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How to get more done by pretending you’re on an airplane

I get more work done when I’m flying. It’s as simple as that. I can spend two hours on an airplane and accomplish almost as much as I can in an entire day in my office. What’s that all about? And, more importantly, how can I be that productive even when I’m not on a plane? I’d love to tap into that level of productivity on a regular basis.

So, why do I get more work done when I’m flying? It’s really pretty simple.

1. No internet, no internet, no internet. I have a laptop and a smartphone. So, wherever I am, the internet constantly beckons. Even when I’m not actually on the internet, “I’ll just…” lurks in the back of my mind, draining some small part of my mental focus. If nothing else, I have to assign a few brain cells to guard duty, constantly saying “no” to that ever-present temptation. And, if I give in, say goodbye to at least fifteen minutes. More if you count the time it takes to re-engage whatever I was working on. But, on an airplane, it’s gone. Not just the internet, but even the temptation. (I’m way too cheap to be even slightly tempted to pay for in-flight access.) So, flying equals instant productivity boost.

2. No Email. One of the great benefits of being in an office that uses Outlook for email comes from the fact that I don’t have Outlook installed on my laptop. When I’m away from the office, I need the internet to access my email. So, of course, no internet means no email. And, no email means that I can actually get some other things done. Granted, I’ll have to face those emails eventually. But for now, pure bliss. (I’m sure many love not being able to use their phones. But, I since I rarely use my phone as an actual phone, that’s not much of a benefit for me.)

3. No Drop Ins. Western Seminary is a great place to work. Faculty, staff, and students enjoy spending time together, and faculty always have their office doors open so people can drop in and chat for a bit. It makes for a wonderful work environment. But, it does take a toll on productivity at times. On an airplane, of course, drop ins are a bit more challenging. As long as I don’t end up next to someone who can’t figure out that the laptop, book, and headphones I pulled out of my briefcase when I sat down probably means that I don’t want to chat, I don’t have a problem with social interruptions.

4. Nowhere to Go. Unless you’re more talented than I, you can’t really go anywhere on an airplane. I suppose you might need to visit the bathroom on occasion, but that’s about it. You can’t run errands, go for a walk, visit another office, or frolic in the fountain. (I’ve never actually done that, but it sounds like fun.) You’re stuck. That’s probably not good for too long, but in short doses it’s fabulous.

So, planes are great for productivity. But, that doesn’t really help unless I want to start flying even more than I already do – which would eventually result in me writing a post on “5 Things I Learned about Why Flying All the Time Is Bad for Your Marriage.” The question, then, is how to replicate that kind of productivity when I’m not flying.

To that end, here are four things that I’m going to try implementing in my regular routine.

1. Find my peak productivity place. Other than airplanes, where do I get the most work done? It clearly isn’t my office. And, working from home is nice, but it’s hardly more productive. And, I can’t afford to buy a cabin in the mountains somewhere. So, the next best option for me is a coffee shop. Next to airplanes, coffee shops have long been my second most productive environment. But, now that they all offer free wifi, they’re not as good as they used to be. (BTW – If anyone knows a good coffee shop near Western Seminary that does not have free wifi, let me know.) So, I need to do a few more things to make a coffee shop my perfect productivity place.

2. Turn the wifi off. This isn’t quite as good as not having wifi, but it’s a close second. For some reason, actually turning the wifi off on my laptop removes some (not all) of the temptation. Granted, I can easily reach over and turn it on again, but that extra step is just enough of an obstacle to make me more likely to leave it off. And, the longer it stays off, the more work I get done.

3. Use “airplane mode.” This one’s actually a little harder. I use my cell phone. A lot. I’m one of those people who is constantly fiddling with their smartphone. So, if I’m going to get some good, focused work done, the cell phone must go. I could turn it off completely, but I don’t like waiting for it to start up again. So, “airplane mode” it is.

4. Use a “distraction free” writing program. The first three steps will work just fine if I’m just reading. But, when I want to get some writing (or note-taking) done, I’m going to try something else. Lately I’ve been doing most of my writing in Evernote, and it’s great. But, for maximum productivity, I’m going to try one of the newer “distraction free” writing tools. The idea behind these programs is that they go full screen and prevent anything on the computer from interrupting your writing experience. Once I’ve killed the internet, I’m not sure what else could pop up to distract me, but now that I’ve created a great work environment, I don’t want to take any chances.

So, that’s my grand experiment in increasing my personal productivity. And, so far so good. I wrote the first half of this post on the airplane this morning. And, I finished it this afternoon in a coffee shop using every guideline except the distraction free writing program. (I haven’t decided which one to use yet.) We’ll see if I can manage to make it a regular part of life rather than just an isolated afternoon. If I succeed, I’ll come back and let you know how it went. Stay tuned.

[If you’re interested in this, you may also want to check The 7 Habits of Serious Writers. Scientia et Sapientia is sponsored by the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program at Western Seminary. It’s an open forum, so please feel free to join the discussion.]