One of the biggest perks of a client-facing role -- that you get to travel throughout the year -- can also be its biggest drawback. As enjoyable as it is to grab a meal or coffee with your favorite clients, it can be incredibly stressful at times, too. Meetings take time away from deals you could be closing.
I’m writing this post from the 11th floor of a beautiful Manhattan hotel room, after flying cross-country to meet with four of my biggest clients and one prospect. I’ve been here for a few days, am immensely jet-lagged, and -- quite honestly -- I'm ready to head back home to my San Francisco office. I know that the time I’m spending here is worth it, but there’s always an opportunity cost. (And yes, I’m approximately 48 hours behind on other projects that I need to complete.)
But I understand that productivity is an art that takes practice, and I’m willing to put in the work by iterating upon my travel strategies. I’m continuously looking for ways to be my most productive while traveling. Here are some lessons that I’ve learned from experimenting over my last few sales trips.
1) Always fly wifi-enabled flights.
The last few times I’ve traveled, I’ve opted for less expensive flights -- planes that typically ran internet-free. While I saved $150 on each round-trip ticket, I’ve learned that the opportunity cost simply isn’t worth it. For this trip, I splurged on a more expensive round-trip to fly on Virgin America, which I know has consistent internet. While I was skeptical of whether I would get any meaningful work done, I found myself pleasantly surprised at my productivity.
My flight provided me with five hours of uninterrupted time to focus on emails, spreadsheets, and blogging projects -- I arrived in New York at midnight feeling happy, productive, and ready for my 8 a.m. meeting the next day.
For some companies, $150 is only a marginal expense, so the decision to upgrade is a no-brainer. To me, the decision was a little more difficult because I’m running a startup. I am very careful about how I spend money and ensure that I am always generating an ROI. For this trip, the $150 upgrade was minimal compared to the incremental ROI.
2) Map your meetings ahead of time.
I am a classic, right-brained salesperson who despises planning trips and meetings. I am happiest when meetings and events happen spontaneously -- which is simply impossible when you’re trying to squeeze ten face-to-face meetings into a three-day window. On my last sales trip to New York five months ago, I scheduled 21 meetings into a four-day period and didn't have the foresight to plan where I needed to be. While my meetings went great, I was stressed, and I fell behind on a few important projects.
This time was different. I finalized my meeting schedule one week in advance and mapped every single meeting to my hotel, and to one another. It was smooth sailing. I felt very calm and spent my "free" time (I actually had some because I was more organized) catching up on projects for my customers back home.
3) Get an external phone charger.
One of my biggest lessons learned as a company founder and sales leader is how important it is to stay in touch with my clients. Whenever possible, I try to respond to emails immediately -- as in, absolutely zero delay. It’s an incredibly challenging commitment to uphold because I’m glued to my smartphone, which means the battery drains quickly. I can't tell you how many times I have been stranded in a new city with a dead phone. Every time it happens, I worry about falling out of touch with my customers.
The solution to this pain point is simple and takes the form of an external smartphone charger that costs roughly $30. This simple device has empowered me with more time. I have not once had to worry about losing touch with my customers, and I'm able to stay on top of my emails.
4) Prepare for (and take advantage of) downtime.
When you travel, plans often change. You’ll find yourself with extra time in between meetings -- although you may not want to run back to your hotel room. I always make sure that I am fully up-and-running for these unexpected (yet more than welcome) in-between moments. Here’s how I stay prepared:
- In addition to my main computer, I have a much more lightweight and handbag friendly laptop that I try to keep with me at all times. If, for some reason, I can’t bring a computer where I’m going, I bring my tablet with a keyboard cover.
- Before traveling to a new city, I also research wifi-enabled cafés near my hotel and client offices. I’m always ready to find a comfortable work spot no matter where I am.
- On my next trip, I’ll be experimenting with a wifi card, which will allow me to purchase an internet subscription for my computer. Some cell phone plans also allow for phone-tethering, which can transform a mobile device into an internet-access point.
5) Give yourself a break.
Hard workers often lose sight of the fact that, at the end of the day, 1) we’re human and 2) our customers have been exactly where we are now. It’s okay if you need to take an extra day or so to respond to non-critical emails -- just make sure that your customers know that you’re traveling, and they’ll understand.
Traveling for work is exhausting, but it’s also incredibly rewarding as an opportunity to spend valuable time with your prospects and customers -- individuals who will become your closest allies in business. And remember, even if you’re a little behind because of business travel, you’ll catch up. Take a walk, enjoy the fresh air, and treat yourself to something new.
In your experience, what has helped you optimize your productivity while traveling? You pick #6 for this list -- share your thoughts in the comments section below.