Travelling for work might feel like you’re having time out from the office, especially when you build some interesting downtime into your trip, but in reality it can mean work just piles up in your absence. To avoid that first-day-back-500-emails-in-your-inbox misery, here are a few helpful tips on how to manage your workload while on the road – without sacrificing your downtime.
Use a calendar to schedule out your business trip day by day, including the journeys. The meetings and other objectives you’re travelling for need to be prioritised (obviously), but make sure you also diarise downtime and working time. Travel writer Matt Kepnes advises: “Don’t be reactive: be proactive. Through planning, I’ve been able to stay ahead in my work and go offline with ease.” For example, the afternoon following your important morning presentation could be an opportunity for some downtime, then you can pick up work again in the early evening.
Work with your team
Before you go, have a meeting with your team to get updates and to review deadlines of current projects. Decide what can wait until you get back, and delegate what can’t, making sure your team know exactly what they’re doing and how to do it. Using your schedule, let your team know when you will be free to talk to them on the phone and respond to emails, and when you will be completely unavailable. Put a protocol in place in case there’s an emergency or pressing issue while you are ‘unavailable’ – a text message or email flagged ‘URGENT’, perhaps, that you can be alerted to between meetings or activities.
Manage expectations with your Out of Office message
“I made a big mistake in the early days of Out of Office auto-responses by giving out my personal mobile number to call if anybody needed me,” says Tim Wilkinson, a frequent business traveler. “My phone didn’t stop ringing for a week.” Instead, be upfront on your OOO that you are away from the office until a certain date, after which you’ll be able to respond. Give contact details of a colleague who has agreed to field urgent queries in your absence. People will generally leave you alone if they know you’re away, and you can buy time to consider your responses to those who won’t.
Make journeys work for you
Many business travellers use their journey time to get their heads into some productive work: ‘I feel like a three hour flight is a gift of uninterrupted work time’ says Roadwarriorette, a business travel blogger. Some travellers work for three quarters of the journey and switch off for the last quarter to prepare themselves for arrival. The more work you can do en route, the more you can relax when you arrive at your destination and enjoy your downtime. Make sure your tech is fully charged, with spare batteries, and you have portable Wi-Fi so you can even work in the airport lounge rather than wandering around duty free. As your business trip is ending, give yourself a break and relax on the journey back with a box set or good book. Roadwarriorette advises ‘Work on the outbound; relax on the way back. I’ve been doing that forever, and it seems to work for me’.
Maximise your productivity
You may prefer to work in the early evenings after some ‘head together’ time, or first thing in the morning when you’re fresh; schedule to work whichever time you know you are most productive. To minimize ‘catching up time’ back at work, also identify the types of productive work you can easily achieve while you are away: admin, follow-up emails, reading reports or preparing expenses are relatively untaxing but necessary tasks. With these out of the way you are freer to focus on the outcomes of your business trip as soon as you get back into the office.
Include catch up time at home
Even if you travel only from Monday to Thursday, chances are you’ve spent some of the previous weekend preparing and packing, and you’ve been away from your partner or family. Instead of rushing back into the office, take some time at home to reconnect with your loved ones, unpack, get back into a routine and recharge your batteries. “You don’t have to be completely incommunicado” says Tim Wilkinson, “you can check in with your colleagues, hear about what’s happened while you’ve been away. But you do it on your terms, from your sofa. When it’s time to pick up the kids from school you close that laptop.”