Like many Spend Matters readers, I need a good long weekend. This year has (literally) flown by so quickly that I’m close to hitting the overall airline status I was expecting by year’s end — some seven months early. But being up in the air and not even knowing what time zone you’re in — not to mention being stuck in airports at every hour of the day and night — is no fun. And it’s arguably not healthy either, even if you love what you’re doing at Point A and Point B and enjoy the work you complete while travelling.
Earlier this month, BI and analytics expert Madan Sheina passed away in his hotel room at a software vendor event. I had read some of his tweets and dispatches in recent weeks and could have never foreseen that someone with so many ideas and who was so full of life would be here one day and be gone the next. It’s tragic. And sometimes it’s unavoidable. But we should never stop trying to take care of ourselves.
I’ve recently seen too many friends (mostly consultants) who honestly look worse than ever. You could see the sheer exhaustion in their face. Sure, practice growth and profitability is off the charts. And yes, many of my friends who are still in the business love their career choice and love helping clients. I also know they won’t change a thing about slowing down until they retire. But we need to ask ourselves: if we’re cutting short our years, is it worth it in the end?
For those that know me well, it’s pretty clear that I’m not exactly the poster child of moderation – especially running fast, which is probably worse for you at my age, if you believe the science, than not running at all – yet I always strive to take better care of myself. As a fan of making lists (as Benjamin Franklin did with his “virtues”), let me offer a few suggestions before the long Memorial Day weekend for my fellow frequent fliers.
Find time for exercise every morning. Not too much, not too little, but enough. There’s a balance with exercise, especially when you’re on the road, that is just perfect if you can achieve it. If done right, 30 minutes first thing in the morning is plenty. But go too hard or too long and you’ll be suffering by mid-afternoon with lower energy levels. It’s worth fighting for that place in the hotel gym or sneaking outside, even in cold or bad weather, for that run as the sun comes up. Trust me.
Sleep. This is at the top of my list for self-improvement. Find a way to get 7-8 hours per night if you can. Arianna Huffington may be obsessed with the topic, but she’s so right. Stay rested, my friends. If you have a habit of waking up at 2 am (sound familiar, anyone?), force yourself to go back to sleep at all costs. Read and pass out. Whatever it takes. But don’t fire up that laptop or check Facebook on your iPhone!
Books and magazines. Never be without a real book or your favorite newspaper or magazine (The Economist is always within five feet of where I am at all times). Screens do not help you fall asleep or contemplate the printed word as it’s intended. Trust me on this one (as one of the leaders in the online B2B publishing world)!
Gadgets. Splurge. You’ve earned it (and gadgets pay you back faster than anything if you buy the right ones). Examples? The new in-ear Bose noise-cancelling headsets are not just amazing for working or sleeping on planes, but also for hotel rooms that aren’t as quiet as promised. Buy them. Forget about the price tag – just do it. The “ear popper” is also a gift from the travel G-ds (at least for me), if you ever have issues with pressurization on flights. Also, splurge for that extra external battery for your computer and devices (HyperJuice, in my case, for Macs). You’ll never worry about power again.
Get on a routine for international travel. For me, an overnight flight means hitting a gym after I land, followed by a cold shower before heading into meetings (I do this at all costs – even if it means pushing meetings back). Somehow this resets the clock and gets me ready for the day. Whatever you do, strive for that routine.
Put a line in the sand on Sunday travel. Just don’t do it unless there’s truly an exceptional circumstance. When you’re younger, it can be hard to get away with this rule. But try if you can.
Don’t always do what the locals do. Don’t force yourself to adapt to the local custom. Stick to your own preferences. This is especially true in China. If you don’t want to eat something on the table or do a shot of liquor, don’t do it. Trust me on this one. Getting sick over food is not worth it. Don’t be afraid to live off Clif bars.
Food and alcohol earlier, not later. I think the temperance movement is silly. I drink everyday. I also eat every day – probably too much sometimes. But I’ve learned over my years to eat and drink earlier when I can. As much as 9 pm dinners are great on the weekends, try and wrap things earlier and have a cocktail and dinner on the road and be in your room by 8:30. Trust me, especially in unfamiliar places, you’ll sleep better and earlier if you start the evening earlier.
Dress right and pack light. Even though this is one piece of advice I’m not the best at following myself, I aim to be like David Byrne and travel with a small backpack around the world. Most important: invest in the right pants and jackets (or suits) whose wrinkles can un-crease on their own in the closet over night. And please, have the cleaners box your shirts (don’t be cheap). I can’t tell you how much both these details matter (you don’t want to iron on the road – ever). And look for innovative fabrics and clothing lines. Ministry of Supply is clearly on to something here (besides having a truly awesome name).
Don’t change your routine for the sake of the road. I went largely vegan (call it the Bill Clinton diet) over a year ago and I stick to it as much as I can on the road. Europe can be a challenge, but I try. It can be a pain in places where dairy products are more common than water, but it’s forced me to bring my own snacks and to seek out eateries I might not otherwise go for a bite – especially when on my own. Remember, you travel for you, not for someone else. You picked this career. Make the road work around your routine, habits, and personal requirements.
I can’t guarantee these recommendations will help you add extra years to your life (or prevent the road from taking them away). But I can promise that if you follow a few of them, you’ll feel better about travel and about yourself. Above all, being a successful road warrior over the decades comes down to putting your own needs first. This means being honest about what works for you and what doesn’t -- and not changing who you are. It’s your life, after all.
Have a great long weekend, everyone.