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

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

About Brian Greenberg

Brian Greenberg is a senior strategy consultant specializing in whole systems design and leveraging technologies to advance the goals of organizations in the public, private, academic and not-for-profit sectors. An information systems and technology leader, Brian has 20 years experience in information systems design, architecture and business operations.  Brian holds a B.S. in Philosophy & Applied Computer Science and a M.A. in Whole Systems Design – Systems Theory. As a frequent industry speaker, Mr. Greenberg addresses how organizations can better align legal and business requirements with IT and has presented several papers and participated at conferences. Brian also sits on the Board of Directors of EcoMyths Alliance, a consortium of environmental education partners.