If you're a small business owner, there's not really the option of closing the office when traveling on business. I know this firsthand. As a speaker and trainer on productivity and attention management, I'm on the road a lot. Here are the tools and strategies I've found that keep me calm, comfortable and productive when I'm away from my home base.
1. Tame e-mail
E-mail doesn't stop when you travel, but you can take steps to keep it from using all your energy when you're on the road. Start by setting your out-of-office message for an extra day before and after your trip, to give yourself a buffer. You'll find that you're more likely to be thoughtfully responsive, rather than instinctually reactive, if you know that people will expect your response to be delayed. Turn off push notifications, and decide specific times when you'll check email (for example, during your afternoon break at a conference). This will allow you to be present at your destination, leveraging your time away. Don't schedule any meetings or appointments for the day you get back in the office. This will give you an opportunity to catch up and regain control over the backlog. Finally, setting a plan for how you will catch up on email when you return can help ease the compulsion to stay on top of every single message when you're on the road.
2. Pack smart
Overpacking slows you down, but so does forgetting something essential and making a last-minute shopping trip to hunt down your allergy meds or a new pair of dress shoes. I hate packing, so I use an app called Packing Pro to take some of the sting out of the process. You can use Packing Pro to create and store your own customized packing lists. If you're on the road a lot, keep a toiletry bag packed with all your essentials. This makes for one less packing task.
Efficiency doesn't just come down to what you pack; it's also how you carry it all. One of my absolute favorite travel tools is the EYN Smartphone Case, which keeps my phone, driver's license, cash and credit cards handy. And, since it has a wrist strap, it also keeps my hands free.
I have a few other go-tos that make it easier to navigate airports and hotels: The Bag Bungee keeps a laptop or other smaller items secure on top of your wheeled suitcase. A carabiner or S hook enables you to keep your hands free and clip just about anything (a carry-out bag with your lunch, a travel pillow, another bag, your iPhone holder, etc.) to your suitcase or other bag.
3. Energize your devices
The high-tech tools that enable us to do work and stay connected anywhere can be a great thing -- as long as we keep them all charged up. For those times when you can't get to an outlet, a backup power source is a lifesaver. A USB battery pack can keep you powered and productive when outlets are scarce or non-existent. They're so inexpensive now, no one who is frequently away from a power supply should be without one. A travel power strip can also come in handy.
4. Energize yourself
These days, it's hard to keep working when you drain the batteries of your phones, tablets or laptops, and you can't neglect your own batteries, either. If you have trouble sleeping away from your own bed, give yourself a little help. Noise-canceling headphones or earplugs can make it easier to nod off, especially when combined with an app that plays some white noise that is soothing to you, like crickets or ocean waves. And don't forget to request a quiet room when you make hotel reservations.
Unfortunately, a lot of the food that's most convenient when we travel, from the sugary pastries in the meeting room to the greasy pizza at the airport, aren't the best fuel for taking care of business. Use an app like Yelp to scout out healthier food options near you, or try GateGuru to find better fare at the airport. Staying hydrated also helps keep you at your best. I always travel with a stainless steel water bottle (and a holder) that's easy to fill at the airport. Don't rely on the stingy cup you might be given on board -- if the flight is bumpy, the attendants may have to stay seated. Also, save the alcoholic beverages for the ground. The humidity on planes is already extremely low, and alcoholic beverages dehydrate you, exacerbate jet lag and cause other irritations like dry throat and eyes. Physical discomfort impede your productivity at your destination, minimizing whatever benefits you were expecting from the trip (closing the deal with the prospect, providing great service to the client or absorbing all of the wisdom and networking at the conference.)
And sometimes just the right little luxury gives you a boost. I mix essential oils like lavender (to relax) and peppermint (to energize) with distilled water in travel-sized spritzer bottles.
5. Be tech-smart
While part of my job is helping people avoid all the ways our devices zap our productivity (like constant email and social media alerts), I'm all about the ways they can actually help us be more productive and efficient, including when we travel. The TripIt app is my travel essential. Forward your email confirmations from airlines, hotels and rental car companies to TripIt and it will organize all the information into one easily viewable window. The pro version will also keep an eye on your flight status. Then there's Expensify, the fastest and easiest way to keep track of expenses related to a specific client trip. Need to track your mileage? MileBug creates reports for you with the push of a button.
Sometimes, though, the most efficient thing you can do when you're traveling is to put down your phone or tablet. Instead of automatically reaching for a device when you're in line or waiting for your flight, just let your mind wander. Your brain uses downtime like that to reach insights and epiphanies. Maybe you'll have a breakthrough that transforms your business. What smarter use of your time could there be?