Author of the New York Times Bestseller, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. If you’re like most of my readers, you’re already a high-achieving leader. You’re committed to making big contributions at work—and seeing big results.
Celebration may cost a bit of time and money, but it is well worth it. If you invest the effort in celebrating with your team, that effort will be more than repaid in improved morale and increased productivity. In this episode, we’re going to explore the who, what, when, where, why, and how of celebrating—especially with your team.
While Michael and Megan are on a July sabbatical, we’ve hand-picked a few of the most popular episodes of the podcast for you to enjoy. We’ll be back with more great content in August.
Erin Winick helped speed the progress of technology in America, and now she has mixed feelings about it.
As an intern at a Southern California company, Winick worked with a 30-year professional maker of complicated molds to implement a 3-D printing process. The long-time employee offered great insights into the costs and dimensions of making the molds, Winick said in an interview and had perfected parts and tools for the complex job.
In a recent article for MIT Technology Review, Winick explains how she and the longtime employee went over the mold-making process in great detail so that by the end of her internship she had developed a prototype 3-D printer that produced the molds far more efficiently.
The company loved the product—and eliminated her friend’s position. Soon after, he left the company.
“When there is a face to the person leaving it’s more difficult to just say they are a necessary casualty of the process,” Winick told me in an interview. “It’s someone’s life you are changing. At the same time, technology has always changed the workplace, and without those alterations, we wouldn’t be where we are at today.”
Where Luddites came from
Sound familiar? Economic history is full of sad stories about jobs eliminated through automation, efficiency breakthroughs, and other technological advances. Late-eighteenth-century England was gripped by the story of Ned Ludd, who smashed a pair of stocking frames, an early invention for mechanizing textile-making.
While Ludd himself may or may not have existed, textile workers inspired by the tale took to sabotaging textile machines in an effort to save fabric-makers’ jobs—giving rise to the modern word “Luddite” to describe technophobes. The Prussian inventor of a mechanized ribbon loom came in for more serious punishment: Danzig city authorities, fearing that weavers would be put out of work, reportedly had him murdered in 1579.
The sunnier side
But there is a sunnier side to these stories of labor displacement—one that can be seen in top-level economic theory, history, literature, and most importantly, in our daily lives. It comes down to a seemingly contradictory phrase: “Creative Destruction.”
We owe the term Creative Destruction to Joseph Alois Schumpeter (1883-1950), a witty, colorful economist born in a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now the Czech Republic. “The history of capitalism is studded with violent bursts and catastrophes,” Schumpeter wrote in his 1939 work Business Cycles: A Theoretical, Historical, and Statistical Analysis of the Capitalist Process.
Schumpeter came of modest beginnings, but his mother was an ambitious networker in Vienna society, and he cultivated an image as an aristocratic rake. The idea that economic power is fluid, and that existing interests are always vulnerable to arrivistes, came naturally to Schumpeter. Karl Marx saw the dynamic forces of capitalism leading to oppression of the lower classes and the self-destruction of the free-market order, but for Schumpeter, those forces were clearly giving new vigor to capitalism and raising standards for the middle and lower classes.
“The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates,” Schumpeter wrote in 1941 in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.
Creative Destruction under siege
By the time Schumpeter coined the phrase, he was living in the United States, and Creative Destruction itself was in danger of being swamped by the seeming triumph of centralized economies run by governments. Europe was split between the socialized economies of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy on one side and the Soviet Union on the other.
The United States itself had been yielding more of the free market to government control in the 1930s, and Washington would take direct control of manufacturing after the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy is not entirely optimistic about the future of the free market order, and the book in part serves as a defense of the chaotic and disruptive power of the free market.
The book draws on a wide range of economic history, including some of the examples above, and cites developments as diverse as modern medical hygiene and increased buying power among the very classes Marx thought would be most oppressed under late capitalism. Schumpeter keeps a steady, occasionally funny, focus on the way market disruption leads to greater comfort and leisure among all classes.
“The evolution of the capitalist style of life could be easily—and perhaps most tellingly—described in terms of the genesis of the modern lounge suit.”
But while Schumpeter gave the concept its name, Creative Destruction has been variously understood throughout history.
“Though in every age everybody knows that up to his own time progressive improvement has been taking place, nobody seems to reckon on any improvement during the next generation,” the eminent Whig historian Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote in 1830—at a time when much of the political focus in England was on the apparent suffering caused by the industrial revolution.
“We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all who came before us, and with just as much apparent reason… On what principle is it that with nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”
The idea of technological displacement leading to greater wealth even makes a fleeting appearance in James Joyce’s difficult modern novel Ulysses, when Leopold Bloom (riding in a carriage past a then-newfangled tram line) watches an old-fashioned railway switchman at work.
“Couldn’t they invent something automatic so that the wheel [would turn] itself much handier?” Bloom thinks. “Well but that fellow would lose his job then? Well but then another fellow would get a job making the new invention?”
Destroying high prices
While the jury’s still out on whether the current round of technology will create more jobs than it destroys, it is demonstrably creating more stuff at cheaper prices.
Consider “phones,” which as recently as the 1990s still meant landlines plugged into walls and were largely unknown in vast parts of the world. Today a phone is a cheaply obtained full-data computer beyond the imagination of Captain Kirk, and the spread of cellular technology is fastest in the developing world.
The old model of the phone has been forgotten to the point that during a recent Medal of Honor ceremony, President Trump felt the need to explain why Army Lt. Garlin M. Conner had to sprint 400 yards under fire to lay telephone wire during the Battle of the Bulge.
“That was a long time ago,” the president said, “before we had what we have today — called a cell phone.”
And speaking of phones, consider one mobile phone application we all use—the camera. It was only at the beginning of this century that we began to lose our understanding of cameras as expensive luxury items using 24- or 36-shot rolls of film that had to be sent out for developing. Today we are awash in photographs, everybody has multiple cameras…
…And Kodak—a company so widely associated with photography that its name was once considered product-generic like “Kleenex” for facial tissues or “Xerox” for photocopiers—filed for bankruptcy in 2012, unable to keep up with the revolution in digital photography.
How to navigate Creative Destruction
Kodak’s spokesman declined to comment for this story, but the company appears to be making an effort to stay alive in specialty markets, among photographers who value the look of chemical film images. Meanwhile, Winick has some words of wisdom for those looking to survive and thrive in the tumult of Creative Destruction.
“Although people have already lost and are losing their jobs to robots, we are just at the start of something,” she told me. “Observe how your company and industry are shifting, and proactively learn skills you see being in demand. Invest in yourself and continuing education even if your company doesn’t. It’s definitely not easy, but by continuing to challenge yourself and learn new things, you can keep up with the times. Those skills could even be presentation or social skills, not just things like coding. In a world of robots, social skills can be extremely valuable.”
What your brain does when you crack that summer novel
Even if you don’t consider yourself a “reader,” you read all the time. Signs, instructions, articles, bills, blogs, newspaper headlines and grocery lists all depend on literacy. Literature is the icing on the cake. Reading permeates so much of our lives, and yet human civilization has only been literate for a tiny sliver of our history.
Ancient texts suggest that writing and reading had already been developed in Mesopotamia roughly 5,000 years ago, but it is only in the last 300 years that literacy rates have skyrocketed. Why did it take thousands of years to bring reading to the masses?
Put simply, our brains were not made to read.
The reading brain
Most of us have forgotten the work we put into learning to read because, once learned, the practice is natural and automatic. So automatic, in fact, that it is nearly impossible not to read when you look at a familiar word.
As children, reading is far from automatic. We all spent hours with Mrs. D and Mr. P. We sang the ABC song while we were learning to count. We had books read to us before we could speak. Our most important tasks, for years, included sounding out words, spelling, and mastering increasingly complex reading tasks.
We spent all this time learning and practicing because the capacity to read is not a native feature of the human brain. Intensive training created complex connections that otherwise would not exist. Today, modern tools have given us a glimpse into the permanent changes we create in our brains when we learn to read.
The capacity to read is not a native feature of the human brain.
An EEG reading is a visual representation of your mind’s electric orchestra. Key notes, or high-volume evidence of inter-related activity in response to sensory inputs, are called event-related potentials (ERPs). Though analysing EEG results and identifying the mechanisms at work in ERP is a tricky business, a 2009 study delves into the electric brain patterns of reading.
The study looks specifically at word recognition, an essential component of reading, and finds that this seemingly simple process includes at least three ERP. First, you need to see the word. Cue visual cortex. Next, you need to apply an understanding of how words work. (In what order are letters read? What is spelling?) Enter sublexical orthographic coding. Finally, you need to map this understanding to the word at hand using phonology. These distinct activities, researchers believe, make up the three ERP identified in the EEG signals of reading.
Bottom line: Word recognition is incredibly complex.
MRI activation findings
Beyond brainwaves, researchers are interested in which parts of the brain are activated in reading. This is especially important in identifying the neurological basis of learning disabilities like dyslexia, a language-based learning disability that impacts roughly 10 percent of people.
A 2014 study comparing the brains of non-impaired readers to dyslexic readers found differing patterns of activity. Non-impaired readers had strong activation in posterior regions of the brain and weaker activation in an anterior region called Broca’s Area. Dyslexic readers showed the opposite pattern of activation. Broca’s Area has been most strongly associated with speech, not reading, which might explain why dyslexia impairs reading skills.
Researchers believe that the posterior regions are important for connecting sounds to letters and making automatic phonetic connections, precisely the tasks where dyslexic readers struggle. Though we aren’t certain of the reason for overactivation in Broca’s area, it wouldn’t be the first example of a brain compensating for one weakness by relying on alternative strengths.
Reading is an essential ingredient in our great success as a species.
Structural evidence of reading
Scientists have also found that reading changes the very structure of your brain. In a 2018 study of 21 children, researchers measured word reading fluency and sentence comprehension. They then compared proficiency in these skills to cortical thickness. They found proficiency in word reading correlated with increased thickness in four distinct parts of the brain. Thickness was observed in two other parts of the brain in correlation with superior sentence comprehension.
Equally interesting, researchers were able to predict proficiency in phonetic representation, phonological awareness, and orthography-phonology mapping skills by looking at the cortical thickness of respectively associated brain regions.
Reading is an essential ingredient in our great success as a species. It has allowed information sharing on a historically unparalleled scale. Complex invention, collaboration, and technology are all supported by the written word. Though correlation doesn’t equate to causation, our advances as a species have evolved in parallel to our ability to read.
Harvard University neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf has a theory. Not only were we “never meant to read,” but reading has initiated a man-made evolution of the human brain. Given the studies documenting very real changes that occur in our brains when we learn to read, science appears to agree with her. If the last 300 years are any estimation of our future evolution as a species, the future is looking wordy – and bright!
Every leader manages a whirlwind of commitments, appointments, and deadlines. Sometimes it seems as if we’re one step behind. In this encore episode, we’ll show you the three basic tools that will enable you to manage your day. Plus, give practical tips on coordinating your calendar with an executive assistant.
While Michael and Megan are on a July sabbatical, we’ve hand-picked a few of the most popular episodes of the podcast for you to enjoy. We’ll be back with more great content in August.
There’s just no substitute for vision. When we have a compelling, unifying view of the future—and we’re able to communicate that view—it can motivate people to accomplish astonishing things. And those who lack vision, well, they’re just “unready” for the challenge of leadership. In this encore episode, we explore the importance of vision to energize and motivate our teams.
While Michael and Megan are on a July sabbatical, we’ve hand-picked a few of the most popular episodes of the podcast for you to enjoy. We’ll be back with more great content in August.
Learning From Our Commander-in-Chiefs' good choices, and bad ones
There’s no more fascinating or scrutinized topic in American history than presidential leadership. So much is at stake in a president’s decisions. And yet presidents are mere mortals. Though they have teams of advisors and the best resources at their disposal, they’re just as prone as the rest of us to making short-sighted choices. When they do, the results can be grim.
Episodes of presidential leadership generally fall into four quadrants. Presidents may be forced into making good or bad decisions by circumstances, or they may make good or bad decisions by their own initiative. I’ll examine examples of each in history, from the founding of the nation to our current era.
What Abraham Lincoln decided
We tend to praise presidents the most highly for leading effectively in desperate situations. All leaders know that tidal waves of unforeseen circumstances sometimes hit, requiring them to steer the organization (or even a nation) through the turmoil. The most celebrated example of such courage under duress in American history was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln entered the presidency facing the nation’s greatest crisis: southern secession and the prospect of Civil War. Lincoln had virtually no executive experience, but he rose to the occasion, with a steely determination to save the American Union.
There’s no more fascinating or scrutinized topic in American history than presidential leadership. So much is at stake in a president’s decisions.
Not that Lincoln was perfect. He struggled to find the right military leaders, as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson made a mockery of the Union army in the first years of the war. But Lincoln learned through the trials, and he finally elevated Ulysses Grant as the commander who could face down Lee.
Perhaps Lincoln’s most brilliant stroke was emancipating the slaves. In doing this, he used unexpected circumstances to take an equally unexpected initiative. Few people, even in the North, envisioned emancipation as an outcome of the war. When elected, Lincoln did not believe that the president had the power to unilaterally free slaves. Lincoln always saw preservation of the Union, not emancipation, as the main goal of the war. But by 1862, he realized that emancipation could help him save the Union. Thus, exercising his power as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he announced that slaves in the South were free. He encouraged them to abandon their masters and join the Union military, which they did in droves.
Andrew Johnson’s stubborn folly
We don’t know whether Lincoln would have thrived as a decision-maker after the war was over, because he was felled by an assassin. But we can assume that he would have done better than his successor, Tennessee’s Andrew Johnson. A series of bad decisions amidst difficult circumstances made Johnson one of the worst presidents in American history. In the aftermath of the war, congressional Republicans pushed to secure basic legal rights for the freed slaves. But Johnson did everything he could to stop such reforms.
The opportunities for liberty presented by Reconstruction bogged down into a petty political war within the northern-dominated federal government. This finally precipitated an ugly attempt to impeach and remove Johnson in 1868. Johnson narrowly avoided removal, but the impeachment crisis drained all remaining momentum out of his presidency. A victim of his stubbornness, Johnson hardly rose to the occasion under difficult conditions.
Seizing the moment
Other presidents have distinguished themselves by making valuable changes that their circumstances did not necessarily require. These leaders sensed opportunities that others might not have. One example of this was Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase in 1803. It was not clear that the U.S. had the power under the Constitution to acquire new territory, and Jefferson had previously been quite cautious about expanding the young federal government’s powers. Jefferson’s administration had been working quietly to acquire just the city of New Orleans, but suddenly it became clear that the French might cede the vast Louisiana Territory (most of the land from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains). Jefferson captured the moment, getting the Senate to approve the purchase for $15 million, or 3 cents an acre. It was arguably the best deal ever made by the U.S. government.
In more recent history, Lyndon Johnson also showed remarkable initiative in securing landmark Civil Rights legislation. As a white southern Democrat from Texas, he was not the most likely champion of this transformation (in those days, southern Democrats typically opposed Civil Rights reform). President John Kennedy had originally proposed the Civil Rights Act in 1963, but before his death it was stalled in Congress. Johnson poignantly cited Kennedy’s assassination to push the bill through Congress in 1964. Johnson proclaimed that “no memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.” After the nation’s long night of Jim Crow discrimination, the Civil Rights Act supplied legislative tools to fight discrimination based on race, sex, or religion in America.
After the nation’s long night of Jim Crow discrimination, the Civil Rights Act supplied legislative tools to fight discrimination based on race, sex, or religion in America.
Misreading the moment
Ironically, Jefferson and Johnson also initiated bold interventions that turned out to be disasters. In his second term, Jefferson dealt with tensions between the U.S. and Britain which would soon lead to the War of 1812. The British navy was harassing American ships and taking sailors captive. Jefferson’s solution seemed reasonable at first: he embargoed U.S. trade with Europe. Jefferson hoped that this would create hardship for Britain and France, but it had the opposite effect. The embargo boosted European trade with the rest of the Americas, and nearly wrecked the U.S. economy.
For his part, Johnson’s ill-fated decision to escalate American involvement in Vietnam destroyed his presidency. Johnson had not originally intended to do this, but he felt obligated to save South Vietnam from communist takeover. So he got the U.S. more and more involved in South Asia until the prospect of failure risked national humiliation. When the 1968 Tet Offensive showed that Vietnamese communist forces remained formidable, the American public realized that Johnson had led America into a quagmire that cost many American and Vietnamese lives. What was especially galling to many Americans was how pointless the war in Vietnam seemed in retrospect. The exhausted Johnson announced in 1968 that he would not run for re-election.
Choices and consequences
Episodes of presidential leadership generally fall into these four categories: good and bad decisions precipitated by unforeseen circumstances, and good and bad decisions taken on a president’s own initiative. Events shape a president’s course, but sometimes a president takes the lead by his own choice. Either way, the wise and foolish choices that our leaders make define their presidencies and our nation.
There is really no way of getting around it: traveling is exhausting. If your professional obligations have you traveling as often as mine do, fighting off travel fatigue can become a job all of its own.
As a writer, much of my work focuses on highlighting entrepreneurial solutions to economic and political problems, so I am often traveling in search of personal stories to share with my audience. Whether it be a tech conference in Austin or a networking event in Washington DC, I sometimes travel once or twice a week. This means a lot of time spent in airports and in the air.
There is really no way of getting around it: traveling is exhausting.
While many travelers find airplanes an ideal place to catch up on sleep, dozing off at 35,000 feet in the air is not my specialty. I have tried everything from overpriced neck pillows to top-of-the-line noise canceling headphones. Nothing seems to work. To make matters worse, I often find it difficult to fall asleep in new places. So for me personally, traveling is never synonymous with sleep. Worse, there is often no downtime to recover in between traveling on the weekends and reporting to the office Monday morning.
Luckily, traveling so often has given me unique insight on how to cope with the dreaded travel fatigue, both during and after trips. Follow these 3 strategies and feel the difference.
1. Rest matters
While many seasoned travelers may tell you not to pack too many activities into each day, that isn’t always possible on work trips. Not only are your days consumed with lectures, meetings, and other networking opportunities, but you will also probably want to get in some sightseeing while you are visiting a new city. This is a lot to pack in a few days, so making sure you are as rested as possible is a must.
To that end, I always bring a bottle of melatonin with me on my trips. Melatonin is the hormone that is naturally secreted by your pineal gland and helps your body fall asleep. Taking a melatonin supplement will help your brain produce more of the hormone so that you can fall asleep with ease. Unlike other sleep aids, melatonin won’t leave your brain foggy the next day, making it easy to get up and start your busy day. I also try to keep my bedtimes as consistent with my regular schedule as possible.
At many professional networking events, alcohol is free flowing at dinners and happy hours. However, alcohol consumption can drastically interfere with your sleep cycle. While it may initially help you fall asleep, alcohol can wreak havoc on the second half of your slumber. As Dr. Irshaad O. Ebrahim warns that while the “immediate and short-term impact of alcohol is to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep” and often put you in a particularly deep sleep, it also results in “more disrupted sleep in the second half of the night.”
For this reason, I limit myself to one alcoholic drink per night, preceded and followed by lots of water. For many, this advice might seem counterproductive to having a fun trip. But it’s a lot easier to handle travel exhaustion when you are not also dealing with the repercussions of a night of heavy drinking.
2. Recharge without sleep
One of my favorite ways to recharge during long breaks, and flights, is to do a 10-20 minute guided meditation session. Using the Headspace app on my smartphone, I put on my headphones and find a quiet place to meditate. It is amazing the rejuvenation that can occur after a brief session.
Another way to restore my energy when sleep is not possible is to use sensory deprivation tanks. During a recent trip to DC, when I knew sleep would be inhibited, I carved out time during my lunch break to visit what is often referred to as a “float center.” Sensory deprivation tanks are small pods densely filled with salt water, allowing the user to float effortlessly. These tanks are also pitch black and soundproof, so the floater is relieved of all primary senses.
When I first visited one of these centers I was told that one hour of float time was the equivalent to three hours of sleep. While I am not sure if this was science or clever marketing, I felt energized after my hour session had ended. And that is all that mattered to me.
It’s also a good idea to make caffeine count when your travel. Instead of drinking cup after cup of complimentary coffee, I drink one cup in the morning, filled with butter and coconut oil, also known as bulletproof coffee. It helps to provide both energy and focus.
3. Rebound time
I return home Sunday completely spent, with a travel hangover. How I doctor that hangover impacts the success of my entire workweek. First, if possible, I always select a flight time that allows me to return home early in the afternoon, plan ahead, and clear my schedule.
As soon as I get home, no matter how early it may be, I sleep. There is nothing so lovely as falling asleep in your own bed after a trip. Turning in early ensures that I will be ready to tackle work the next morning.
I am a slave to my morning routines during the week. If I do not get a sufficient night of sleep post-travel, good habits are harder to keep. Continuing my routines, which includes more mediation and yoga, also help me to fight off any lingering fatigue the next day.
It is also extremely important to set realistic expectations for the following work day. If I know it may take me a day to fully get back in the swing of things, I avoid scheduling meetings with important clients or agreeing to strict Monday morning deadlines. That way I can avoid unnecessary pile-ups and meet all my obligations later in the week.
For whom the travel tolls
Travel takes a major toll on your body, even on short trips. That doesn’t mean you have to succumb to the overwhelming fatigue. By planning ahead, I’ve learned to stay energized and tackle travel hangovers with gusto. You can too.
Recently I was sitting in a restaurant in Munich, staring in resignation as my wine glass was refilled another time despite my protestations. It had been a long day of sitting through meetings, punctuated by breaks where we were plied with finger foods and coffee, followed by lunch, and then more sitting, and then after-meeting cocktails, and then dinner with two gentlemen who were hoping to land a new contract.
“Try this bread!” my host boomed, “German bread is delicious!” I tried it. It was delicious. It was only day three of my conference, but already I felt flat-bottomed and bloated. Taking the tiniest sip from my wine glass that I could manage, I resolved to get myself back on track. You see, for me, business travel is a time to reset my mind and my body.
An opportunity to start something new
The biggest obstacle to overcome is your own mind. When setting out for a work trip, I always pack certain splurge items that I wouldn’t normally use at home: sheet masks for my face, nail polish, teeth whitening strips. With a career in full swing and a six-year-old son in full zoom, I don’t have time to take care of myself at home.
When setting out for a business trip, I view it as a time to reconnect with myself and take care of my body. This also includes being mindful of what I eat. Start your trip with a pledge that you’re going to take extra care of yourself—not less. View it as a vacation from your normal routine—and your normal unhealthy habits. Here are 5 ways to get that vacation started.
1. Airplane food is not required
Just because a smiling flight attendant hands you a steaming mystery meal of dubiously-sourced ingredients doesn’t mean you are obligated to eat it. Airline food is full of sodium and sugar and usually leaves people feeling bloated. If I have time in the airport before my flight I pick up a ready-made salad, some fresh fruit, almonds and some jerky to snack on when I am hungry, instead of conforming to the airline’s idea of when a proper meal time is.
2. The hotel gym is your refuge
Hotel gyms can vary in quality—everything from well-equipped and air-conditioned temples of fitness to one treadmill and a weight set in a large broom closet. When I get into a new city, if I have the time, my first order of business is to check out the hotel gym and spend at least 30 minutes in it.
Usually, I have just emerged from an airplane with cramped and sore muscles that need to be re-stretched again. A short stint in the gym upon arrival at the hotel makes a good start to your trip. Likewise, I always try to hit the gym for an hour before I get on my return flight as well.
3. Resist the room service
It’s tempting but ordering room service is not a good way to stay on track. As wonderful as it is to have someone wheel a cart full of food that you didn’t have to prepare (and won’t have to clean up later) into your room, just say no. Instead, try venturing into the hotel restaurant. They probably have the same expensive food, but after you eat it you don’t have to spend hours with it outside your door. Better yet, find the closest walkable restaurant if you are in a safe area.
4. Nothing good ever comes from just one more drink
One of the most ever-present diet obstacles on business trips for me as a Marketing Manager is the wine. The cocktails. The happy hours. The galas. A lot of alcohol gets consumed at conferences and summits, and getting tipsy while traveling never helps your reputation the next day, so why risk it?
When I’m in the presence of people who are constantly refilling my glass, I pace myself slowly, and alternate between a glass of wine and a soda water with lime in it to stay hydrated. For the sake of your waistline, and to avoid being the subject of office gossip, just say no to another drink.
5. Take your travel routine home with you
Travel is hard on our bodies physically. Changing time zones, unfamiliar hotel beds, shooting ourselves 2 miles into the air inside of metal tubes filled with other breathing, coughing humans—none of this does our bodies any good. Travel is the time to take extra care, not less, to treat ourselves well, and possibly form new and good habits.
Resolve to cultivate these habits when you return home healthier and refreshed. You may even be able to enjoy your better, fitter self until the next trip.
This article is for people who have spent at least one night sleeping on an airport floor. Perhaps your flight was canceled because of fog and you scrambled to catch the last long shuttle bus home, only to miss that one, too.
If you weren’t allowed through screening because the taxi was late and crawled through traffic; if you were forced to check luggage that the airline then lost and had to buy new clothes for that presentation; if you had to take bizarre connecting flights through airports that forced you to march through TWA’s kabuki security theater a second time; if you did any or some combination of these things, or if it sounds strangely familiar, then this is the article for you.
This is not simply a compendium of airport-induced woes. A lot of these are on me. I’ve been in the word business for about 20 years now—business that has involved a fair bit of domestic travel. And I’ve made many, many mistakes along the way, including going to the wrong airport. Twice!
It is said that life is a great teacher. She sure is a persistent one. Eventually, I paid attention and learned some important things about modern travel from my travels.
These lessons can be divided into personal hacks which are useful for me—what default seat to try for (aisle, zone 2), what pills to keep close at hand (Advil, Tums), what airports to avoid if at all possible (LAX), etc.—and larger strategies that may be more broadly beneficial for business and other travel.
Here are my five strategies for making your flying much less of a train wreck:
1. Cluster your stuff
One of the big problems with traveling is that you forget things—often important things—on your way out the door. There are all kinds of strategies for dealing with this. The simplest and most effective solution is to cluster all the stuff you are going to take in one place. That way you only have to remember one thing: this here cluster. And then to do the same before your return.
This is also true WHILE you travel, as I was reminded on a recent trip to Nashville and back. I stopped at an airport restaurant, put my backpack and rolling bag in different places, ordered, ate, paid the bill, then left the restaurant with only my backpack! About a football field later, I realized the problem and sprinted for it.
2. Reduce how much stuff you take
How much stuff you have in your home is your business, but in modern air travel, it pays to be a minimalist. If you pack too much stuff, you’ll have to check a bag and usually pay extra for it. Best case scenario: You’ll have to wait around for it at the other end. Worst case scenario: The airline loses it and you have to scramble to replace the stuff you really need for your trip.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of reduction on easing travel woes. On especially full flights these days, even that one roller bag that is optimized for the overhead bin may not end up flying with you. So figure out what you need and pack the minimum.
If it’s not expected, maybe you don’t need to pack that jacket. Maybe you can replace that laptop with a tablet, that tablet with a thumb drive, or that thumb drive with files that have been sent and verified in advance. Maybe for short trips, you can replace two carry-on items with one backpack, that can fit under the seat in a pinch. Or maybe you can go with just the clothes on your back and enjoy all that legroom.
Constantly be asking yourself, “Self, what can I leave out and still set myself up for success at the other end?”
3. Print out your own boarding documents in advance
There is one huge exception to the last lesson. These days it’s all the rage to go paperless. Do not attempt that at an airport.
People constantly try to replace boarding passes and the like with their phones. But phones fail. They glitch, run molasses slow, run out of batteries, reboot at inconvenient times, and even die. This leaves the new paperless traveler embarrassed at best and possibly in a whole world of hurt. Talk about the revenge of analog!
I’ve seen the woes of the paperless man many times at airports. She’s the woman who has to step to the side during screening because her phone is rebooting (as I witnessed recently coming back from Nashville); the guy who confidently swipes his barcode at the gate only to be told that it’s not working and maybe go over there and see an agent; the whole group of people shorting bathroom breaks, recharging their low-on-juice phones to try to avoid this fate.
For far better results, check in a full 24-hours in advance, print up your own boarding passes and put them in the cluster. Then have the same documents sent to your phone, as backups.
4. Value your time when scheduling your trip
My poor bank account will attest that air travel can be expensive, but choosing the wrong flight can cost you even more.
Let’s say you find a deal for a round-trip ticket that costs $100 less than another flight but tacks on an extra 2 hours each way. Should you go for it?
It all depends on how you value your time. The simplest way to approach it is to calculate your hourly wage. Do you make $30 an hour? If that is the case then congratulations, you just shorted yourself $20 and you’ll never get that time back.
It could cost much more than that as well. Imagine that you can save $250 on a flight to pitch a prospective client but that will mean that you will have to shortchange your sleep before an early morning presentation. The contract is worth $50,000 annually.
In that case, it’s probably wiser to pay the money, get there with some margin and go to bed early to fight jetlag. That way you have a better chance at being clear-headed and competitive as you make the pitch.
5. Stay home if you can
This one may sound flip, but no. Business travel is expensive, time-consuming, and sometimes unnecessary.
After all, it’s easier than ever to get face time with, well, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, and the like. We can collaborate on documents over the cloud and communicate effectively within a dispersed organization using tools like Slack and email and this newfangled technology called the telephone.
Sometimes the things keeping us in the air are simply expectations that can and ought to be challenged, respectfully.
For instance, several months ago, I was supposed to go out to Michael Hyatt & Company headquarters for a week but faced a dilemma: There was also a pressing project that had to be done.
I didn’t see how the two were compatible, so I sent my case up the department’s chain of command: Did they still want me to come out there and try to make it work, somehow, or should I hunker down and fix the problem?
How that was resolved is not especially important to this lesson. The point is that for management to even consider canceling the trip, someone had to challenge those assumptions in that schedule. In this case, it was me. But with a few details juggled, it could just as easily have been any one of the tens of thousands of harried Americans who fly for business every day of the week.
Business travel can be incredibly stressful. For years, we’ve been honing our travel routine to perfection. In this episode, we’ll show you exactly how to hit the road without losing time or arriving tired.