Waiting in an airport security line for an hour and a half is a perfect, albeit unwanted, opportunity to reflect on the trying conditions faced by the modern business traveler. Even if you're a glass-half-full type, thinking of all the work you're not getting done while stuck in line can cause your natural positivity to drain away along with any fluids in excess of 3.4 ounces you'll be forced to discard.
Once you finally emerge from the full body scanner and hurry to the gate, there's an unfortunately high chance that you'll arrive to the news your flight has been delayed or canceled.
Wasted time is the great hidden cost of business travel. By some estimates, flight delays alone cost the U.S. economy $16.7 billion annually in lost passenger time.
Unexpected disruptions aside, every trip is really a sequence of small, unavoidable time sinks: traveling to and from the airport, checking in at the hotel, navigating your way around a new city.
The problem with assigning a dollar value to lost productivity is that travel time is not necessarily wasted time. Thirty years ago a cross-country trip meant losing a full work day. Now it just means working on-the-go.
For better or worse, we live in an era of constant connectivity. More than 90% of the largest airports in the United States offer free or "freemium" internet, while according to a recent analysis from the New York Times, the future of hotel WiFi is looking "freer and faster than ever."
So despite the obvious challenges, being out of the office doesn't have to mean being out of commission. By planning in advance and setting reasonable expectations, you can stay productive during your business trip and avoid returning home to an overflowing to-do list.
Before writing off your time on the road, consider the following:
1. Many people prefer working outside the office
An airport might not be the ideal work environment, but an office isn't necessarily better. One survey found that three quarters of employees who work remotely at least a few times a month report greater productivity off-site. The main reason cited? Fewer interruptions from coworkers.
2. The whole world's your workspace
There are limits to what you can accomplish with a five inch touch screen. When going out-of-pocket won't cut it, you can always head to the local Starbucks, or better yet, find a comfortable place to work using Workfrom, which allows you to search by location, noise level, WiFi signal strength, and access to power outlets.
If you're stuck in the airport, LoungeBuddy lets you purchase day passes for premium lounges that offer reliable internet, phone rooms, and other amenities. On-demand service like Breather and ShareDesk let you search for coworking spaces in your destination, while HotelsByDay is another option for finding a temporary room of your own.
3. Offline time can be the most productive time
There's a silver lining to the persistently woeful state of in-flight connectivity: when you can't access your phone, your email, and social media, you'll be free from some of the top productivity killers identified in a recent survey from CareerBuilder.
The offline productivity boost apparently applies to trains as well. In 2014, Amtrak garnered plenty of attention when it announced a residency program in which writers were given the chance to work on the project of their choice free from distraction in "the unique workspace of a long-distance train."
You're probably not working on a novel, or traveling by long-distance train for that matter. Still, you can take advantage of those times when you're cut off from the outside world.
What the middle seat lacks in comfort, it makes up for as a forced opportunity to do the big-picture tasks that always get pushed to the bottom of a to-do list. Assess your goals, plan a long-term project, or maybe just try to rest for a few hours. The email will be waiting for you when you land.