I am incredibly productive on airplanes. I read faster, write more and am more creative. Some of the best ideas for Entrustet have come while I’ve been at 30,000 feet. In early January, I took a flight from San Francisco to Atlanta on my way back to Chile. During that 3.5 hour flight, I wrote my last five blog posts, read all of The Economist’s dense year end review and the last half of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (I don’t get that book at all, but that’s another blog post)
That’s 3,754 words written, 50+ Economist articles and about 250 pages of fiction. It felt great and quality didn’t suffer. Three of my last four blog posts are now in my five most trafficked posts of all time. So first, how did it happen?
I’ve experienced similar spurts of productivity when on airplanes. I’ve been able to attribute it to a few things:
1. You have nowhere to go and nothing to do.
There are no distractions. No trash tv, no twitter, no facebook messages and emails to check. There’s no phone calls and you can’t leave (unless you have a parachute). It’s just you and your thoughts for the duration of the flight.
2. Traveling causes you to think
Getting out of your normal routine changes your perspective, even if you don’t notice it. When you get on that flight, you’re out of your routine. You see things differently. Couple this new perspective with no distractions and you’ll be more productive.
3. You have an uninterrupted, known block of time to work with
You (hopefully) will have a defined block of time during your flight. When you have a definite stop and end time, you’re more likely to get things done, than if you’re just sitting at your desk or in your kitchen trying to get things done.
Once I got back to Santiago, I looked at all of the things I’d done during my 3.5 our flight and was astounded. I’d been meaning to write most of those blog posts, but I would get distracted by tv, sports, friends, email, phone calls, whatever. I could always push it until later. I don’t buy wireless because my productivity is so good without it. I decided I wanted to try to replicate my time on an airplane.
Here’s what I’ve been doing so far:
1. Exercise at a strange time
Go on a walk, take a bike ride, go for a swim. Do something to take your mind off of whatever you’ve been thinking about. I guessed that exercise would replicate travel and getting out of my routine. Even 15 minutes will do.
2. Set a defined block of time and pick a location
After exercising, pick a defined amount of time for your “plane time.” I’ve started with 1 hour. I’ve been going up to our rooftop, but you can go to a coffee shop, a park or anywhere where you you’ll have at least one hour of uninterrupted work time.
3. Turn off your cell phone
Do it. It’s not the end of the world. Better yet, leave it at home.
4. Bring diverse materials
Bring a book, magazine, notebook/pen and your computer. For me, I want to work on whatever I feel like, not something I need to get done. It helps me avoid writers block or decision paralysis. I’ve done this two times now and the first time, I just read for an hour. The second time, I worked almost exclusively on Entrustet.
So far, it seems to be working. In our society, we’re always plugged in and multitasking. It’s been worth it to me to take a step back and just let my mind wander to whatever task it wants to do. Getting out of a routine has been helpful to me to duplicate the productivty gains I’ve experienced on flights.
I’m planning on experimenting to see if I can get closer to my airplane level of productivity and will update as I find out more. Are you more productive on airplanes? Do you try to get out of your routine to work better? Interested in giving my ideas a test flight? Got any tips?
Here’s my tip: don’t write more than 2000 words in a single day unless you are brilliant that day. The writer Steven King writes 2000 words per day, as he recounts in his excellent book, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”.
The whole point of my blog post was to try to figure out ways to make more of my days exceptional. I’m exceptional when I’m writing/thinking/reading on an airplane. How do I trick my mind into being in the zone without spending $300 to fly across a continent?
I completely agree with you. On my last two flights, I got a ton of work done.. applied to multiple jobs, caught up on reading and writing, and did some creative thinking. You’ve got some really good tips about trying to replicate this experience. Another thing I would add is to go somewhere where you have no chance of seeing anyone you know — I think that’s one of the beauties of air travel, for the most part. I’d really like to talk with you and brainstorm more ways to reproduce this type of productivity.
Thanks for commenting and good to hear from you again. I like the addition
of going somewhere where you won’t be tempted to talk to people/know
anyone. Let’s connect when I get back to the US May.