Typing On A Plane: Notes From The Field

Typing On A Plane: Notes From The FieldBy Stephen Foskett

Working on the road is not for everyone. Some people need the structure of the office: Compress and organize on the way in, checkpoint with co-workers at the coffee pot, then buckle down and knock out some deliverables at the desk. This daily ritual helps some to focus, and draws a sharp distinction between work and non-work.

But all of this is disrupted for a ‘digital nomad’ like me. My commute can be a walk downstairs or a ten-hour combination of drive, wait, fly, and bus. My check point can be a phone call, IM or Skype, or a sip/meeting at the Starbucks near the client site. And I buckle down to work as often in a seat on a plane, a hotel room desk, or unfamiliar conference room as at my desk.

It is surprising, but many mobile workers are not the driven and focused ‘type-A’ folks. Rather, they can be extroverted, disorganized, and scattered, which seems a poor match for the self discipline needed to get things done on the go. But attention deficit can easily be turned to hyper-focus, and this is the key to my success!

Get Organized

Before you head out on a trip, prepare your mobile workspace.

  • Creating an essential toolkit that is always with you. My laptop bag contains everything I need to get work done, and each item has its own spot.
  • Don’t raid the travel bag at home. I force myself to keep everything in the bag so I don’t forget it.
  • Invest in just the right gadget. I’ve got two retractable cords that charge every accessory from USB so I only need a single ‘wall wart’ power supply.
  • 3G Internet access is essential, and pairing it with a battery-powered WiFi router like the Cradlepoint PHS300 makes it even better.

Travel Right

Do what you can to make life simple on the road, freeing your mind for work.

  • Don’t spread out at the hotel. I never put anything in hotel drawers and make a single ‘pile’ for everything that I collect so I won’t forget things when I go.
  • Sticking with a single airline, hotel, and rental car brand helps reduce mistakes. A single missed flight due to confusion about terminals and security lines will be more expensive than a year of incremental costs from sticking with one airline.
  • Bring along your own entertainment rather than trying to find radio stations and TV channels. Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch are awesome when combined with TiVo To Go!


When it’s time to work, focus is the key!

  • Tune out distractions no matter where you need to work. I often use my in-ear headphones as earplugs, and I never watch the hotel TV.
  • Arrange a work area on the go, with a travel mouse, mobile Internet connectivity, and right-sized laptop. I’m very pleased with what I can get done on the 15″ MacBook Pro.
  • Get an extra laptop battery so you won’t be forced to stop working when you run out of power on the road.

Although I’ve often extolled the virtues of finding unique things to do while traveling, I spend much of my road-trip time working. There is always time for both! Even if you’re not a natural organizer, you can get things done on the road. Organize, simplify, and focus!


Your packing method reminded me of James McLurkin at MIT and his backpack. I saw an interview with him on NOVA a few years ago. Thanks for the reminder… I have some organizing to do.

— Brian

About Brian Greenberg

Brian Greenberg is a technology and product leader, Forbes contributor, and is a member of the Forbes Technology Council. He lives in Chicago and has been working at companies of all sizes from the Fortune 100 to startups for over 30 years including international experience as an expatriate in Japan and Europe. In addition to being part of the Adjunct Faculty in the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University, Brian Greenberg is an award winning CIO & CTO, considered a dynamic, entrepreneurial, and visionary leader, accomplished at strategic planning, process improvement, product development, and reengineering of key business processes. Highly successful in achieving financial results through strong customer loyalty and long term relationships with suppliers and vendors. Ability to achieve business results through strategic application of technology to business challenges. Readily pursues "stretch goals", not afraid to take risks, and is grounded in a strong teamwork approach. Regarded as a skilled communicator, team builder and negotiator who maximizes efficiencies and productivity through boosting employee morale and performance. Brian Greenberg has expertise in digital transformation, automation, turnaround management, security, data storage, and data protection. He is also a storyteller and an improvisor in Chicago’s comedy community.