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How Busy Managers Prioritize Time During Business Travel

Executive Summary

Outside of meetings, business travel consumes a large portion of a manager’s time. If you don’t use travel time wisely, you could be falling behind in your business.

  • Michael Dobson recalls a scenario when a CEO suggested that a consultant save a trip and invite his client to visit him in America instead of cannibalizing more time in business travel.
  • Sometimes, what we perceive as “must” trips are actually “maybe” trips that can be reimagined to work well for all parties involved.
  • If you determine that a trip is necessary, follow a strict list of dos and don’ts to ensure that you maximize your business travel.

Right after the 1991 Gulf War, a U.S. construction company hired a Middle East consultant-a Saudi native-to provide on-the-ground counsel. The mission: getting contracts to help rebuild Kuwait. The executive vice president, just returned from Kuwait, told his CEO, "The only trouble is, now I need to sit down with Abdul for four days. Even though I've just come back, looks like I have to go again!"

The CEO held up his hand. "Maybe you don't. Invite him to come here. Cost is the same. Gives you time to catch your breath. And he'd probably like to visit America for the first time." It worked. The construction people got to meet their new teammate. Abdul enjoyed the trip. The harried American saved two days of travel-wise deployment of time. You don't always need to go. Sometimes it works better if they come to you.

Consider asking your client to come to your offices, where detailed infor­mation is available plus facilities to make a full presentation. Insurance agents and securities account executives who practice this save one or two hours a day. Further, when appointments get cancelled, they are in their own offices, where time otherwise lost can be plowed back into productive use immedi­ately.

Business Travel Solutions for the “Must” Trip: 


  • Send someone else. A junior associate, attending as your representative, can often do well and get an invaluable learning experience. If the subject involves someone else's specialty, why not send the specialist?
  • Use other communications. Can you accomplish your purpose with a letter or a call? A videoconference can avoid the need for several people to travel all day for a one-hour discussion.
  • Postpone. Don't overreact and go rushing off. Wait until you have all the facts. Don't schedule the meeting if a key decision maker isn't available. If it isn't urgent, wait until a more convenient time. Suggest, "I'll be in your area in 10 days. Can it wait until then?"

Dos and Don’ts for Necessary Business Travel

Before you depart, ask your team members this question: "What will you have accomplished when I return?" Responses are both a goal and a commitment. Announce a set time you'll call the office each day. When you return, deal immediately with notes from the trip ( expense reports, ideas collected). If necessary, spend the first day in a hideaway. If you procrastinate ("I'll just do that tomorrow"), by the time you get to it, you'll forget details and lose value.

Once you determine a trip is necessary now, look for ways to mine the most from your time.


  1. Do plan the start-to-return itinerary for time management. Where possible, try to group appointments together. Who else can you visit on the same trip? Can other subjects be discussed? On layovers, schedule appoint­ments at airports, make phone calls, or read valuable (but not pressing) mate­rials.
  2. Do be prepared for changes. Take a portable office (writing materials, calculator, tape recorder, laptop computer) along. Make sure your appointment schedule includes home numbers, in case plans change.
  3. Do coordinate details prior to beginning travel. Leave standing instructions with your travel agent; avoid arriv­ing or departing during local rush hours. Naturally, insist on flight numbers, meal service, departure and arrival times, ground transportation details, and hotel reservations (addresses, phone numbers, reservation numbers). Get ad­vance weather data so you can dress for cold;hot weather destinations. Hold luggage to carry-on, to save much time and stress on arrival.
  4. Don't automatically get a plane. Often driving 150 miles or less is a better choice: It avoids ticket lines, waiting rooms, flight delays, airline food, lost baggage.
  5. Don't drive to the airport. A cab or limo avoids the parking hassle. Use highway time for reading or catching your breath. When you make a mad dash to the plane, you'll be tempted to sink back and relax once you sit down, instead of working.
  6. Don't overlook the tidbits of time. Use pre-boarding minutes to make phone calls or mentally rehearse your presentation. Ten minutes may not sound significant, but six 10-minute segments add up to an hour.
  7. Do ask for an aisle seat. If you're right-handed, get a left­ side aisle seat, so your writing arm is on the outside; left-handers should sit on the right-side aisle. Then watch for a change spot next to an empty seat (better for work). If you're traveling with an associate you need to confer with, do. Otherwise explain to a talkative seatmate that you need quiet time in a separate seat in order to work.
  8. Don’t feel obligated to go out on the town. When you get to the hotel, resist pressures to explore the city if you really aren't interested. Work or rest instead. Carefully consider the purpose of evening activity and act accordingly.
  9. Don't eat excessively. Eating an abundance of food makes you sluggish. On a trip an amazing amount of alcohol can go down the hatch: at the airport, on the plane (before and after dinner), following your arrival, a few more in the evening, a nightcap. Most people can't take it. If you don't wind up drunk, you'll at least be seriously debilitated-when you need to perform at peak.

If you arrange it so, travel time is uninterrupted work time. No phone, no casual visitors, no meetings, and if there is a crisis, someone else takes care of it!

Bring It Home

I rarely travel for work, but because I live in a small town nearly an hour outside of the city I work in I spend lots of time in the car. To get the most out of the time driving, I listen to podcasts and YouTube videos so I can learn new skills on the go. Sometimes, I also use that time to brainstorm new ideas around a project I may be working on. How do you make the most of your business travel time, whether it’s for a rare or regular extended trip or your daily commute? Leave your strategies in the comments below.

Michael Dobson

Michael Dobson is a marketing executive, project management consultant and nationally-known speaker, has been a staff member of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, award-winning game designer, and career counselor in his varied career.

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