In our professional lives, there are moments when we step away from our familiar work environments, whether due to business trips, unexpected health issues, or managing urgent responsibilities in diverse locations. These situations present unique challenges and opportunities for maintaining productivity.

Consider one of my clients, the head of security at a multinational cash-handling company. He frequently finds himself on the move, tracking down lost funds and addressing urgent matters across different locations. During our discussions, he shared the challenges he faces during these busy periods, including the impact on his focus and organizational efficiency.

Similarly, another client, a director overseeing multiple hospitals, experiences the demands of constant mobility. Whether overseeing construction projects, liaising with vendors, or setting up new facilities, he struggles to maintain organization and productivity outside his office. A single business trip can disrupt his routine, leaving him feeling disorganized and overwhelmed.

Reflecting on my own recent experience, I unexpectedly spent four days in the hospital due to a sudden stomach upset. While I was comfortable, being confined to a hospital bed kept me away from my usual work and routine life.

These events are part and parcel of our lives, and unless you have a good strategy to handle them, you may feel overwhelmed upon returning to the chaotic situation at work. Preparing before leaving the office, such as delegating responsibilities and setting up out-of-office replies, can help control affairs at work, but it may not prevent the overwhelm upon your return.

However, even a small time investment done daily while you are away could keep you confident and in control. Let’s explore some strategies:

  1. Keeping an eye on all your work sources: Stay updated with your emails, phone calls, and messaging apps. Whenever you have a spare moment, review your incoming messages and notifications. If you identify any actionable items, note them down in your to-do list immediately. For quick tasks that take less than two minutes to complete, address them right away to prevent them from piling up. If you receive a message or email that requires deeper understanding, avoid marking it as “unread” to remind you as it is not a foolproof mechanism. Instead, note down an action to revisit and carefully read the message when you have more time. By consistently investing a little time in managing your work sources, you’ll build an inventory of actionable tasks and stay on top of your responsibilities.
  2. Journaling: During your time away, maintain a journal (or continue maintaining your journal if you already do), to document your experiences, thoughts, and ideas. Regular journaling not only helps you reflect on your activities but also serves as a repository for valuable insights and action items. Whenever you jot down an idea or identify a task that needs attention upon your return, promptly add it to your to-do list. Journaling is a simple yet effective way to stay organized and ensure that important tasks are not overlooked amidst the distractions of being away from your regular work environment.
  3. Brainstorming: Utilize moments of solitude or downtime for brainstorming complex tasks or goals. Choose a specific project or objective that you’ve been grappling with and take the time to create a detailed mind map. As you brainstorm, you’ll likely gain clarity on the steps needed to move forward and identify actionable tasks to progress. Save your mind map digitally to ensure you don’t lose your insights. By leveraging these moments for focused brainstorming, you can make significant progress on challenging projects even while away from your usual work environment.
  4. Reading: Utilize e-book platforms like Kindle or Audible to access a library of books that you can read or listen to during downtime. Many of us lament not having enough time to read, but you’ll find that you have moments to spare while away. It’s surprising how a few minutes here and there can add up to meaningful reading time. Additionally, consider carrying one or two physical books as backup, especially in environments where electronic gadgets may not be permitted. Having reading material on hand ensures you can make the most of any downtime and expand your knowledge or enjoyment during your time away.

By implementing these strategies, you can maintain productivity and clarity even when away from your regular work environment.

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(Originally published in Times of India on May 4, 2024)