Heidi Nazarudin is a former investment banker and CEO of a Nasdaq-listed tech company. In 2007, she gave up a $500,000 salary to launch The Ambitionista, a lifestyle blog that aims to empower career-oriented women with everything from putting together a chic work wardrobe to networking like a seasoned professional. Here Nazarudin shares her advice on balancing travel and work.
The word travel in English evolved from the French word travailler, which originally meant “to labor or work.” I can’t help but think this a little ironic considering how much traveling some of us do in the name of work. Just last year alone I clocked more than 90,000 miles in the air. In my many hours up in the air I’ve come to realize that knowing how to work efficiently and effectively while constantly traveling is crucial in order to stay organized (and sane). Yes, it’s entirely possible to keep up with a busy travel schedule while still taking care of those tasks inundating your inbox.
Keep reading for some of my tried-and-tested business travel tips to working hassle-free while on the go.
One of my first pieces of advice is to always have two bags ready to go. The first bag should contain enough makeup, toiletries, and other essentials for your average travel period. For most people, this is between three and six days. I found that not having to pack and unpack my toiletries saves me a bundle of time and gives me one less thing to think about. The other bag should store your various electronics—which brings me to my next rule.
Know what gadgets you need for traveling, and always have them at the ready. Here’s what’s always in my bag:
- One or two extra-long USB cables for your smartphone or tablet. One of the worst predicaments to find yourself in is to be at your hotel room unable to work while in bed because your charger won’t reach the wall socket.
- A multi-socket wall adapter that can take both plugs and USB sockets. My favorites are the types that rotate 360 degrees. The only thing worse than having no plug point is having one that you can’t use because your adapter won’t fit in that spot.
- An external battery that can charge for at least half a day’s work. Being prepared is actually half the battle to being productive. If you’re ever stuck in traffic, on a plane, or (especially!) at a restaurant table waiting for a client, you can always work.
- An international wall adapter if you travel overseas frequently.
- I also like to have two desk stands for my smartphone and tablet in the bag. Having three small and medium screens set up (if you count my laptop) makes up for not having my giant desktop screen.
Use an app such as gTasks Pro to make a list of tasks you can do on the go. I have lists like “5 minutes free,” “30 minutes free,” and so on. I list the tasks I can do when I find myself somewhere with five minutes to spare (like standing in line) or 30 minutes (maybe a subway commute) so that I can tackle them when time allows. Work that requires more focus will need more time—and quiet time at that—so always carry headphones. Whenever I have a lag time that is over 30 minutes between meetings, I head to the nearest café, put on my headphones, and listen to Noisli, a free service that creates customized sounds that dampen outside noise, enabling you to concentrate better. Headphones are similarly invaluable on plane flights.
Whichever calendar app you find to be the best, take the time to learn how to use it efficiently. Don’t just put your meetings and flights on your calendar. Use color coding and list the places you’ll be where there are both cellular and WiFi service and where there will be none. This way you can tell at a glance when you’ll have time to do productive work.
Also, be sure to account for travel delays. Novice travelers forget to take into account delays and get stressed out when they can’t complete work they promised co-workers or clients on time. Schedule in buffer time to let yourself catch up.
Make sure your family and work colleagues are aware of your schedule. You don’t have to share exactly what you’re doing, but at least share if you are occupied. I have a color-coding system in my calendar. Red means that I’m completely blocked during that period. Yellow means that I’m doing work but can probably take an important phone or video call. Green means that I scheduled something, but it can be moved to make way for another item. A simple system like this allows others to know when they can get in touch with you, even when you’re unavailable for the next ten hours on a flight.
Keep your travel clothes classic and fuss-free. I try to pack clothes that don’t wrinkle and are versatile. My bag typically contains a pair of black pants, dark blue jeans, two to three blouses and tops, a pair of black heels, and a smart pair of flats. This usually covers any work meeting situation from morning to night. If there is space in your bag, carry a small portable steamer to never be blindsided by creases again. If it’s cold out and you have to wear a coat, make it a classic, tailored piece in a neutral or primary color.
The Boy Scouts’ motto might be “be prepared,” but my motto is “be mentally prepared.” We are all at our most productive when in a regular routine. Travel can knock you off those routines, so prepare for this inevitability. Even while I’m at home in Los Angeles, I always act like I’m commuting. I still use my travel apps and try to do as much work as I can on my iPad Pro so I’m used to the smaller screen.
Last but certainly not least, don’t forget to book some downtime on your calendar. Even if it’s as simple as sipping coffee in a café with a gorgeous view, I find that giving myself just a tiny bit of “me” time while I’m traveling makes me more focused to tackle my hectic schedule. If anyone asks, just say you have a meeting with your most important client—yourself.
Keep reading to learn one editor’s advice on traveling for work in your 20s.
This post was originally published June 14, 2016.