For many small business owners, traveling to meet with clients, attend conferences, or speak at industry gatherings is a necessary aspect of building their companies. But without some smart organizational strategies and tools, time away from the office for business travel can also be a nightmare.
Indeed, sitting in an airport with a dead laptop (and no place to plug in a power cord) can be infuriating. And coming back to the office only to be greeted by scores of unanswered emails means your business travel habits need fine-tuning. To get some tips on how to make your next trip efficient, effective and—dare we say it—enjoyable, we spoke with several road warriors who know what works—and what doesn’t. Read on for some of their best ideas:
1. Use technology smartly
You probably already know that the days of traveling for business without at least a smartphone and laptop are long gone. But it’s not enough to just have those devices. Knowing what tasks to tackle during specific parts of your trip—and what apps and shortcuts make life easier—is the true payoff.
Gary Shouldis, owner of 3Bug Media, a website marketing company based in Toronto, is on the road typically two days a week. One of his favorite tools is Dropbox, the cloud-based file storing service. “Any document I need, whether it’s a text file or an Excel spreadsheet, I have access to, and if I make changes, it will save them to one copy of the document,” he says. So, for instance, if he starts writing a blog post while in the office and finishes while on the plane, all the changes will automatically appear on one copy of the document and sync with whatever device—desktop, laptop, or mobile phone—he’s using to view it.
Evernote, the suite of services and software used for note taking and archiving, is another favorite tool of entrepreneurs on the road. Jason Womack, an executive coach and author of Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More, travels close to 200 days out of the year. He keeps track of ideas, notes, pictures, and business cards with his Evernote app. “I can snap a picture of someone’s business card with my smartphone and send it to my Evernote account and don’t have to worry about losing it,” he says.
2. Tame email
Nothing saps productivity faster than getting interrupted constantly with email. To take care of a whole batch at one time, Shouldis says he’ll compose as many as 20 to 30 emails—responses to those he’s received and new ones he needs to send—when he gets on a plane. “I rarely buy WiFi access while on board, so I just shoot them off when I land and I’m connected to the Internet again,” he says. “It’s a huge time saver and I get more done because I’m not getting interrupted.”
Womack is a big believer in shortcuts—for the keyboard, that is. Since he has less time to respond to emails while on the road, any time saved by tapping out fewer keystrokes is welcome. For instance, on his iPhone he’s created numerous keystroke shortcuts for his mobile number (mo), email address (em), his signature (sig), and even the words “thank you” (tu) to use when he’s composing emails. “If I can type two keys instead of 22 and I multiply that over a year, that’s a lot of time saved,” he says.
Yes, sometimes a mindless movie on the plane or in your hotel room is just what you need to decompress. But for all those other times, why not “read” something that can help you run your business better or understand your industry more fully?
Shouldis says he’s become a fan of audiobooks and frequently uses the Audible.com app to download business books he simply doesn’t have time to read. “I used to just listen to whatever random radio station was on in the city where I was traveling,” he says. “But now I get to educate myself when I’m, say, driving from one client to another.” An older book he recently discovered and found useful: The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz.
4. Try not to be needed so much
Even if you employ every time management trick and tip while traveling, if you come back to the office and the place is in chaos because of your absence, none of that efficiency will really matter.
“If you’re coming back to the office and are buried in emails or things have just ground to a halt, it means you’re doing something wrong,” is the blunt assessment of Jay Goltz, the owner of several small businesses in Chicago and author of The Street-Smart Entrepreneur: 133 Tough Lessons I Learned the Hard Way.
Goltz believes that a critical aspect of productivity on the road is knowing that you have employees back at the office who can—and will—take care of things while you’re away. A staff that is paralyzed to make decisions in your absence or who needs to call you for approval on even minor things means that, “as the boss, you’re sending the message that you don’t trust them,” he says. Instead, Goltz advises business owners to think of time away from the office as a valuable tool to build confidence in your staff—and a way for you to be effective in taking your company to the next level.