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In-Flight Productivity

Ideas for keeping productive while on a plane.

We spend valuable hours on a plane that we’ll never get back. So what are ways we can make the most of these hours so that we feel it was time worth spent?

Here are a few ideas for productive plane time:

  • Read a few magazines that you’ve been collecting at home. Toss the magazines into your laptop bag with the goal of leaving them behind at the end of the flight.

    Scan the pages and read the articles most important to you (you don’t need to read every article). Rip out any articles, recipes, tips, etc. that you want to follow up with later. (I’ve heard of people who have complained about a ‘ripper’ on a plane who was ripping articles out of a newspaper and making too much noise. So I try to consciously rip quietly, but then I’m over it. I’d rather be a mad-ripper than to be a clutter-queen with too many magazines weighing down my bag.) Then hand the magazines over to the flight attendants when you’re finished with them. Chances are the flight attendants will be grateful for something to read or they’ll recycle any magazines they’re not interested in.

  • Write thank you notes or other greeting cards. Finding the time to write a thank-you note after an important meeting, interview or event is a challenge, so do it on the flight home. To keep your writing stable, write a few note cards before take-off and then wait until the plane has reached its maximum altitude to avoid the bumps. Bring along stamps so that the note cards are ready to be mailed once you’re off the plane.
  • Pay bills. Bring along the checkbook and get your bills paid while in-flight. Get the envelopes stamped and ready for mailing. Look for a mail slot in an airport terminal or ask your hotel desk to mail them for you.
  • Write up your to-do list and day-by-day agenda for the upcoming days. I find that my time on a plane is very valuable for giving thought to tasks, business ideas, my schedule, etc. when I am uninterrupted by emails and phone calls. Though I usually end up with more to-do’s than I have time in my life for!
  • Clean up email. If you’re not connected with inflight Wi-Fi, yet can still get into your email (Outlook, Lotus Notes users), then take advantage of the time to respond to emails, clear out the clutter of old unnecessary emails, and send a few quick hellos to contacts you’ve been meaning to keep in touch with. Cleaning up email seems like a never-ending task, so my goal is to always end the day with a few less emails in my inbox that when I started the day.
  • Meditate. We rarely make time to get in touch with our feelings, be relaxed and calm, and be mindful of what our feelings are telling us. Meditation can be extremely powerful in answering our questions and giving us direction. Have some meditative music on your iPod and just let your mind and conscious breathing take over for 20 or 30 minutes. When you rouse yourself, write down any feelings, ideas or other things that came up because these can be very inspiring thoughts.
  • Take a nap. You’re either beginning several days of meetings or conferences or just wrapping up from jam-packed days. Take some time to relax and let your eyes close. I’m usually asleep before the wheels are up, and a 15-minute cat nap does wonders for my productivity.
  • Meet your neighbor. Some of your seatmates may seem like people you’d want to meet, so say hello. If you’re both interested in talking, then relax and enjoy the conversation. I’ve met some amazing people sitting right next to me on the plane and some I’ve done business with. Always have business cards handy if you want to share your contact information.

Obviously you’d need a four hour flight or longer to do all of these things on one flight. Even if you get two or three productive items done while in-flight, you’ll feel a big sense of accomplishment and know that the flight time was time well spent.

I may be one of the crazy ones, but I really look forward to international flights. I have enough to-do’s in my laptop tote, along with my Kindle stocked with great books, my neck pillow for napping, and my iPod loaded up with podcasts and music. I keep myself busy, the flight time goes fast, and I get off the plane feeling wonderful about what I’ve accomplished.

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