For too many of us, travel time is downtime. All those hours lost to taxi stands, boarding queues, and the occasional bout of sheer inter-time-zone exhaustion really add up over the course of a week. But time on the road presents some great opportunities, too.
Time to Focus
When I'm at the office, I often find myself grumbling under my breath about the myriad interruptions--from meetings to phone calls to "hey-got-a-minute" barge-ins--that break my concentration and keep me from making progress on the stuff that's supposed to fulfill my primary job description. As a manager, I can't reasonably turn away all those interactions; they're an important part of my work. But when I'm on the road, I suddenly have an excuse (it's not even a choice, really) to be out of contact and inaccessible to all those daily distractors.
It's easy to hate on commuter airlines that refuse to offer in-flight Wi-Fi (I'm looking at you, Southwest), but those periods of offline time can be an opportunity if you prepare for them in advance and keep the right tools at hand.
I've long extolled the virtues of cloud computing, but I've also suffered my share of horrendous productivity drops in the absence of a stable Internet connection. So although I love my Gmail, Google Apps, and Remember the Milk online services for day-to-day work when I'm consistently connected, I still value good offline apps for travel days.
People like to complain about Microsoft Outlook, but as a full-featured productivity app, it's hard to beat. And many of the best Web-based productivity services (like RTM and Evernote) offer good plug-ins for it. I also use Google Gears to keep my most essential online tools synced and accessible when I'm away from a connection. Google has abandoned Gears and is no longer developing it, but in most browsers it still works pretty well. I can only hope Google rolls out its HTML5 offline-caching tool soon.
Whatever toolset you use, just make sure you have the essentials--your to-do list, e-mail, and a recently synced documents folder such as Dropbox--accessible when the Internet falls away beneath your feet. Otherwise, you'll be left reading the SkyMall catalog or playing Solitaire for most of the flight.
When I'm on the road, I spend much of my day standing in lines, sitting in cabs, and lounging around lobbies. These are awkward moments, because I often can't really justify booting up the laptop to get to my core apps, so instead I find myself thumbing through email on my phone. Of course, this can be a problem in its own right.
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