How I Use Airplane Time

When I asked for blog posts at my last Budapest event, one person asked how I spend my time on airplanes. At first I didn’t think I had all that much to say about it, but as I thought about it I realized that airplane time is actually quite critical, especially when you travel a lot and have a lot of airplane time.

My overriding top priority on airplanes is to manage my sleep schedule. If I max out productivity on an airplane but then have jet lag for several days later on, that use of time on the plane was actually a major mistake. So even if I don’t get anything done on a long flight other than adjust my sleep schedule, I’m happy.

If you’ve read my anti-jetlag strategy, you know that the crux of it is to compress all discomfort into the travel day so that I can seamlessly transition between two different time zones. What that means, more often than not, is that I’m exhausted when I get on the plane and my only job is to stay up for a few hours before I go to sleep.

For that reason, I usually watch TV shows or listen to fun podcasts. I tend to hoard shows that I like and save them for flights. That lets me keep more of my productive time when I’m not on airplanes, and then when I’m tired and on a flight, I can use those shows to burn through flight hours.

On shorter flights I usually do crosswords, podcasts, or TV shows until I’m allowed to have my laptop out, and then I just work as much as I can. If I have an empty seat next to me I can be pretty near 100% productivity, but if I’m middle seat with limited elbow room I find that I rarely get meaningful work done.

My favorite work to do on flights is email because it doesn’t require good internet. I can either work offline or I can slowly send emails as I go. Development work can be okay, but usually there’s enough online reference or transferring of files to make it kludgy. Still, it’s better than nothing. I also find airplanes to be good places for planning. There’s something about staring off into the clouds that helps me get perspective and think at a high level.

Sometimes I do really menial tasks like clean up my home directory or organize photos. I see plane time as fairly low quality time, so I can feel okay fitting just about any task into it.

I always bring all of my tea stuff and make tea when I can on longer flights. I love drinking tea and just focusing on the tea can burn 1-2 hours of a flight. I’ll avoid drinking it before the flight so that I can use that time for something else.

In short, make your top priority your sleep schedule. If that’s not an issue, fit in work where you can, allow yourself to catch up on TV shows or podcasts, especially during takeoff and landing, and stay well hydrated.


Photo is Vegas from an airplane last week. People think of Vegas as being only about the strip or a barren desert, but it’s actually quite beautiful in a lot of areas.






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