Productive Ways to Spend a Three Hour Flight

Or train. Or car ride. Or any other time where you have three hours to kill.

Jack Raines
November 29, 2021

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View out the Plane Window #desktop #wallpaper #wallpapers #airplane #clouds #cloudscape #horizon #plane #sky #sunset #sunsetphotogra… | Fear of flying, Trip, Travel

Happy Monday, friends. Hopefully everyone had a Thanksgiving full of family, friends, food, and football. I spent Thanksgiving in Berlin. I’m thankful that my hostel had NFL RedZone on TV and my Atlanta Falcons won a game.

I’ve been backpacking Europe for more than three months now, which means I have spent a lot of time on trains, planes, and buses. Now that we’ve entered holiday szn, many of you will be spending time traveling as well.

I used to hate time spent in transit, because it felt like a waste of a day. Ironically, time spent on trains has now become a productive period for me. A few weeks back, I saw this tweet from Dickie Bush:

Travel provides one massive benefit: minimal distractions.

Many of you will have 3-hour flights in the near future. As a newly-minted travel expert, I have created exhaustive list of productive stuff you can do on your flights:

  • Read
  • Unsubscribe
  • Update your resume
  • Clear out old photos
  • Organize your files
  • Draft emails
  • Unplug and reflect
  • Write
  • Create graphics
  • Plan
  • Talk to a stranger

Let’s dive in.

Read

I have a list in my Notes app with 40+ books that I haven’t had a chance to read. Five months ago, I bought a Kindle to bring on my travels. Occasionally, I will download a book from my list for future reading. No service and nothing to do on a flight from Barcelona to Prague? Time to crack open a new book.

Avoid the in-flight wifi, and you can read distraction-free for hours. Use this time to add some wrinkles to your brain.

Unsubscribe from Everything

Every time you need wifi at a restaurant, bar, or cafe, you type your email on their website to gain access. When you book a hotel, flight, or excursion, you often unknowingly subscribe to a mailing list. Online purchases have put your email address in retail databases around the world.

The result? Your inbox has 47 new emails every morning for $5 off of wings at some bar in Pittsburgh, flight deals from an obscure European airline, and coupon codes for a ski store in Colorado. Every morning you hit “read all” to clear your inbox. Important messages are often missed, and the list of junk keeps growing. Look at this stuff in my inbox:

Now is your chance to reset everything.

Many flights now offer limited wifi that lets you text and email. Open your Gmail app, and go crazy with the unsubscribe button. No more coupon codes for chicken wings, no more Black Friday deals from a mall in New Orleans, and no more overlooking important emails that got lost in the clutter.

Update your Resume

You probably added your entry level job to the top line when you got hired after college, and you never want to touch it again. But now you’re looking for a new job or promotion, and “Financial Analyst June 2018 - Present” doesn’t exactly paint a full picture of what you have done.

Updating your resume sucks. Trying to find the right words to describe your work (or at least describe what you want a potential employer to think you did at work), formatting different lines and sections, and proofreading everything is awful. But you have to do it sooner or later. May as well do it on your flight.

Clear Out Your Photo Gallery

I have 22,404 pictures in my photos app, which is a lot. 7,655 of those are screenshots. Thousands more are duplicates. And those thousands and thousands of photos take up a ton of space.

Clearing out your photos is a tedious task. Flights are often tedious as well. May as well take advantage and knock out the worst tasks during the most boring transits.

Organize Your Files

I actually did this myself last week. Right now my desktop is crisp, with five icons in the top left corner.

Two weeks ago, I had 40 icons scattered across the screen. “Travel Blog Chapter 24 draft”, “Passport Screenshot.3”, “Inflation graphic”, and dozens of other random files were blotting out the beautiful image seen above.

When I was flying to Berlin, I dumped 90% of the files went to the trash, and the rest were moved to other folders. For me, a cluttered desktop creates a cluttered mind. An organized desktop yields an organized mind.

Draft Emails

You may or may not have adequate service to send emails while you’re on a plane. But you can draft as many emails as you wish, and distribute them as soon as you land. That project proposal that you keep forgetting to ask your boss about? The follow-up you need to send concerning your recent interview? Type it now and schedule it to send when you land.

Unplug and Reflect

Hundreds of distractions compete for our attention everyday. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. The news. The market. Texts. Calls. Emails. From the minute we wake up to the moment we close our eyes, we are bombarded with notifications. It’s hard to escape this dopamine cycle.

Planes offer a brief escape from the constant rush of life. Take an hour or so to sit back and think. Reflect on your career. Relationships. Anything. It is difficult to look at your life from afar when you’re in the eye of the storm. Take advantage of the escape when you’re 40,000 feet in the air.

Write

This has obviously been a big one for me. Travel time is largely a period of undisturbed writing. Writing articles for this newsletter. Updating my travel blog. Puking dozens of random ideas on a word doc to see what I want to write about next.

With no service on the plane, I’m free from texts and calls, dopamine hits from Instagram and Twitter likes, and the temptation to scroll through social media. Some of my most productive work has been written from seat 18D.

Build Graphics

Graphics are the afterthought that always end up taking hours to complete. When I was still working for UPS, I designed hundreds of graphics for PowerPoint decks. There is always some issue that pops up when building graphics. Waterfall charts that won’t flow correctly. Tables that cut off data. Line graph axes that won’t format as you wish.

Now, I often create graphics for my newsletter articles. It may take four hours to write a post, and another two hours to create a series of attractive and informative charts. Charts like this masterpiece from a recent article:

You may not be able to research information online during flights, but you can draw and create new images. Take advantage.

Plan

Going on a ski trip? Bring a map and outline the runs that you want to hit. Visiting a new city? Make a list of museums, restaurants, and bars to visit. Not heading anywhere particularly exciting? Create a list of books to read, or hobbies to try in the new year, or places you would like to visit, or really anything else.

Three hours of uninterrupted travel gives you time to plan future activities. Take advantage now, and you can live them later.

Talk to a Stranger

Everyone has a story, and most people enjoy sharing theirs with curious listeners. If you’re bored on a flight, and you notice your neighbor is as well, introduce yourself and ask where they’re from. There’s no telling where the conversation will go. Maybe you will learn what childhood was like in another country. Maybe you’ll listen to an incredible story about your neighbor’s travels overseas. Maybe you’ll learn about an exciting industry, and maybe your travel companion will play a role in landing you a new job.

*Bonus* Play Poker on the Seat TV

Self-explanatory. If you’re flying Delta, jump in the poker game on your seat’s television and go crazy. Take digital money from your fellow passengers. Bonus points if you’re headed to Vegas, this can be your pregame.

That’s all for today. Catch you guys later this week.

-Jack

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