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.