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The travel list: how to get things done when you’re out of pattern

Oct 26, 2019

karens sketchnotes

I do enjoy travel, and sometimes get a good bit of work done when doing so.

But I used to find there were all these things i wanted to get done…but I wasn’t at my iMac with the nice Yeti microphone and the webcam and the camtasia video editing software and the faster speeds and all my bookmarks working like a charm.

Instead I was sitting on a plane, with no wifi…

…or rushing from one gate to another in an airport…

…or standing at a train platform, with a suitcase and a jacket and a bag and everyone crowding me…

And it made me feel travel was sometimes rather wasted time.

Lately I’m finding it to be one of the most productive times ever, when approached rightly.

Here’s what I do to prepare, so I can actually make a list of things to do whilst traveling – and get them all done!

This process works well for any length of trip – 2 days down to manchester, or three weeks to Atlanta and South Carolina and Phoenix and California….(which I’m on right now! Hello from South Carolina!)

The key is to be realistic about how I’m going to feel. 

How things are going to go – or not go.

I’ll be out of pattern – different cities, restaurant food, lack of sleep or jet lag, delays, back to back meetings or events in person.

I’ve tried being super optimistic and identifying all these amazing things I’ll get done when traveling.

And whilst I love optimism and seek to remain positive, i need to be realistic about what’s going to feel like it matters, and what will suddenly seem less important. 

So here’s what I do before the trip (I start thinking of these a few days before I go):

1. Set aside a day (or half a day) with no meetings, so I can finish things up before going. This is so I can do all the following steps, and it’s literally impossible to do all of this AND have meetings right up to end of day before going.

2. Finish all the outstanding stuff that i definitely need done, but don’t have a specific deadline. The only things that are going to feel important (and therefore get done) when I’m traveling are those that have deadlines, or i know someone else is waiting on me.

3. Finish anything that is much, much easier on a desktop than on an ipad. As much as i love my iPad Pro, there are some things like slide decks and detailed review of PDFs and projects requiring ten browser tabs open at the same time, which are simpler and faster on my iMac.

4. Record any videos I need done. Videos need space, time, and equipment: and short of bringing video equipment with me, when I’m traveling it’s only live videos and short ones on social that i get round to. Maybe some client interviews now and then.

5. Download anything that would take ages to download on poor wifi or mobile data. Sometimes just a few documents or screenshots is all i need to get work actually done…but without it, I can’t even start. A small example is the “Karens notes welcomes” that I sketch out – every one who signs up to these karen’s notes gets a custom welcome sketchnote. I like to personalise them based on brand, so if I have say 15 welcomes to sketch, I’ll grab a quick screenshot of the 15 websites so I’ve got colours and styles to hand and can do the sketches even without wifi.

6. Make a list of content I actually plan to write. Not a vague list of content ideas I’d love to write about if i gave it more thought: but specific topics, with bullet points & concepts already fleshed out.

7. Charge everything, and pack all the bonus chargers. It is extremely frustrating to have four spare hours somewhere (and even some energy and brain power to work on things) and discover you’re at 13%. Or 4%.

8. Bring ONE book I intend to read (and finish). I’ve tried bringing two or three, and all that happens is they stare at my balefully whilst I do other things. But if I bring only one, intend to read it, and have no other option, it’s more likely it gets read. This trip, it’s “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown.

9. Make a list of things I CAN do whilst traveling, and things I MUST do. This is based on deadlines, availability of documents and systems (see points 3 to 5), and expected brain power levels.

I’m learning on the way TO my destination I’ve got lots of energy and enthusiasm for work projects (and content and emails and messages and all).

On the way back, not so much.

I tend to pour myself out in the in person meetings and events, and combine that with travel and inconsistent food and multiple hotels (with iffy sleep).

By the time I get on the train or plane or into the car, I’m out. Nothing feels urgent (because it’s probably not) and I end up reading a fiction book or listening to music, or I faff about on my phone or do little tasks or just stare out the window.

Now that I know that’s my pattern, I plan accordingly, and set my expectations better.

And most times, I get everything on my list done. The better I am at preparing and being realistic, the more likely it is I’ll achieve every item.

Now and then, for some items I’ll realise I was expecting a bit too much from myself, and I leave it until I get back (or decide not to do it at all). And that’s a win too.

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