So those of you who are long-term readers know that I’m way neurotic about my schedule and time, which results in a. an obsession with planners (google calendars, paper planners, notebooks, everything!) b. a low/no tolerance for time wasting during what I call waste-blocks of time (in between meetings, on buses or trains, while waiting for class to start) and c. people who know me calling me crazy. Well, yknw what it also results in? PRODUCTIVITY. So no shame in my game, y’all! I get a lot of emails from you guys on a monthly basis asking for tips on how to balance school, work, a social life, and still have time for some kind of creative/productive outside activity, and my answer has always been to find your own way of properly managing your time.
However, I still get a ton of people coming back to me saying they have no idea how to do that, and so I’ve decided to once and for all pen down what it’s like to live inside a workaholic’s brain by showing you guys what I do when I take a flight somewhere.
So I suppose my working title for this post is the WORKAHOLIC’S GUIDE TO TAKING A PLANE which sounds both dumb and hilarious and absolutely true at the same time.
Why a plane?
Well. I fly a lot – for work, for leisure, for whatever reason – and over the past couple of years travel has become a really big part of my content. And so a lot of my time is spent on planes – but plane rides very much fall into the category of waste-blocks of time, which I mentioned earlier. Why? Because much like holiday-currency, you tend to feel like these blocks of time aren’t ‘real’, and your brain goes into holiday mode when you get on a plane, or on a bus, or train, or while you wait for your lunch order to arrive.
About a year ago, I got off the two-hour long commute to university to the horrifying realisation that I did nothing with these two hours. Nothing! I was just scrolling facebook aimlessly reading stupid articles that added nothing to my life. It was awful. Not just because I’d wasted two hours, but because I’d wasted two hours precisely when I had a ton of things due – a thesis draft, some client revisions, a proposal for another paper I was writing.. Ugh. Since then I’d enforced a hard and fast rule for myself – no using my phone/ social media when on any form of public transport.
And I tell you, my quality of life has just increased 150%. I love to read, and so when I made the conscious decision not to use my phone, I found myself deliberately bringing books out with me, and the number of books I read per month just skyrocketed. The one exception to the no-phone rule was when I was reading an e-book. And then later in the year, as I got more and more tired from school and life in general, I found myself less able to concentrate on moving vehicles – and so I downloaded podcasts to listen to on the train. PSA: The TED app will let you pre-download talks for free, as will iTunes University. This realisation changed my life forever. And if I’m in a cab, I just nap in a way that is almost aggressive. But at least these things – sleeping, reading, listening to podcasts – actually edify my life in some way. Whereas nobody really upgraded themselves by scrolling through facebook, ever. Lol.
The plane ride is a much more exaggerated version of the public transport waste-block, but the general principle is the same – learning how to maximise your time to the best of your ability, so that when you’re done with the ride and it’s time to play, it’s time to play hard.
I will always try to book a red-eye flight if possible. Reason being, I dont like the idea of “wasting” a full day in the air. Also, I have perfected the art of knocking out anywhere on command, and so I generally have no problems getting on a flight and sleeping the whole way, then waking up refreshed and ready to take on the destination immediately at the start of a new day. If you’re flying out from Changi Airport, you can do what I do – one of my personal pre-flight routines is stopping by the Whiskey Bar in DFS T2 or Long Bar by Raffles in DFS T3. These bars are basically hidden gems in Changi Airport that give you free drinks if you stop by before your flight. If I’m flying solo, as I do quite often, I’ll just check in for my flight early and then settle myself in the bar for a drink and to read a book/ get some emails replied and work done, so that when it’s time to board I’m ready to sleep.
Another thing I always check before the flight is whether the plane I’m taking is wifi enabled. If it is, then I know I can still liaise with clients inflight, and get to all my emails and cloud documents while flying. If it’s not a wifi-enabled aircraft, then I’ll make sure I attend to all urgent emails before I board, just so there are no loose ends hanging around.
In Flight Itinerary: MAXIMIZING PRODUCTIVITY ON A LONG HAUL FLIGHT
It’s not always possible to book a red-eye (either due to budget or scheduling concerns) and so when I’m on a day-flight, this is my in-flight itinerary:
I get uncomfortable when the plane is about to fly, so I always go to sleep once I settle into my seat on the plane. See above re: sleeping on command. If I know I’m on a day flight, I’ll take a cup of coffee before I board (there are starbucks outlets at nearly every terminal, my current go-to is a cup of cold brew) and then go to sleep, because caffeine takes about half an hour to kick in, by which time the plane should be in the air.
If you dont have an eye mask, putting your hair over your face works both to block out the light and to scare the crap out of other passengers around you. Added benefit: if it isnt a full flight, the person who got the seat next to you will probably choose to sit somewhere else……..
THE FIRST HOUR
Either the caffeine kicks in, or the motion of the plane ascending and consequently popping your ears wakes you up. Not sure which it is, but I always wake up a short while after the plane happily cruising in the air. Propitious timing, indeed.
Flying is extremely dehydrating, so the first thing I’ll do is ask for a bottle of water, then do my skincare. Most skincare brands have travel sized samples – eg. if you purchase anything from the Laneige online store, they’ll send you a bunch of samples along with your purchase. And so carrying a bunch of these in your travel bag comes in pretty handy!
What I’m using here is the Kiehl’s avocado eye cream (bought it at the T3 duty free store before flying), but I also like to use the Laneige water bank sleeping mask or the Allies of Skin overnight mask (it comes in travel friendly sizes). For super long haul flights to the US or something, I’ll also pack a mask set – I’m currently addicted to The Body Shop’s at-home facial mask sets. The great thing about cream (is that what you call it?) masks is, you dont have to deal with waste packaging or a dried up sheet mask after your twenty minutes of hydration, so it’s pretty convenient. I also always have a hand cream in my travel bag. Generally I think any brand will do, as long as you’re actively moisturising your skin when youre flying. I’m currently using the Neal’s Yard Wild Rose hand cream because it smells nice.
You’re fresh on the flight, you’ve just woken up from your takeoff nap. This is the best time to do whatever work that requires the highest level of brain power on your list because you’re the most alert now. For me, that includes reading and grading scripts, and preparing the tutorial plan for upcoming classes. I’m currently doing my masters in NTU, and so part of the terms of my scholarship means I have to teach undergrads for a year. Which is fine, but any type of academic work definitely requires the highest level of concentration or focus for me compared to anything else, so I start with that first.
At about the two to three hour mark, I can actually feel myself getting tired, and so I switch to..
Freelance writing. This includes penning upcoming blogposts, writing articles for some of my partner websites, or crafting drafts for client work. It’s not that this is easier than academic work for sure, it’s more that writing comes more naturally to me, and so I can do it to a reasonable standard even when it’s not the start of my day. So, level two intensity work comes in here, I guess. This is also when I penned this post, so post-ception for the day:
Let me digress a little. I’m someone who gets very frustrated with small inefficiencies, and so I really love it when I can find something that helps me smooth over certain arbitrary logistical processes easily. A big part of flying is that stupid security check in thing you have to do, which yes, is important, but is really cumbersome as well because sometimes they make you take off your jacket and shoes and socks and take your entire life out of your bag just for them to give you the once-over. Ugh!
So one of my flying lifehack tips is: carry a bag that has a separate laptop compartment if youre someone who needs to work on the go. This backpack I have pictured above is from Adidas, and I realised over the last half-year that adidas has a really good range of bags that do this laptop-segregation thing. I got one for myself and one for my boyfriend, and they’ve been the best flight companions ever! When you need to go through security, just slide the laptop out of the segregated compartment – no need to struggle with all the other jinglejangles in your bag. And when you want to reach for your laptop to get some work done on the plane, it’s mega convenient. Love!
HOURS 5 – 6.5
Read. I always have a book with me on a flight in case I’m too tired to work, and I consider reading one of the more low-intensity activities compared to writing or doing acad work. In my day-to-day, I try to have at least an hour of reading time before I go to sleep, which I do to moderate success – when it’s crunch time then it’s not possible, but otherwise I try to keep to it. I post my reading recommendations on Snapchat (@jemmawei), and sometimes on instagram under the hashtag #jemmareads, in case any of you were interested!
Here I’m reading The Vegetarian by Han Kang, purchased at Times; T3 Departure Hall.
HOURS 6.5 – 7.5 OR TILL TOUCHDOWN
Photoediting. It’s ironic because visual content creation is so much a part of what I do, but it’s arguably the easiest. I’m so used to photo editing that it’s become a bit of a brainless process for me. I’ve also reached a point where I know exactly what I want my pictures to look like because I create my own filters in Afterlight that I only ever slightly vary from, so the editing process is pretty streamlined for me. It’s a marker of how far technology has come that my phone is probably more powerful than my computer when it comes to editing pictures now! I’d say nearly 90% of my photos are edited on the phone over the computer..
And if I get even too tired to do that, I sleep.
If it’s a mega long haul (15 hours and above), then after I wake up, I repeat from the start since technically I’m nice and fresh again. Very rarely do I watch movies on flights because I hate not having control over what I watch and if I start a new movie and it sucks then I’ve wasted two hours of my time!!!! So even when I want to watch something on a plane I find myself falling back on things I’ve already watched before and that I know I like… which is basically a waste of my time. lol.
So yes. That’s essentially my in-flight itinerary. It’s not hard and fast – so I dont have to spend three hours doing high intensity work, if I’m tired, I’ll just switch to the next level of work. But it’s a general guideline. And I have breaks in between to walk around (I set my fitbit or phone to remind me every two hours to go for a walk) and also to top up skincare.
If this sounds crazy to you, that’s ok. Like I said, it’s all about finding a way of managing your time that works for you. If you cant focus on flights and want to do something else, by all means! Some of my friends read, some of them dedicate flight/transport time to zoning out and relaxing, and some of them use the space for creative work..
I mean, to each his own.
And before you call my friends degenerates, playing with their food has given them creative space (somewhat) that has in turn fuelled their careers – martin is a filmmaker and warren is a graphic designer. So there’s that. Maybe if you’re a business student you’ll spend the flight coming up with the best way to sell a bizplan to the entire plane. If youre a mathematician maybe you’ll spend the flight calculating the probability of getting seated next to a baby on the plane, then turning it into an award winning app and selling it for a million dollars. TO EACH HIS OWN.
The idea is to have some sort of meaningful way of spending at least 50% of your time on either the bus, or train, or plane – be it sleeping (which to me is very meaningful, believe me), or reading, or daydreaming new ideas for things. It sounds simple, but it starts with a conscious decision to want to not squander that waste-block of time doing nothing. And following that, your life may not fall immediately into place, but at least you’ll be a step closer 🙂
Till next time x