Jetting off to a quick, mid-week meeting can be one of the more rewarding experiences as a successful entrepreneur. But that short-hop, overnight to a St. Louis or an Atlanta can also be exhausting.
If you do not have a personal productivity strategy, even a short business trip can leave you buried under unanswered emails and voice messages. That's why you'll definitely want to put these three strategies into place for effectively managing your time, your attention, and of course, your email.
1. Evolve your email
The most daunting challenge of business trips is dealing with the hundreds of email messages that pile up when you're away. The secret is a little process I like to call the "four pass" technique. Whether you've been gone 12 hours or 12 days, you can use this process to significantly cut down on your email processing time:
First pass: Sort by subject, since there will often be an entire conversation containing several or more messages about the same subject. For multiple messages with the same subject line, delete everything but the most recent one, and then (after taking all your “passes”) read that one from the bottom up. This eliminates dozens of messages in just a minute or two.
Second pass: Sort by "from'' to allow you to quickly delete (or file for later) the newsletters, coupons, advertising and any other junk or “robomail.” If you're on Gmail, their primary/social/ promotions folders will take care of this for you.
Third pass: Sort by date received and work from the oldest to the newest. You may usually view your messages from newest to oldest but when you’ve been out, think about who’s been waiting the longest for a reply.
Fourth pass: When processing what's left, resist the urge to “skim and skip.” Actually deal with each message. It won’t get any easier if you leave it there to read again later. It’s inefficient to view the same message over and over because of some psychological “I don’t feel like dealing with that right now” emotion. Most messages aren’t as big a deal as you initially think. Simply delete or respond, even if the response is brief, and experience the freedom of a fully-tackled inbox!
Related: Tame the E-mail Beast
2. Look for mindfulness gaps
A work trip doesn't have to mean working 24/7 while you’re gone. Yet often, after a full day in meetings, we tend to grab a quick bite and head to the hotel room to process emails or work until the late-night hours. Then, you keep squeezing “one more thing” into every spare minute of travel time, returning home bleary-eyed and fried. Sound familiar?
Instead, embrace the built-in downtime of travel. Cab and shuttle rides, waiting to board a flight and layovers are all perfect opportunities to practice habits that recharge you. Let your mind wander, take in your surroundings and experience the world head-up (rather than bent over your mobile device).
My clients often ask if brain games are helpful but research suggests the most productive thing you can do for your brain in 10-30 minutes is to nap or rest. Keep your headphones handy when you travel, and consider my favorite mindfulness app: Buddhify. White-noise apps are useful as well, especially if you have an affinity for certain sounds, like crickets, rain or ocean waves.
3. Tack on a "re-entry day''
Extend your out-of-office message to include both the day before you leave and the day after you get back. That creates a buffer for executing last-minute tasks before you go and ensures you time for email-action-item processing when you return.
During low-energy days, like when you return from a trip, expect the sluggish feeling and plan for it. “Powering through” will likely do more harm than good. When you’re lethargic and fuzzy, you are more likely to make mistakes. You won’t have the brain power needed to deal adequately with issues, which means that your decisions, and your interactions with others, will suffer.
If your office has any “mothers rooms” or other quiet space, take advantage of these rooms to recharge with a quick cat-nap. Just 10 or 15 minutes to close your eyes can make a world of difference to your mental state perspective. Getting your heart rate up is a better and longer-lasting boost than you’ll get from caffeine or sugar.
Schedule no meetings or appointments for your first day back, but do schedule lots of breaks for quiet time or physical activity, even just a walk around the building or up and down the stairs a few times. Studies show that 10 minutes every hour is optimal. While many people feel too busy to do this routinely, it will make a big difference on those low-energy days.
The benefits of quick, mid-week business trips appear when we change our perspective. On your next trip, aim for a different experience with practices that encourage reflection and renewal.