8 Tips for Working On the Go (Learned the Hard Way)

As I sit listening to the rain pound on the Denver airport windows, I can’t help but compare my work spaces in the past couple of days. You’ll recall that one week ago I was typing happily in a serene location. Today: not so much.

Working by the stream in Northern California
Working by a scenic stream in northern California, exactly one week ago.

working at the rainy Denver airport
Working at the rainy Denver airport tonight. See the difference?

Instead of sleeping soundly in my bed, I’ll be “bunking” inside the airport terminal in Denver. The stormy local weather has delayed our flight until the early morning. So, with LifeDev to run, an ebook to launch, freelance work to do and Zen Habits to moderate, it appears that ideal work environment or not, I’ll have to rise above the conditions and just do it.

So with all the sappy “I love what I do soooo much that I’ll do it on vacation” out of the way, it seems that I’ll have to put my money where my mouth is.

Am I really that portable? Can I work in awful conditions?

No Bed? No Sleep? No Problem!

Because we’re on the tail end of a vacation to California, I’ve had to really get creative in how I check email, tweets, and do some maintenance work. Sure, the first part of the week made it easy to work, as I was in an uber-scenic outdoorsy setting. But the second half of the trip has proven more challenging. Unexpectedly sleeping on floors at unplanned places (thanks Brett!), impromptu trips on trains and bad flight connections have made this week a living you-know-what in terms of productivity. But thanks to these experiences, I’ve learned a lot about working on the go. (Definitely not as much as other non-conformitive folk, but I’m getting there.)

So here are some ways to bring home the bacon, even when you’re not at home. Whether you’re on vacation, or just trying out working remotely, these are

1. Absolutely only worry about the essentials

If you’re anything like me, you severely overestimate how much you can get done in a given amount of time. When you’re away from the office, you have to only focus on the most crucial tasks that have to get done, and save the other stuff for when you get back. You can futz around on Twitter, IM and other time sinks that you usually can. You’ve only got time for the most important tasks. Who knows how long your Internet connection will last, or how long before your hosts want to hang around the house. Whatever the case may be, you’re limited in how much time you’ve got, and you have to embrace it.

2. Plan on work times, but don’t rely on them

You’ll want to block times that you can actually get stuff done. Duh. But here’s the secret: you can’t rely on always having these times. There are too many variables out of your control when you’re on vacation or out on the road. When the planned work times fall through, don’t sweat it (more helpful tips on this down the page).

Unfortunately, if you’re on vacation like me, that means planning times early in the morning or late at night, as they’re usually the only times you have the most control over.

3. Always take your tools

If you’re a blogger and comfortable with taking a laptop everywhere, do it. No matter what tool you use for the job you have, try to have it with you at all times. You never know when you’ll have a spare moment to tackle a task.

Book readers are notorious for this. They’ll keep their books handy at all times, so that during down times they’re catching a few pages here and there.

Note: It’s important to not focus on the fact that you’ve got “work tools” with you. If you have a tendency to fixate on this, then don’t bring the tools. The more you constantly worry about your work, the more you should probably take a break from it. You’re better off relaxing. Only bring the tools when it makes sense.

4. Get creative with spare moments

I know you all can do this. You have to seize down moments and take advantage of situations. Need to finish that email on the johnny? I won’t judge you. While I don’t subscribe to super-efficient time Nazi ideals, I do think tackling tiny tasks with downtime are important away from the office.

6. Plan for the worst

I don’t think I need to tell any of you about Murphy’s Law. Don’t worry, Murphy is a great traveler.

Today I was lucky that I had my laptop (and charging cable!) as a carry-on. Think about how much time I would have lost had I checked it with the other luggage! So I guess planning for the worst goes hand-in-hand with always having your tools handy.

7. Think about offline solutions

While it appears as though most of the world is becoming connected with wifi, many places still are not. Odds are they’re the places that you’ll need connectivity most. You might download online materials ahead of time, switch to a desktop email client, or figure out a wifi backup. You’ll be glad that you did this ahead of time.

8. Don’t push it

Too often we remote workers try to push the limit when it comes to how much we can work on while away from the office. Sometimes we just need a clean break.

If you’re on vacation, don’t push working. In fact, if you’re too stressed about getting work done while you’re on vacation, you probably shouldn’t leave in the first place. You won’t enjoy yourself because you’ll be a) working all the time or b) stressed because you’re not working. Yuck.

In all things, moderation.

Leave a Comment

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Glen Stansberry June 13, 2009, 7:02 pm

    Ugh! You're right… I think I'll leave it be unless someone makes a bigger stink than you. And yes… I'll blame it on the airport wifi ;)

  • Jimmy June 12, 2009, 3:47 pm

    You missed step 5 Glen. Blame it on the airport wifi ;)

    • Glen Stansberry June 13, 2009, 3:02 pm

      Ugh! You're right… I think I'll leave it be unless someone makes a bigger stink than you. And yes… I'll blame it on the airport wifi ;)

  • NickThacker June 12, 2009, 6:10 am

    Nice post, Glen!

    I was under the same constraints about a week ago–I went for a radio interview in Houston with my business partner, and we decided to treat it as a vacation. We “bunked” in a beautiful house owned by his grandmother, and being able to work late into the night in a mansion was a dramatic shift from my usual apartment…

    During the trip, a client called and need a registration form for her site ASAP. Of course I had to drop everything and get that done. You're right about Murphy's Law…

    Also don't forget about the positive effect NOT working can have on your life when on vacation. When you get back, you're READY to work and produce, and the benefits relaxation can have on relationships isn't to be forgotten, either!

    Thanks, Glen, and keep up the great writing!