIM cards, just because as soon as you arrive at your destination, you can easily swap out your SIM cards and be contacted right away and call people if you need to. Another great thing is if you have a smartphone, you can just tethered Internet access. So if you are in an area where you need Internet access but it’s not available for your laptop, you can use the data on your phone to access the Internet.

Aaron: Yep. Now having a tablet device, whether that’s a Galaxy Tab or an iPad, is actually pretty cool for traveling, because you can use it in all those places where you don’t have Internet access, but you still want to be productive. So for example, if you’ve downloaded emails in advance you can clear them on your tablet while waiting at the airport, or you can use it to read ebooks, or even to take notes, or to write short documents while you’re waiting.

Thanh: Yeah it’s kind of like, a tablet is somewhere in-between a smartphone and a laptop. Like, most tablets now have all the features of a smartphone, but not all the features of a laptop. So, if you know that you don’t really need your laptop but you still want to be productive in some ways, then having a tablet with you is a really good idea.

Aaron: Now when you’re at your actual hotel, or wherever you’re traveling, at some point you’re probably going to need to hold a business meeting or to meet with people of sorts. Now in a pinch, the hotel lobby, or a bar in the hotel is usually a great place to hold impromptu meetings, if necessary, especially if the hotel doesn’t have a business center or meeting rooms available for booking. Worst-case scenario you can always hold them in your hotel room, though depending on your room it could get a little bit crowded.

So let’s talk a little bit about the systems and structures behind working while traveling. So one of our friends, Dr Vince Wong, has a rule where he sets aside three to four hours everyday while he’s traveling to work. And this is time that he sets aside and no-one’s allowed to interrupt him. And this usually only really applies if you’re traveling for more than a week, usually overseas, and somewhere that you’d be tempted to do other activities, whether it’s surfing or sightseeing or going shopping or something; you want to have the mindset that you want to have this three to four hours of inviolable time, where no-one is allowed to interrupt you.

Thanh: Now from our experience the best time to slot that in into your day is either somewhere in the morning, right after you wake up, or really late at night. For me, personally, I like in the mornings, just because I’m a morning person, but also a lot of the time I have social obligations at night, so it’s very hard to do those time slots there. So figure out what time of the day works best for you, and once you do know that, isolate yourself, completely, and work as much as you can.

Aaron: Yep. And also having isolation earphones or noise canceling headphones really help here, because you can “plug in” and concentrate on your work for those three or four hours, get all of it done and go about the rest of your day.

Now if you’re traveling with friends or other people, it also helps to coordinate with them and plan what time you’re going to block out to work and what time you’re going to leave to do other things while you’re traveling.

So this has been a podcast from Asian Efficiency about working productively while traveling, and we’ll talk to you guys next time.

(Image copyright Asian Efficiency.)

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I'm originally from Australia, but have lived all over the world for the past 5 years. I love taking things apart and putting them back together, and one of those things is the idea of human performance and how far we can push the limits of what is possible. Most seemingly "impossible" problems are solved by a solution at a higher logical level, or by borrowing a framework from a different discipline. What I write about comes from hearing about something and then trying it out in my own life, often with surprising results. I hope you get a lot out of it and feel free to get in touch with me anytime!

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