10 Ways Airplane Travel Taught Me to be a More Productive Writer

I'm on a boat! I'm on a boat! I'm on a... ... plane.

To be quite honest there’s not much that I really like about flying – in fact, I’m still quite baffled that humans are even able to fly (cheers to ingenuity and engineering!).

I get motion sickness pretty easily, I hate spending time away from my family, even the most spacious seats still seem cramped, and the fact that I have to sit up to 8 people within arms reach is way too claustrophobic for me.

But, there is a very redeeming aspect of flying and here are some of my thoughts on not only how I’ve come to (somewhat) enjoy it but also learn a truckload from it:

Writing Focus

For me the biggest win of sitting on an airplane is the fact that I have an opportunity to completely focus in on the work that I need to do. Sure, I could spend time coding an application, checking email, or any number of other things but when the highest level of output comes in the area of writing.

I can put on some tunes, zone out, and then just write to my heart’s content. No one is itching to bother me (except the one-time ask from the stewardess if I’d like something to drink to which I always say “Yes” and get an Ginger Ale with no ice). The output is astronomical. There is almost no environment which has proven to be more productive for me!

So in that way I don’t mind airplanes as much as I honestly let on, especially when I learned that I could take some serious learnings from it.

It's like having tons of Agent Smiths... Kinda.

Emulation, Replication: Productivity

One of the greatest things that you can begin to learn, especially as you grow as a writer, is finding the patterns of what it takes for you to stay as productive as possible. You know when you’re “in the zone,” so to speak, and it seems that your writing is flowing like a firehose, and the challenge is to not only explicitly notice and observe these places and environments but also take notes, record them, and then attempt to simulate or recreate those environments wherever you go.

For example, here are some things that I’ve learned from writing on the airplane:

  1. I’m exceptionally productive when I have really loud music on repeat. The airplane forces me to put the volume high and I’ve noticed that loud music (not ear-deafening) on repeat really works for me. Strange, but true.
  2. There is no way in heck that I’m able to use those small tray tables to work, thus forcing me to type on my lap. But, my lap is anatomically perfect for my wrists, hands, and arms to type with maximum speed. I’m actually a slower typer when I’m working on a desk! So I try to write as often as I can with my laptop on my actual lap.
  3. I like to wiggle my toes, a lot. You can ask my wife and she would tell you that I do it in my sleep (and apparently it’s a bit loud…?). Taking my shoes off on the airplane gives them room to breath. I write without shoes now more than ever (my feet don’t stink that much – trust me!).
  4. I don’t have a power adapter for the airplane and I’m very glad that I don’t. Knowing that my time is very limited on an airplane for the battery life it keeps me seriously focused on the tasks at hand. I’m not browsing the web or playing desktop video games in between posts or major pieces of writing. I’m just writing like my life depended on it because I know that I don’t have forever to write. I try to do this at home too so I unplug the laptop and force myself to “beat the battery” as I work.
  5. I even go one step farther and keep the brightness level as high as possible. This sounds a bit counter-intuitive, I know, but it really does work for me.
  6. I also batch my processes and needs like no other since I know my time is short. The flight isn’t forever and I hate stopping in the middle of a significant thought. Have to beat the buzzer here! This includes going to the bathroom or staring out the window. I try to do this at home or wherever else I’m working as well. Sure, I like well-lit spaces and great views but they can seriously take away from productivity at the wrong moments!
  7. There are no opportunities for interruption and my phone is off on the airplane. To write well I have to do this at home and in my office too – completely shut down all distractions so I can just write without the possibility of a text message or phone call interrupting my thoughts.
  8. I know that everyone is minding their own business on a plane and this is great since it minimizes interruptions. I also know that not everyone has a laptop (or is going to use it on the plane) and the moment that I bring it out I feel this internal need to prove that I’m not just surfing the web – that I’m actually trying to be productive! This is a strange sense for me but it has some roots in my competitive spirit and bias toward action. I’m not sure if I’m adequately explaining this but it keeps me focused and alert. I try to fabricate this wherever I go.
  9. Since most of the flights require some sort of payment to be made to use their in-flight WiFi I am intimately aware that time is money. I could not be more motivated to be productive on my flight! The challenge is having this attitude while at home when I’m relaxing in my pajamas, right?
  10. Finally, I write and spend time being a Full Time Blogger so that my lifestyle can be better, not from a monetary standpoint but from a time-spent-on-other-things perspective, especially my family. My goal has always been to move closer to the “lifestyle win” that I’ve always wanted and blogging allows me to do that. Being on an airplane is not being with my family and friends so it better be time well spent and with exceptional purpose and productivity. No slacking here!

And that’s about it.

Find the Patterns, Rinse, Repeat

As I’ve mentioned your goal is to not only find the places that help you be super productive but to take notes, find the patterns, and then recreate them for your success wherever you are.

Airplane flights have been just one place where I’ve been inspired to find a “sweet spot” with my productivity. How about you? Where are you really productive? What are the environmental controls and characteristics, and how are you capitalizing on them all the time?

Your turn!

  • http://www.tillhecomes.org/blog Jeremy Myers

    I can’t write with my shoes on either! Even in seminary, I had to take them off in class.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      ;) seriously!

  • http://lifexpresseddigitally.me/blog Brian Alexander

    I spent aprrox. 40 hours on a plan going to and from Thailand. To think if I would have read this before then all my blogging about my trip could have been done. Thanks John for being practical.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      how’d the trip go?

  • http://ericdye.it Eric Dye

    Sweet. ;-)

    • http://john.do John Saddington


  • Brandon

    A lot of musicians get their song writing inspiration from airplanes!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      ah. is that right?

  • http://www.affyronanaffandy.blogspot.com Affy Ronan Affandy

    i like this .;-)

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      sure thing affy.

  • http://www.hansschiefelbein.com Hans

    The lack of distractions is obviously huge; hard to replicate if you’re not flying. The observation about battery life and the fees of online on an airplane are very insightful. It’s like a secondary form of motivation to be uber-productive.

    Question: does draining the battery so often hurt it’s life span?

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      hmm. i am using this watts app which i write about here which is fine.


      i’m not sure about that though… hm…….

  • http://everydaysnapshots.com Dave Anthold

    John, this comes at a great time as I will be on a plane headed for Russia next Monday and I find the same true on airplanes. I put on songs that blend into the back of my consciouness allowing me to focus on the writing. Since I have nearly 13 hours of uninhibited time, I plan to do as much writing as possible on the plane to set me up for success later in the week when Wi-Fi and connections will be almost non-existent.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      how’s the trip so far?

  • ThatGuyKC

    John, I found myself nodding in agreement through most of this post. I discovered similar productivity success in two circumstances:

    1. While riding the bus to work I don’t have connectivity to the internet on my laptop (incidentally I also like typing on my lap instead of a desk) and it’s a great opportunity to crank out content. Also, the fact I have a limited amount of time puts the pressure on. Without a deadline I tend to get pretty aimless.

    2. After work I have 1 hour before my bus arrives. I have been working hard to avoid distractions and have any non-writing applications shut down during this time. Again the pressure of the arriving bus helps drive productivity.

    Great stuff. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences on the road of being a full time blogger. Tentblogging rules.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      love that limitations on the bus! that’s awesome!

  • http://chrisvonada.com Chris Vonada

    Hi John,

    Mine is not so much a where as a when, I’m by far most productive early in the morning. I wake up typically at 4 a.m. without an alarm and blaze through the early part of my day… up until nap time :)

    Be Great,


    • http://john.do John Saddington

      haha! that made me LOL.

  • DS

    If you own a Mac, download the app called OmniWriter. It will have the same effect as an airplane on your writing. :)

    You’re welcome.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      omniwriter, like it but don’t love it.

      • DS

        Do you know of a better alternative option?

        • http://john.do John Saddington

          omniwriter is the same as ommwriter, right? i actually like that. i was thinking about something else.!

  • TNeal

    I do some of my best writing in public places. For instance, today I’ll sit across from my wife at a local restaurant with WIFI for hours. She’ll edit. I’ll write.

    In a public place, I’m like you. I want to demonstrate I’m not just playing around. I’ve got work to do.

    In a public place, I’m not distracted by house chores or the television.

    In a public place, I’m not alone but I’m not out for a visit either.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      i like your thoughts about being in public. i’m going to think more about those.

  • http://gbrenna.com Graham

    You’ve definitely inspired a similar blog post in my near future. By the way, you explained the part about being the only one pulling out your laptop on the plane and feeling the need to ‘prove’ that you’re being productive and not just surfing the web. I’ve had that same feeling when I pull out my laptop on planes, I get that same feeling in Starbucks a lot of the time. So I try and do a lot of writing there.

    Good thoughts John!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      heck….. just being honest!

  • http://dustinstout.com Dustin W. Stout

    I actually LOVE flying! Not just for the productivity aspect, but just the flying aspect itself. If I was rich, I’d do it way more often. I have yet to find my “sweet spot” when it comes to writing, but I have been taking notes.

    I love the picture of the Agent Smiths. #WIN

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      love that trilogy… even have the animatrix.

    • http://Getbusylivingblog.com Benny

      I love flying too. Love the feeling of being in an airport ready to go somewhere!

      • http://john.do John Saddington

        ;) i do not share this love…!

  • http://www.cobaltaudio.com Andrew (CobaltAudio)

    Went out into the English countryside to try this out yesterday. Sat out on the hills and got a shed load of writing done!

    • http://www.cobaltaudio.com Andrew (CobaltAudio)

      No wi-fi = no distraction

      • http://john.do John Saddington

        ah, yes. for serious!