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The ‘I was stuck on a plane’ excuse won’t cut it

In early March, I was on the road for work for a week. It was a fairly ordinary work trip, meaning it was actually more like a whirlwind tour. On two of the days I managed to be in three cities each day, and on two other days I hopped to two cities. I went to board meetings and board committee meetings, gave a couple of talks and had some private discussions. I met lots of people along the way and I travelled by car, train, plane, boat and bus (no balloon rides, thank goodness).  

Keeping the itinerary straight can be a challenge, and keeping all the documents and correspondence for each meeting is equally tough. Most importantly, I need to be productive when I’m on the road; deadlines don’t wait for anyone. The work has to get done and the “I was stuck on a plane” excuse won’t cut it.

Staying productive in transit is a bit of an art — it helps to have the right tools and techniques to survive. Here are some of the ways I, and other busy executives, manage life on the road.

Sharing judiciously: I love social media, but I don’t share everything about where I go. Inadvertent oversharing can derail confidential business deals or even compromise personal security. I’ve disabled location settings on my social media and I don’t tweet when I’m going for private meetings. Sometimes I don’t even tweet or update on Facebook or LinkedIn that I’m in a city, as it could risk exposing that I’m there for a private deal or discussion that hints at something confidential. I’ve gone to cities where I have friends and not been able to tell them I’m in town for that reason. 

Meeting on the road: Sometimes meetings have to be grabbed wherever they can. If I’m flying to Rome and I need to meet someone in Munich, I’ll arrange for a quick layover in Munich and we’ll meet at the airport. A couple of months ago, two people I needed to meet were flying around as well, so we all converged at Frankfurt airport, met for a couple of hours and then went our separate ways.

Four cities in five days: The life of a busy executive. (Credit: Lucy Marcus)

Creating a bubble: I travel with noise cancelling ear phones as well as earplugs. Nobody wants to hear that I couldn’t get things done because I had a chatty neighbour or a party outside my hotel room. I’ve got to create a bit of a work bubble wherever I am, and that can take some interesting forms. I can only imagine what the other people in the train lounge thought when I put my coat over my head so I could tape the voiceover for a video that was needed right away. Coat plus mobile phone equals mobile recording studio! The one caveat, of course, is to remember that you are working in public, and as I’ve noted in the past, having loud conversations about deals can be dangerous.

Extension cord: I always pack an extension cord. I once stayed in a hotel where the only place to plug in was the bathroom — not so useful. On most trains there is only one place to plug in per seat, but I’ve got 3 devices that need to be charged. And I always bring a multinational converter for the extension cord.

Everything electronic: I never carry papers if I can help it. I always request that all documents be sent to me via email or links so I can download them. I had several board and committee meetings on my last trip and if I’d actually carried all the papers I was given, I’d have needed another suitcase. Thankfully, one of the big trends in boards is shifting everything to electronic form, so where we used to get all our papers sent to us by overnight post, now getting them electronically is fairly standard. When I can’t get something in electronic format, I take pictures of the documents I care about and store them with my notes from the gathering.  Everything is password protected and I use fingerprint recognition on any device that has it so the documents are secure.

Back-up: The cloud has been a real boon for people who are often on the road. I’m paranoid about losing information, so I use a couple of different backup systems. I use Evernote for taking notes, holding board papers together, drafting my columns — everything goes in there. I use Dropbox for backing up photos and documents, the same for OneDrive, and I even email myself documents sometimes if they are absolutely essential to have at my fingertips.

Making the departure: I once missed a flight because I simply lost track of time while working in an airport lounge.

A familiar sight for board members of global companies. (Credit: Lucy Marcus)

Now I take proactive measures to make sure I make my appointments. In the morning I often set alarms for the whole day that tell me when to leave the hotel, when to walk to the gate, when to leave a meeting so I have plenty of time to make it to the next one. It saves me from constantly looking at my watch or phone (which can be perceived as rude by many people I am with) and worrying about the time.

Lucy Marcus is an award winning writer, board chair and non-executive director of several organisations. She is also the CEO of Marcus Venture Consulting. Don’t miss another Above Board column by subscribing. You can also find more Above Board columns here and follow Lucy on Twitter @lucymarcus.

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