Why I dont work on planes, and why I dont think you should either.

“Work, love, and play are the great balance wheels of man’s being.”
– Orison Swett Marden

I’m a big supporter of mindfulness, and treating yourself with the kindness and compassion you deserve, and which we as human beings need. When you go to work I’m sure many of you (like I do) give the metaphorical 110% to make sure that when you get a job done, it is done well… but it shouldn’t be at the cost of your mental well-being.

Some countries and businesses practice 4 day work-weeks to help people maintain a work life balance; others provide longer breaks, mindfulness rooms or meditation sessions (among others). Why do you think they do this? First and foremost, we can trace it back to the old saying “happy workers are productive workers” and assuming we, the employees, don’t get complacent with the benefits / perks our employers provide us, this really rings true and it enables us to do the best work of our lives and feel valued doing so.

I love what I do (notice I didn’t say my job). Having the ability to help people tackle some of the hardest problems they face in day-to-day life is a benefit all in itself, and hearing about your input being revolutionary to someone else just really can’t be beaten. So when I frequently come into the office at 6am to answer a tide of emails or prepare for multiple back to back demonstrations, or when I reply to colleagues in offices across the globe from my phone at gone 9pm at night; I don’t resent that fact… I thrive on it. I feel like I truly make a difference.

But what about when I’m asked to travel for work?

“Chris, can you take the train down to London? There’s an event we’d like you to be at!”

“I need you to fly to LA/Austin in a couple of weeks to help with some inter-office training”

“We’re attending an event in the Netherlands, can you fly out Friday and spend your Saturday on site?”

That’s great – I can’t wait!

But. Travel is work too. It involves taking you out of your routine, away from your family/friends for any length of time and genuinely requires you to be “on”. The whole process is exhausting; waking up early, getting home late, bustling airports, overcrowded train stations, uncomfortable hotels and sitting in traffic for hours on end – does that not sound like work? Especially for those of you (us) who suffer with anxiety in these sorts of situations. Even if you get that time back in lieu, it is time you will never really get back.

When you work whilst you’re travelling you just add stress to your existing stress and double-stress™ yourself – and the effect of stress on our body is well documented and blogged about (see here and here and all the smart people here!) and this creates negative associations and resentment. Resentment kills your passion for the thing you love to do, and turns it into “just work”.

So what do I actually do when I travel instead of pulling out my laptop and replying to someone’s questions about database deployments?

I stop. I relax.

Invest your time in what brings you joy and actually turn something tedious, time-consuming and stuffy into a fun and exciting journey. For many this could be anything from watching a film or reading, to personal development and learning something new, or even just watching the trees go by out of the window (not so easy on a plane but you get my point!) – but it should be something that makes you happy, we can thank Stephen R. Covey for this nugget of wisdom: “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” and this is something we can all stand to be reminded of occasionally.

You don’t need to feel guilt at the thought of not working when travelling, 7/8 hours at work followed by 4, 5, 6+ hours travelling is still at the very least an 11+ hour work day. Ultimately, taking time for yourself is the very least you deserve when you are travelling for your business.

If you’re struggling with this same stress though, you might well take the opportunity to explore what matters in your life and build a happier you. Happiness is a choice we make for ourselves.

So, what’re you going to do on your next business trip?