Business travel is fun, exhausting, disruptive, exciting, boring, time-consuming, distracting, mind-expanding, enlightening, tiring, and necessary. There are many travel tips, checklists, and articles about how to do business travel. I wish someone had coached me earlier about business travel rhythms because they can make or break you. I’ve made many poor choices in years of business travel – please learn from my mistakes!
You should have three objectives for your business travel:
Be effective in your meetings and presentations.
Be truly with the people you’ve traveled to be with.
Still be effective when you return.
The secret to accomplishing all three is to pay attention to rhythms. Poor choices work against your natural rhythms, and leave you ineffective both during your trip and when you return home. Smart choices maximize your effectiveness and make it easier to successfully transition home.
You have limits. You need sleep, food, and a cadence of work and recovery. You have natural times when you are more alert. There are times when your willpower and self-discipline evaporate. Not everyone is a morning person; not everyone has the same capacity for work without breaks. Be a student of yourself and your patterns. Think about these actions and how to arrange your days and evenings:
Daily morning and evening rituals help you stay grounded even in unfamiliar surroundings. Follow a morning getting ready routine. Text, call, or Skype with your family members on a regular basis. Don’t neglect your spiritual practices. At the close of the day take 2 minutes and reflect on what was good about your day. Exercise your gratitude muscles!
Invest in your body. Get the sleep you need, and a little more. Eat light and smart. Compensate for that big business dinner with small lunches and plenty of water. Keep the temperature in your room cooler, and get fresh air. Walk. Take the stairs. Do a few pushups, planks, jumping jacks, and stretches. Pack healthy snacks if the candy bars call to you from the vending machine. Take vitamins and wash your hands frequently; you’re in new-to-you germ environments.
Decide to be present. It’s painful to half-participate in meetings and half-try to still do your regular job “back home.” No one is fooled. The key is to decide to be fully present with the people that you traveled to be with. Set expectations with yourself and with others about how much work you can do, and when you will do it. Delegate activities or defer them to another time. Your effectiveness in meetings and presentations is proportional to the fullness of your presence.
Guard your mind. Have good materials to feed your mind instead of “junk.” Read a book or trade magazine. Imagine that your spouse is sitting next to you any time you’re on the Internet in your hotel room. Journal about your experiences as a way of learning from them. Here’s a radical suggestion: never turn on the TV. There are far more efficient ways to get the news you need to know. You can entertain yourself efficiently without commercials and channel surfing that wastes your time and dulls your mind. Music is powerful; use a playlist of music that speaks to your best self.
Plan for recovery times. Your gas tank needs frequently refilling. Get moments of solitude so that you can be with people without being exhausted by them. Carve time in the meeting schedule for a quick walk. Consciously insert spaces between meetings, and during travel to/from the hotel. Use travel time for short naps, reading, review, reflection, imagination.
Plan for re-entry. Usually people look forward to returning home after a trip. Instead of playing solitaire on your computer on the way home, write up notes and reports, and finish work. If you can’t finish everything (and you probably won’t, that’s ok) then create a plan for when you stop working, and when you’ll pick it up again. Do everything you can so that when you arrive home you can transition and be home instead of half-thinking about work issues.
Erik Tyler says
Glenn, this one hits close to home. I haven’t done a lot of business travel in my lifetime. But with the recent release of my book, I have started to travel for observations, consultation and workshops.
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to set clear expectations in writing about client expectations and your expectations while away, and then to hold yourself and the client to these. In the case of my most recent trip to Baltimore, I was told that I would “observe a theater event rehearsal and show, and then present four hours of workshops.” Because this was to be workshops based on my observations, I made it clear that I would need the day after the observations and before the workshop to go over my notes, adapt my presentation and make final changes.
To begin with, my flight was six hours delayed; this was not the fault of the client, but it did get me in at 2:30 AM – at which time I was told that the next day’s observations would begin at 8:00 AM (which meant my being up by 6:15). I was also not aware that there would be TWO days of rehearsals – each TWELVE HOURS LONG and each followed by a three- or four-hour performance and then breakdown time (I was observing the state-level predecessor to the Miss America pageant in order to advise the theater and audio-visual company on dealing better with its more challenging clientele).
In addition, I was told that food would be provided during the days and that I would have a gym membership provided to a local gym. As it turned out, “food” turned out to be a bag containing a pack of Oreos, a bag of doritos and a jar of peanut butter with a plastic knife thrown in; and while a gym membership was looked into, there was no time to go with my days planned on site from 8:00AM to midnight.
I was told I’d have a vehicle provided, but instead got a driver from and to the airport, and that was it. And my prep day was eaten up with “just meeting a few guests, which shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours” (they left at 10:00PM the day before the workshops).
Now the workshops themselves went fantastic. Beyond learning how to deal with difficult work situations, the participants had real and personal life change in other areas – which is always my aim. But having gotten only 3 or 4 hours of sleep for four days in a row, and not having eaten well or been able to exercise, suffice it to say that I was exhausted. When I returned, I was not quite right again for about three days.
What I learned is to really set clear expectations, and then hold to them. If a car was promised, insist on a car. Make sure of the daily schedule and itinerary, agree to it – and then kindly refer to it to be sure that everyone sticks with that agreement.
Wish I’d read this BEFORE I left!
Adam Smith says
Great post, Glenn. I love you point of “Be truly with the people you’ve traveled to be with.” Being present is tough on quick trips because your mind can easily be back at home thinking of everything going on.
Erik Tyler says
Great focal point, Adam. Being truly present with whomever is in our “presence” is a rare skill anymore – and thus an opportunity to shine even brighter when we do practice making it priority.