How to Be Productive at 30,000 Feet

By: Jason Womack, a Special to Overdrive

Over the years I’ve learned a few things about how to be as productive as possible across multiple time zones. When I travel from California to Central Europe, I may find myself meeting with a client in the morning — the equivalent of the middle of the night back home — and it’s up to me to stay sharp and productive. What’s more, “losing” time because of a clock change makes it all the more necessary to be as effective and efficient as possible while I travel.

Here are three ways I cope with the effects of jet lag to stay productive when crossing time zones.

1. Drink less water — more often.
Your body is made up of more than 60 percent water. Because of the dry airplane cabin air, it’s easy to get dehydrated while flying across multiple time zones. To regulate itself appropriately, your body needs enough water throughout the day. For me, dehydration effects include headaches and disrupted sleeping patterns that can last through the next day.

When I say “less water,” I don’t mean in general, I mean all at once. Sip water along the way. I’ve seen too many of my cabin mates go on water binges. They don’t drink water (though they may have a couple of cocktails or glasses of wine), and then at the end of the flight, they chug a bottle of water, hoping it makes up for the hours in the air. But drinking a lot of water at once may make you feel bloated, even tricking your stomach into thinking you’re full, which could interfere with the nutrition you consume that first day of a trip.

I have a goal, no matter the length of the flight: four ounces of water an hour. The more regulated your body is, the easier it will be to handle jumping time zones and being productive while you’re abroad. The secondary benefit of this is that I have to get up to use the restroom during the flight — and stretching your legs is always good.

2. Fly with your own food.
Find me at JFK, and you’ll see I’ve packed the following things in my carry-on: packaged oatmeal, KIND bars, EmergenC powder, a sandwich, a salad, a pack of mixed nuts and two bottles of water. These foods are higher in protein, high in fats, and lower in carbohydrates. These are “brain foods” that are also filling — and taste good. When physical needs are met, we can focus on important things — preparing for an upcoming meeting, or getting a few extra minutes of sleep.

Bringing my own food also reduces the anxiety I used to feel while traveling, “wondering” if I was going to eat right during the flight. The easier I can make it to travel, the easier it is to stay focused on the priority: to get the work done in the city I’m visiting. I also avoid alcohol while flying, and generally don’t drink while traveling. The depressant nature of alcohol combined with an attempt to adjust to a new time zone doesn’t support my ultimate goal: to be focused and productive while abroad.

3. Get there ahead of time.
When I travel from Los Angeles, Calif. to Zurich, Switzerland, I fly out on Sunday morning even though my first meeting isn’t until Tuesday. This way, I land on Monday morning and have a day in Zurich. While it may seem counterintuitive to spend more time in another country than you need, giving yourself an extra day at the start of your trip will help you catch up on email and correspondences that you might otherwise not have time for.

Having that extra day in the city you’re visiting gives you the time to review that important presentation, do some higher-level strategic thinking or even walk around and take-in the place, which can help you be more effective and productive during your visit. I usually start meetings with clients by sharing a story of visiting a local museum or simply walking around their town. Having something in common often helps break the ice faster with those I’m working with abroad.

Long-haul travel is a requirement for many entrepreneurs. If success for your business means you need to be at your best when you arrive in that new city, you need to do what it takes to take care of yourself — physically and mentally — along the way.

Categories: Best Practices FINANCES


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