Traveling on business can evoke a mixed reaction from small business owners. On the one hand, some enjoy escaping from the office, meeting with clients and prospects face-to-face, and getting a fresh perspective. But others view it as physically draining and a hindrance to efficiency that puts them behind schedule upon their return. While there is some truth to all these claims, experienced road warriors have discovered ways to conduct business—often getting more done while they're away—and enjoy their outings at the same time. We asked three experts and frequent travelers for their productivity secrets as they crisscrossed the country.
Stick to routine
Being on the road can provide the time and opportunity to stay in touch with clients and prospects in a variety of ways. "I schedule calls when I'm at the airport and when I get to my hotel," says Neen James, a Doylestown, Pennsylvania-based leadership expert and keynote speaker. "I'll notify clients that I'm traveling so there's an understanding that it might be a little noisy in the background," she says. James also likes to carry stamped stationery and uses her travel time to handwrite thank you notes to business contacts.
At the hotel, James turns her room into an office on the road and sticks to a streamlined schedule: turning the desk into her computer workstation and keeping the TV off. She leverages her time by ordering room service and catching up on "things to review, articles I might be writing, journals to read, presentations—things that need to be done, but aren't urgent."
James insists on making time for exercise, booking hotels with good gyms, asking the concierge for safe tracks nearby to maintain her running regimen, or following an exercise app on her laptop that can be done in her room. "You want to mirror your at-home routines while you're on the road," James says. "So make sure you're relaxing into the evening and not trying to clear emails or having the phone beside your bed constantly messaging."
James devotes the first leg of her travel to the client, reading the extensive file she has put together. But the trip home is for her—whether it's reading for enlightenment or watching an inspiring video—allowing her to develop herself as well as her business.
Set realistic expectations
As with other aspects of travel, using plane time efficiently comes down to personal style. "While we're getting ready to fly, I allow myself a little recreation time and read on my Kindle until whatever service comes through," says Bud Bilanich, a Denver, Colorado-based career mentor and bestselling author. "After that, I've disciplined myself to pull up my computer to work for the next two-thirds of most plane flights. So if I arrive at a hotel in the evening, I'm more likely to order room service and continue working because I have this momentum built up."
Bilanich uses his evenings at the hotel to prepare for client meetings or answer emails, but winds down early to acclimate himself to the new time zone. Traveling means making unavoidable adjustments to regular patterns. For example, Bilanich exercises mid-morning when he's at home, but switches to an early morning workout on the road.
From long experience, Bilanich learned an important lesson about setting realistic expectations for the amount of work he could get done while he was away. "I try to limit myself to a couple of hours of work, either in the morning or in the evening," he says. "I find that if I set a time limit for myself and commit to it, I can get more done because I know exactly what I'm trying to accomplish. The idea of setting that deadline keeps me more focused and I work more diligently than if it were just open-ended."
Some business travelers will break up their schedule into manageable blocks of time tailored to their personality and strengths. "On an airplane, 30 minutes is about my attention span," says Jason Womack, an Ojai, California-based executive coach and author of Your Best Just Got Better. "A flight from Los Angeles to New York is 10 30-minute chunks. I'll actually plan 5 to 7 of them before I take my seat."
Womack devotes his hotel time to four principal areas: consumption and creation of content, exercise, and rest. Like Neen James, he usually refrains from watching television and concentrates instead on reading or working on projects related to business-building or client meetings.
To keep his energy level high, Womack plans 20-minute workouts before he hits the road and has enlisted the help of a trainer who sends him a new set of 20- to 30-minute routines periodically. "If you're not doing 20 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, how on earth are you going to take care of your family, your staff, and your clients?" he says. "You have to take care of yourself first."
To build his business and have fun in new locations at the same time, Womack has a unique way to invite prospects, or anyone interesting for that matter, to socialize with him.
"I started a group called Coffee Chat," Womack explains. "As I travel around the world, I'll pick a morning in a city and say: 'I'm going to be eating breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. at this particular coffee shop. Come on by. I'll get you a copy of the book and we'll have a short conversation.' I can absolutely track back business development ideas, product development ideas, and network ideas based on people I've met along the way. While you're traveling, there's a real temptation to follow the itinerary that was planned and get back home to your family. With two extra hours on the ground, you may just shift how successful your business is 12 months from now. I'm always thinking: in 365 days, who will I be spending time with that will help push my business to that next level?"