You know the feeling — the tingling excitement of an upcoming business trip. You may daydream about how productive you’ll be during all that uninterrupted time, naïvely believing that you’ll get double the work done in half the time.
Unfortunately for most people, all that “free time” is merely a pipe dream. In reality, travel is exhausting. A 2012 survey by the Global Business Travel Association revealed that companies have higher productivity expectations from business travelers than ever before. But disrupted sleep, a lack of exercise, poor food choices and unpredictable Internet connections make staying productive no small feat.
Here are six tips for overcoming those challenges and making the most of your business trips:
1. Tick off to-do items before you leave.
Knock out big things such as flights and hotel reservations as soon as you know you’re going on a trip. This will help you get the best deals and save some much-needed money in those early stages of business. Acting early opens up options for flights with fewer layovers, convenient hotels with great amenities and reservations at restaurants you want to try out.
Planning ahead also shows vendors, customers and investors that you’re responsible and organized. When you’re working on a deal, people don’t just pay attention to your product or service. They watch how you operate as a businessperson.
2. Lighten your load.
Flying drains your energy, so try to simplify the journey by packing the right way. To start, don’t check bags unless you have to. Plan your outfits for each day of your trip so you don’t pack excessively.
Reduce your cargo by mailing items such as product samples in advance. They add weight to drag around and often get broken or squished in a suitcase. However, make sure you call the hotel in advance to double-check that it will hold your package.
3. Don’t squander flight time.
One thing you can usually plan for is time on the plane when you’re stuck in your seat. Even if you don’t have an Internet connection, write emails so they’re ready to send, or work on something that’s saved to your desktop. Planes are also great for practicing networking skills, such as initiating conversations, asking questions and listening.
If you’re stuck in the airport, use GateGuru to find restaurants and ATMs by your gate. This way, you don’t have to track down airport maps. If your flight has problems, Waze will calculate the best routes and provide better options.
4. Treat yourself.
Instead of trying to grind through your work around the clock, spend some time recuperating. You don’t want new contacts to remember you for being grouchy. And what’s the point of traveling if you never leave your hotel room? Go sightseeing, or eat at a local café. Personal growth makes you a better leader, and experiencing different cultures expands your mind. Take the opportunity to look at the world from a different angle.
5. Organize as you go.
Business travel can produce an onslaught of new ideas and contacts that are impossible to absorb at once. Organizing this information as you go will ensure you don’t forget it when you get home. A great app for on-the-go organization is Evernote; it will quickly organize new info, sync that info with other devices and share it with your team.
6. Prioritize new connections.
Most business trips provide ample opportunities for networking, so include that in your list of priorities. Before and after meetings, connect with speakers, vendors, investors and trade show contacts via LinkedIn or other networking platforms. Reaching out like this helps turn new connections into new deals.
Make a habit of taking pictures with any new connections you want to do business with. When you follow up after the trip, include the picture to help them remember you.
Business trips are wonderful opportunities to learn and expand your business, but they can’t fuel your fire if you spend the whole trip stressing about basic needs and spotty Internet connections. Plan ahead and focus your goals. This way, you’ll return home energized and excited about new possibilities.