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10 tips for remaining productive on a long-haul flight

KRISTIN SAVAGE gives some sage advice to help you get your work done in the oft-uncomfortable confines of a plane.


Working on a plane might not sound like a lot of fun, but it’s oddly satisfying to get through your to-do list whilst flying thousands of miles above the earth. 


Yes, you will have to deal with distractions, but at least they are different to those you face at the office or at home. Some people also find that the change of scenery gets them out of a creative rut.


Here’s your step-by-step guide on how to stay productive:


1. Put together a plan of action before you go

Do not assume that you will have a reliable internet connection for the duration of your flight. It’s best to plan work you can complete offline, such as planning and creativity-based tasks. Make sure you can access all necessary documents and resources offline.

You also need to double-check what facilities you will have on board. For instance, it’s unlikely you will be able to charge your laptop, but charging your phone should pose no problem. Conserve your batteries accordingly. If you can complete a task on your tablet or phone, save your computer’s power for something else. You can also invest in power packs if you absolutely must complete a computer-based task during your trip.



2. Have a nap first before you start work 

You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s best to work first, then rest later. However, you’ll be more productive if you start with some rest and relaxation time. No matter how determined and committed you are, you can’t fight biology. It’s an indisputable fact that we are more productive when we have had enough sleep.


3. Consider disconnecting from Wi-Fi 

Even if you have uninterrupted internet access while traveling, consider turning it off. Set up an autoresponder before you leave home, explaining when you will next be available. Try to see your flight as a rare opportunity to engage with your work without the distraction of emails and instant messages. You’ll also spend less time on social media, which can only boost your productivity.


4. Time your breaks, and stick to them 

Everyone, whether or not they are working on a flight, needs to get up and stretch from time to time. This reduces your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Try to move every hour. Stand up, take a walk up and down the aisle, and perform a few stretches near the back of the plane if possible. You may look a little eccentric, but you’ll feel a lot better for it. 


Breaks are not only good for your body – they also benefit your brain and productivity levels. Research shows that the most productive workers concentrate for an average of 52 minutes, then take 17-minute breaks.



5. Pack a notebook and pen 

Writing is slower than typing, but jotting down your thoughts requires no batteries and can give your eyes a break from the screen. Because it takes more effort to put pen to paper than it does to type, you are more likely to slow down and think about your ideas rather than noting down every single thought that comes into your head. Of course, you can always type them up later.


6. Take your own snacks and drink plenty of water

Even mild dehydration can impair cognitive performance, so keep a bottle of water to hand. Research has shown that insufficient fluid intake impairs working memory and makes you tired. Aim for 2-3 liters every 24 hours. Don’t drink alcohol, and limit caffeine, because both can be dehydrating.

Airplane food varies in quality, so it’s a good idea to take your own snacks if possible. Choose slow-release carbohydrates paired with protein for a long-lasting energy boost that will improve your productivity.


7. Invest in good noise cancelling headphones 

There’s no getting around it – planes are noisy. Even if you are lucky enough to be traveling with quiet, courteous passengers, you’ll still be distracted by the engine. Frequent business travellers should consider investing in headphones that keep the sound of the outside world at bay. They can be expensive, but the right pair are worth it. 



8. Set realistic goals

You probably set goals for yourself at the office or when working from home, and there’s no reason why you can’t do the same when travelling. Take into account how tired or jetlagged you will be, the complexity of your to-do list, andthe facilities available to you.

Break your work down into small chunks and give yourself a reward for each task completed, such as your favorite snack or a magazine from the airport terminal.


9. Address your fears in advance 

If you are a nervous flyer, work can be a great distraction. When you lose yourself in a task, it’s easy to forget that you are in the clouds. However, extreme fear can kill your productivity.

Fortunately, there are now lots of self-help books and apps to help you tolerate – or even enjoy – plane journeys. Give yourself enough time before your trip to find an app that works for you. Choose one you can download and use offline. Meditation and mindfulness apps are particularly effective.


10. Dress for the occasion 

Wearing business clothes can put you in the right frame of mind to work, but if you are taking a long-haul flight, comfort should be your first priority. You won’t be able to focus on a task if you are too hot or cold. 

As a general rule, you should wear two or three loose layers that you can remove quickly and easily. Pack a scarf or lightweight blanket for additional warmth. Scarves can also serve as blankets or pillows. Avoid tight shoes. If you need to meet with clients soon after landing, pack a smart pair of shoes in your hand luggage and change at the airport.



A plane might not be your first choice of working environment, but many people have mastered the art of staying productive even on cramped long-haul flights. Follow these tips and you too can turn an aircraft cabin into a temporary office.


Kristin Savage nourishes, sparks and empowers using the magic of a word. She does her voodoo regularly on the Pick Writers blog and occasionally contributes to other educational platforms. Along with pursuing her degree in Creative Writing, Kristin was gaining experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in marketing strategy for publishers and authors. Now she had found herself as a freelance writer.


Written by: Kristin Savage
Published: 7 November 2018

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