I was on travel for a week and a half recently, first in Huntsville, then in another city supporting a space customer. On both trips I brought work with me, though as it turned out, I only ended up doing work on the dedicated space trip. These things happen. Coming back home, however, I was meditating on what keeps me motivated when I’m away from my comfortable and familiar home office. Below are some thoughts for your consideration.
Are You Really Going to Work?
My Huntsville trip was made primarily to give a presentation, but also to get caught up with friends there. However, it was possible that I could get a work request while on travel, so I brought the computers with me.
As it turned out, I got (nearly) zero accomplished. I had too much on my mind and only work that could wait until I got back from the road. Would I have gotten work done if I’d been a little more motivated? Most likely. There’s nothing like a deadline to get me to focus.
I knew how much work I had ahead of me, when it was due, and (most importantly) how long it would take for me to do it. Indeed, I’d made sure that I did as much work for my primary customers before I scheduled the Huntsville trip so I could travel with a clear conscience. The space customer I’d be seeing the following week, and I’d told them I’d be on travel, but last-minute requests were still possible.
However, the circumstances for my travel did not lend themselves well because I was staying with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while. The urge to talk (or play with the dog) overwhelmed my willingness to concentrate on the work. Eventually I just closed the computer and punted on the work. However, on other personal trips, I’ve brought my work with me (and stayed on task) because the work wouldn’t go away just because I was on travel. Deadlines drive my sense of urgency, so I can force myself to focus when I need to. That trip, I just didn’t need to.
Yes, Work is Happening, So How Do You Stay Focused?
The following week, I was on a dedicated business trip, scheduled for the specific purpose of cranking out a variety of tasks on site at the customer’s offices. That meant I set up my computer at a dedicated work spot (an empty desk next to my customer) with not a lot of social distractions planned with human or four-legged friends. Off on my own, away from my usual environment, how did I stay motivated and on task?
Meeting new people
I do socialize on dedicated business trips. Indeed, meeting people face to face is part of the reason I get brought into the office. That requires interacting in a mix of (primarily) business discussions but with just enough social small talk to seem human and to get acquainted with other potentially new customers. Those contacts are helpful and, to some extent, necessary. When I get back home, I will have a broader set of people I can contact if I have a question–people I would most likely never have met through task-related emails or phone calls.
Assuming I’m not on travel for a proposal, where work hours can get rather long, I can work a standard eight-hour day and then head back to my hotel for rest and recuperation (R&R). I try to sleep while there, but assuming I’m not doing a proposal, I still have time to myself. Then what? Odds are, if a company can afford to fly you somewhere else in the country, they are located in a city with attractions worth exploring. At the very least, I can attempt to sample any specialties of the local cuisine. If the place has little to offer in the way of tourism opportunities that interest me, I make sure I have a book or two handy so I can get caught up on my free-time reading.
Concentrating on the work
While playing tourist and meeting new people at the office are fun, they are not the reason I’m sent on travel by a customer. I’m there to work, and so work is what I do. It’s a bit different while I’m on site because instead of emailing or calling subject matter experts (SMEs) when I have a question, I can just walk over to a desk or schedule a meeting. Proposal work, especially, is highly concentrated because I am put in a little room and made to crank out prose until the document is suitable to ship to the issuer of the request for proposal (RFP).
For non-proposal work (reports, editing, etc.), I’m not sequestered with a proposal team, merely occupying a desk. In “open office” environments, which are increasingly common in corporate America, the opportunities for distraction still exist. Conversations happen around me, and people are moving about in my peripheral vision. How to stay focused? Given that I was brought in to work, not to socialize, I simply tune out the chatter. That, and it helps that I love what I do. It’s absorbing.
Also, since I’m there to write/edit, it’s to my advantage that my customer(s) see me doing just that, preferably on time. If I were talking the whole time, they might wonder if I’m getting anything constructive accomplished, right?
Admittedly, it can get lonely or challenging on the road. Your normal support structure (family, friends) isn’t there, and the work infrastructure and environment are not set up the way you normally see them. Still, traveling for work can be a fun part of the job, if only for the opportunity to see new things and meet new people. You also have the opportunity to do a little personal business development by meeting potential new customers. So, yes, you are there to work, but while you’re there, you have the chance to make the trip more than that.