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Flying doesn’t have to be a drag. Airline travel can put the hurt on your wallet and that’s reason enough to hate flying (though there are a few ways you can save money on airline tickets 5 Rules To Finding Cheap Airline Flight Tickets 5 Rules To Finding Cheap Airline Flight Tickets Who says you can’t fly for cheap? Sometimes it comes down to whether or not you click the right links, search the right terms, or pick the right times to search the web. Read More ). Perhaps, the second worst aspect of flying is that you waste so much time checking in, waiting, flying, etc. and end up losing so many hours of your day.

Here at MakeUseOf, we talk a lot about how to be productive — we even have a simple guide for increasing productivity. But a lot of the usual advice gets left in the dust when you’re trapped in the busy bustle of an airport or crammed into the seat of an economy flight.

So the next time you find yourself stuck up in the air and you want to stay as productive as you can, consider these tips.

Prepare Ahead of Time

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“Planning is the key to productivity” are the words I live by when it comes to work. Planning produces a clear roadmap of what you need to do, which means less time spent dilly-dallying and lost in thought. One hour of preparation could result in multiple hours of saved work due to improved efficiency.

So what should you prepare?

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First, charge all of your electronics. Depending on your airport and airplane, you might have access to public outlets that you can use (some are available for free, others will cost you money). However, this is never a guarantee and there’s nothing worse for productivity than having your phone or tablet unexpectedly run out of juice.

Second, plan all of the work you want to do. Be realistic about this. If your flight is three hours long, don’t expect to get three full hours of work between takeoff and landing. Then again, it doesn’t hurt to aim for the stars. Just organize your work into individual tasks (or goals) that you can knock out one by one.

Speaking of goals, there are good goals and bad goals. Good goals will help you stay on track and give you a sense of positive reinforcement that improve workflow. Bad goals are ambiguous, weak, and ultimately confusing. Avoid these goal setting mistakes 5 Critical Mistakes To Avoid When Setting Goals 5 Critical Mistakes To Avoid When Setting Goals Goal setting is a great way to cut down on procrastination and boost productivity. If you don’t have goals, you don’t have direction. Without direction, it’s easy for you to feel lost and confused. Fortunately,... Read More and you’ll be fine.

Third, print anything that can be printed. If you have a few PDFs or DOCs that you plan on reading during your flight, consider printing them out instead. Paper is more versatile than screen estate and you won’t have to worry about running out of power. In fact, printing out documents can extend the duration of your battery.

Don’t Just Wait At the Gate

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For a lot of folks, work-while-flying doesn’t actually begin until they’re seated on the plane and cozy with their tray-on-the-back-of-a-seat workstation. Depending on how early you get to the airport and any hiccups in the flight schedule, you could eke out a good amount of work while waiting at the gate.

Find an outlet and plug in. Again, you might not find any and some airports might charge you to plug in, but it’s a viable choice if battery life is a concern.

Do work that doesn’t require much setup. The ideal work scenario when waiting at the gate (or when waiting in general) is to read. If you have any reports or books that you were planning on reading, you might as well get some of that done now. Anything that requires lots of setup is no good since you’ll be in a rush when your gate opens and might leave something behind.

Wear Noise-Cancelling Headphones

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Unless you’re flying at 3am, there’s a good chance that you’ll be drowning in sound from airport to airport. Not only will you have people talking all around you, but you might find yourself in a seat near the plane’s engine. Not to mention any crying babies or rowdy children.

Noise-cancelling headphones are a godsend. They let you work in peace even in the most annoying environments. Less noise means fewer distractions. Fewer distractions means more concentration. Simple and logical.

Just be sure that you’re actually using noise-cancelling headphones. If your headphones don’t require any batteries and if they can’t be turned on and off, then they aren’t noise-cancelling in the proper sense. Here are some great budget noise-cancelling headphones 3 Affordable Noise-Cancelling Headphones Every Student Should Consider 3 Affordable Noise-Cancelling Headphones Every Student Should Consider Noise-cancelling headphones can be just what you need in a plane to block out that low hum, or provide relief when the exams draw closer. Which should you buy? Here are some great choices. Read More .

Use A Tablet, Not A Laptop

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Space is a premium when flying. I don’t know about you, but I always feel a bit crammed and claustrophobic when traveling through an airport or seated on a plane. It can be hard to work in such conditions, which means you need to optimize the amount of space taken up by your work gear.

Choose a tablet over a laptop. Granted, most people don’t have the privilege of choosing whether they want to bring their tablet or laptop on the plane, but if you’re one of the few who can, always go for the former. Tablets are more portable Which Is Best for Productivity: A High-End Tablet Or a Cheap Laptop? Which Is Best for Productivity: A High-End Tablet Or a Cheap Laptop? How does a cheap laptop compare to an expensive tablet when it comes to actually working on a daily basis? Read More and have longer lasting batteries. And yes, netbooks count as laptops.

Then again, if you can do all of your electronic work on your smartphone, you might as well ditch the tablets and laptops altogether. This is a personal decision, though, and I know many of you would go crazy having to do hours of work on a 4-inch screen.

Doing Nothing Can Be Productive

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Ready for a paradox? Sometimes, trying to be productive is the worst thing for actual productivity. Those of you who make your living as a problem solver (e.g., programmers) already know what I mean. Allow me to explain.

Have you ever had a problem to solve (whether work-related or not) but just couldn’t figure it out? You sit there and think about it for hours and make no progress… and then just as you step into the shower, you’re slammed with an epiphany. It’s interesting how that works.

Well, it applies to work and productivity. If you can’t get any work done on your flight, sometimes the best answer is to accept that for what it is and capitalize on the opportunity in other ways.

Remember, planning is the key to productivity. If you can’t be productive now, then spend the time planning for future productivity. I often do this when I’m taking the train or stuck on a bus — I’ll just sit and use the hour long ride thinking about everything I’m going to do for the week.

It can feel like daydreaming at times. In fact, you might drift off into several daydreams while planning. That’s okay because sometimes the answer is to sit back and relax.

Productivity can be elusive when you’re exhausted. Knowing when to take breaks is a crucial component of maximizing productivity. What better way to spend a six-hour flight than to sleep and reclaim your energy? Or maybe just look out the window and enjoy the view.

If you fly frequently, what tips and tricks do you have up your sleeve to keep up with work and prevent hours of wasted time? Share with us in the comments!

Image Credit: Mike Knell Via Flickr, Batteries Via Shutterstock, Airport Gate Via Shutterstock, Woman Headphones Via Shutterstock, Tablet Via Shutterstock, Sunset Via Shutterstock

  1. tanya
    December 12, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Sorry but this was the most useless article ever.

    • Joel L
      December 13, 2013 at 10:40 pm

      I've written worse!

  2. Matthew H
    December 12, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Shockingly, I find that I'm super productive on planes. You know the Windows XPocalypse article I wrote? Most of that was done on a rather short flight from Liverpool to Belfast. Trains, as well. Whenever I'm on a train that doesn't have WiFi, I find that I get loads done.

    Perhaps it's got something to do with being isolated, and multitasking being harder because you're blocked off from the Internet.

    • Joel L
      December 13, 2013 at 10:41 pm

      Being cut off from the Internet is a big help, yeah. Except on flights that have WiFi... :D

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