Working while Travelling: Distractions and the Zone

I’m on the train out of Edinburgh, a very impressive city to say the least. The medieval town is blessed with exceptional geography making it the perfect location for a castle and line of defence. The history is deep and the streets so charming you can wander for hours and not get bored. I leave this historical town after an interesting morning, very relevant to my personality type which according to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator is ENTP.  For those that don’t know, Myers Briggs is the oldest and most used personality type classification index available today. It was developed in WW2 and is used by the military, banks and universities to help determine if people are the right fit for certain tasks and positions. ENTP is the strategist personality type.

One interesting characteristic of my personality type is we are innately disorganised. It’s not that we can’t be organised when needed, it’s just we tend to not be bothered. Instead of spending time organising stuff, we’d prefer to spend it doing stuff. We also have the ability to ignore mess. If something is messy but not directly affecting the task we’re trying to achieve, it won’t affect us emotionally. We don’t notice messy papers lying around our desk but if someone were to come with a bucket of tar and throw it all over our desk and chair that would affect us. When some travel, they travel on a strict itinerary – every stop booked, every sight planned and guide book in hand as they power through their destination of choice. I kinda do the opposite.

Take today for example. I checked out of my hostel at 10am, spent two hours deciding where to go then jumped on a train at 13:06. I missed the bus to London due to a Windows 7 update so decided on Whitby – the home of Captain James Cook (the guy who found Australia). I felt like going somewhere that wasn’t so commercial and a little off the beaten path. I also wanted somewhere I could get some work done.

Working while travelling is seriously hard, it’s hard for a number of reasons but I find the most difficult part is switching your mind between work and play. Everyone is having a good time talking about their adventures it’s difficult to get into the mindset of work. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a ‘digital nomad’ who is just as efficient on the move as when stationary. One of the downfalls of my ENTP personality type is I tend to get wrapped up in having fun. This leads to lots of fun and good times for all but also means some stupid shit happening from time to time, a pushing aside of other responsibilities and inevitable spending a little more cash.  Like yesterday I was supposed to go on a highlands tour at 8am to see the Lochness and Scottish Highlands. I had my alarm set for 7am like a good boy, but after finding myself on a pub crawl, ending with me crawling back into bed at 5am, it didn’t happen… I had an awesome night probably more fun than I would have had on the tour but I lost my deposit and missed out on the experience of the highlands.

This comes back to the working while travelling. It’s not that it’s hard to find a cafe and do some work. It’s hard to get into the mindset of “ok, its work time”. When travelling you find yourself with a few hours here or there. Yes you could pump out the work needed in those little breaks, but with constant interferences getting in the headspace to work is hard.

There is a lot of talk going around the productivity blogsphere about single tasking, removing interferences and total immersion. These topics focus on how you are more efficient when focused on a single task without disruptions. The concept is if you are working on something, say writing and you get distracted from your task, it takes your mind about 15 minutes to get back into that state of focus. This is why multi-tasking is not advised. This happens if your wife knocks on the door and asks you what you want for dinner, an email pops up which you decide to reply to or you go on a pub crawl. Travel is full of distractions like this making it much harder to get into a zone of work. Even if you find yourself with a few hours free here or there. This is where I am jealous of the J’s (the polarity to P on the Myers Briggs). They have everything so ordered and planned. They will plan when things are going to happen and will be mentally prepared to execute them when the time comes. They may miss out on 5am Edinburgh benders and trip changes due to Windows 7 updates, but they probably get more work done and save money in the process.

One of the key elements for me being productive is controlling my environment. Your environment can help to influence emotional state. And creating a productive, single task minded state (let’s call it a zone) will result in high levels of productivity. It also helps you to eliminate distractions and focus on a single task. There are 3 elements important to creating a productive zone:

Physical Location: Put yourself in a location that is conducive to productivity. If you work in sales, working in a sales office with energy around you will help. Internet marketers: A quiet room with access to your computers. Fiction writer: maybe a writer’s cottage in Greece or the Elephant Cafe in Edinburgh (Harry Potter fans?).

Physical Distractions: Set yourself a work schedule and let your distractions know about it. Tell the people in your life that this is your work time and you need it free and free means free. Let them know that a 2 minute disturbance equals more than that in lost productivity. Turn off your internet (or at least disable email if you need the net) for periods of creativity.

Emotional Distractions: These are harder to control. If you could control these on tap, you wouldn’t need the other two above. A simple method to help control emotional distractions is to schedule them for later. Having a fight with a loved one? Got bills you need to sort through? Annoying neighbour keeps throwing rubbish in your yard? Make an entry into your calendar for things like this you need to do.  Even an entry that says “emotional distractions” is enough. This helps if you find yourself thinking about them while trying to work. Instead you can say – its fine, I will think about it tomorrow at 10am in my allotted time.

These are some basic tips to help keep you in a zone of productivity and manage any distractions that life my throw at you.  I’m on my way to create myself a little zone for a few days. I hope you find yours.