Productivity and Creativity at 30,000 Feet

What does flying in an airplane make possible? I’m about to land in Austin. The flight from Dallas to Austin is just under an hour. In the twenty minutes that we could have our computers out, I wrote this blogpost.

The flight from Nashville to Dallas was about two hours. Just enough time to get some significant work done. Now, granted, I don’t have a lot of real “work” to do. I don’t have an employer and I’m not in business for myself … yet. But, I do have lots of ideas and projects I’d like to complete. There are books I want to read, topics I’d like to study, and blog posts I need to write, just to name a few. The airplane is just the place to get them done.

I’ve known for years that Mike can be incredibly productive on an airplane. A while back, when he was feeling particularly distracted and overwhelmed, I remember him toying with the idea of booking himself a flight to LA and back just so he could get some work done. It’s fun to discover that I can experience that desire, too.

Today, during the first flight from Nashville to Dallas, I read and took notes on Chapter 2 of a book I’m reading. My mind was spinning with ideas stimulated from that chapter. I also jotted down the steps I needed to complete for project I’m undertaking. And I wrote the outline for this blogpost.

Before I landed I asked Mike, who was sitting beside me, and cranking out another one of his killer blog posts, “Why is riding on an airplane so sinkin’ productive?”

We came up with five conditions an airline flight provides which makes it possible to get the most work done in the shortest amount of time. Here’s what they are:

1. You can’t move. Once that seatbelt is fastened, and the flight attendant has the drink cart in the aisle, you are going nowhere.

2. You have very few distractions. After the attendant and the pilot give their little spiels, and unless the person sitting next to you hasn’t gotten the message that you have work to do, there’s nothing to distract you from your task at hand. (A good set of noise-canceling head phones are in my future, just in case.)

3. You can focus. Because your “desk” is teeny tiny, it’s easy to zero-in on one thing at a time.

4. You are enveloped in wonderful white noise. Let’s be honest, there’s no white noise like that of a jet airplane. If it doesn’t put you to sleep, it will most certainly put you into the creative zone.

5. You have a time limit. Once the plane is up in the air, out comes the computer, the book, or the pad of paper. The clock is ticking. I seem to read faster, type faster, and write like there’s no tomorrow when I know the speaker will soon tell me to “put away all electronic devices.”

I’ve got lots I want to learn and much I want to accomplish. Most will be done from my desk or my favorite chair at home. But I have to say, I’m especially excited that I have lots of trips planned for 2012. What will they make possible?

Question: What could your next flight make possible?

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21 Responses to “Productivity and Creativity at 30,000 Feet”

  1. Thanks, Scott. Do it. 🙂

  2. Absolutely. I have often thought of booking a week of random flights around the country. My productivity could be off the charts (and the people watching could make some fantastic blog material).

    Keep the articles coming Gail. Glad you have joined the blogworld.

  3. I was just looking up your blog to link to you from my relaunched blog, and I saw I had missed this post! Truthfully, I struggle with staying awake on airplanes. Something about that white noise just lulls me to sleep. However, when I have a task I MUST do, I’m surprisingly focused. I’m one of those people who seems to attract seat mates who want to talk, so sometimes I just have to close the book and engage in conversation, though. Last week I’m glad I did–a woman was telling me about her grandson who is a veteran and staying with her in Cocoa Beach while he recovers from some PTSD. Her story was touching and I think she just needed to talk.

    Anyhow, that’s fun how you broke down the reasons why air travel is great for getting things done. Bonus if you’re six feet tall like me and you get an exit row!!

  4. Great post. I am not a fan of flying but as long as the flight is smooth I can now do a little reading until I (inevitably due to taking medication…) fall asleep. My best place to work is at the library as others have mentioned, with headphones on and back ground music. At my home office…always a refrigerator nearby (can’t eat or drink in library), laundry to do, calls to take or make, etc. The only distraction I find at my library (which is a beautiful historic building in Concord, MA) are all the books! I have to sit in an area where there is absolutely nothing I would want to read – can be hard to find!

  5. Hi Skip,

    That was so fun to see you on the highway! Crazy. I must say you had a great driver. Thanks for not crashing. 🙂

    Thanks for the comment. I’m ready for another cross-country flight so I can get some work done!

    Mike and I hope to see you sometime very soon.

    All the best,

  6. skipprichard May 5, 2012 at 8:58 am

    (OK, the above anonymous comment was from me. Rookie mistake, but I’m still a rookie! Thanks) Gail, who knows what you accomplished when I saw you sailing down the highway to Leadercast the other day! What I love about this post is that most people find the commercial flight process frustrating and torture. You and Mike find it productive and positive. And that quality is what draws people to you.

  7. Hi Jon,

    I got up this morning and your comment was the first thing I read. I really am LOL!

    I have to say, I’m really proud of you succumbing to at least one of the five. “4. You are enveloped in wonderful white noise. …If it doesn’t put you to sleep, it will most certainly put you into the creative zone.” Not bad. As for the Butterfinger …

  8. I can’t believe the two of you were on that same flight… working away! Getting things done. Somewhere around the time you were wrapping up this post I was suddenly awakened by the drool coming out of the side of my mouth, and a feeling of regret about the Butterfinger I ate during the DFW layover.

  9. You are absolutely right. I didn’t go to college until I was married with children. I can remember being able to get so much done at the library because there wasn’t laundry to do, dishes to wash, etc. etc. I think I had this idea that once my nest was empty, I would be amazingly productive…but I find I’m much more undisciplined about things than I ever have been. Working outside the home 40+ hours a week don’t help, either. Thanks, Gail, for your insights.

  10. An additional consideration is that in a sense your work time is scheduled for you – aside from airline delays, there’s no temptation to procrastinate for “a few minutes” that can sometimes creep in when you are working at home, or even making yourself go to the library/coffee shop. Once you purchase the ticket, you have also purchased yourself an established window of time for your projects.

  11. Let me know what became possible!! I’ll bet it’s a lot? Why? Because YOU FREAKIN’ ROCK!

  12. Ha. Love that!

  13. Great point, Ben! Perfect place for great conversations.

  14. Great question. I think part of the key is getting away. Two places I like to go when I have a deadline to meet or something that just doesn’t seem to get done elsewhere, are the library and a coffee shop.

    1. You’re kind of “stuck” there. You’ve said “No” to every other place.
    2. You’re limited in what you can do. You can only work on what you brought with you.
    3. There is some white noise. Conversations, music, or people just milling around. For whatever reason, it helps me concentrate.

  15. I, too, enjoy meeting people on the plane. Last October met a man who had been support for an Ironman athlete here in Kailua-Kona. It was fun to learn about the race from his point-of-view.

    Met one of my best clients, and a good friend, on a flight from Oakland to Ontario. He was dressed to the nines in his business dress and made it clear he had “work” to do. Then… during the pre-flight conversation he found out the project I was working on. Next thing we knew the plane was landing.

    Interestingly, I had cancelled a dentist appt in Spokane WA when asked to fly into Ontario for a 2 hour meeting then return home. Amazing the magic and miracles that happens when one says “Yes” to Divine Inspiration.

  16. I feel the same way about the bowling alley. My teenaged but drivers license-less son bowls on 3 leagues so I end up spending a LOT of time sitting at the bowling alley. I can get way more done there than I can at my desk. I think it has something to do with the music in the background that you can’t quite hear over the rumbling bowling balls, there’s no point in trying to talk on your phone so that’s not much of a distraction, there’s a waitress to keep my coffee refilled & everyone else makes a wide berth around the crazy woman who’s set up an office in the center of the bowling alley. LOL

  17. What a fun post to read since I’m sitting at the gate waiting to get on a plane to Phoenix. You’ve got me excited about what I get to accomplish on my two hour flight. 🙂

  18. Gail…awesome and timely post. My friend Bobby and I met you and Mike at Rudy’s last night. He flies every week. I’m flying to India in three weeks to do some leadership training for pastors and strategy leaders who are working to reach some unreached people groups. So, I’m going to have A LOT of time on the plan and in airports WAITING. Your post has challenged me to make the most of that time. Thanks!! Hurry back to Texas for some great BBQ!

  19. If you flying because of work commitment, psychologically you are “working” even though you are travelling – whatever time of the day it is. Therefore you may feel compelled to use the time productively. I have found I have used flying time to do things I would otherwise put off back in the office. And because of all the reasons above, yes you get a lot done!

    But my favourite past time flying is chatting to my stranger neighbour. I once chatted non-stop for about 3 or 4 hours or so to the chap sitting next to me as I flew from Europe to the US. It ended up being an in depth chat and he really opened up about his life and the challenges he faced. It is amazing how God gives you these precious times.

  20. Any thoughts about how we could inject those things into life without the expense (and horror for me…I hate to fly) of flying? I’ve been shopping for a desk and after reading this, I may seriously consider a much smaller desk for the very reason it would have to stay uncluttered in order for me to work. Great observations!

  21. Yes! Yes! Yes! When I travel, I always look forward to that time on the plane. For the very reasons you mentioned. As a mother (and now a grandmother), a wife, and a friend, it seems like someone is always asking for my attention. But for a little while…in that high altitude cocoon…I am unreachable…untouchable. It is Sabbath…retreat…rest. And I can pursue a thought…beginning to end…without interruption.

    Great post!

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