Optimize Activity for Location

A few weeks ago Auren made a point that I always think about when I’m on airplanes and see people squeeze their elbows in and struggle to open and use their laptops. Unless you’re in a spacious first class cabin, working on your laptop during a flight is almost always sub-optimal from a productivity perspective.

Your efficiency at the activity is affected by the physical environment you find yourself in. Flights can be bumpy, elbow room skimpy, and wi-fi or power sources non-existent. Yet many people make it a habit to work on their laptop all during a flight. Sure, there are some times when you absolutely have to get some work done, but this isn’t every day.

The single most efficient activity to do on a plane, in my opinion, is reading. I get tons of reading done of a flight, due to my physical immobility, consistent light, and general quiet (especially if you’re wearing a Bose headset).

To take the reading point one step further, some types of reading are better for different environments. I usually read harder stuff / academic books on airplanes because I have maximum concentration. I usually read magazines and lighter fare (paperback) on the stationary bike because there are noises and, well, I’m exercising. In the car I listen primarily to fiction audiobooks, because I have less a desire to underline / take notes with fiction. In bed I read hard stuff (and anything I want to remember — we remember that which we read / do right before going to bed). At restaurants or cafes, when I’m reading alone, I usually bring magazines or articles because they’re easier to fold and place on a table while you’re eating (impossible with hardbacks).

So, when thinking about what you’re going to do, think about where you’re going to be, and how that place will affect your productivity at completing the activity.

5 comments on “Optimize Activity for Location
  • Great post.

    I always reviewed materials I needed to memorize while in bed — I totally agree it is an efficient way to get things in your head.

    Since finishing school, residency, etc I’ve rewarded myself by reading only fiction (classics allowed) in bed.

    Thanks for inspiring us to make better use of the infinite evanescent reading opportunities throughout the day.

  • As a non-frequent traveler, the uninterrupted time is so precious that I prioritize laptop usage, scrunched or not. I imagine if I travelled more, the equation might change.

    I also keep a simple notepad and pen on hand for working during takeoff and landing, as well as a book for when my brain gets tired.

  • i close my eyes and meditate, arrive refreshed, jet lag minimized…. plus, no room for the laptop when the seat in front collapses back, and if i drop my pen, writing is over until the plane lands, can’t get down far enough to pick it up… and meals, forget it, not enough room to swing a fork, elbow jammed into ribcage, plate exactly against my shirt front, and magazines, unless i brought my own, lowest common denominator pap, and newspapers, have to fold the thing in eighths to read, with about 6 inches of space between eyes and paper, of course i probably could set a book on the crown of the head titled back into my face from the guy in front, but that could upset him… there never was so much incentive to get rich, as in planes…. wait ’til they have first class flights, get to taxi out and take off before the other planes…. to them that hath, all shall be given, to them that hath not, all shall be taken away… anyway, i meditate, what else to do?

  • I agree with Chris Yeh – I LOVE working on airplanes:
    1. The noise of the plane means that you are not distracted by the people around you
    2. Lack of wifi means I can’t procrastinate by reading articles on the internet (errr, like now)
    3. You’re effectively not allowed to get up out of your seat, so it’s like 2-3 hours of forced focus time.
    I love feeling productive when I get off the flight. Usually upon landing, with all the hustle and bustle of travelling, by the time I get to my hotel, I’m too tired to work and I’m glad I worked on the plane.
    That said, I am still able to appreciate your point about environment affecting productivity. I’m just starting “Startup of You” now; I like it so far

  • I like reading anywhere, where i have planned, as long as it guarantee no interruption for the next three hours. No internet, no facebook, no handy. And the most chosen place is always Library. Because, at this place, there will be no unexpected visitors or change of plans.

    In café, i like reading summaries, something that i already studied.

    But, all in all, two weeks before examination, or any project which you have to finish on time, anywhere is readable…

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