Four Must-Have Travel Apps

“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.” — George A. Moore, Irish writer.

Four Must-Have Travel Apps by Laura Stack #productivityUnlike some of my colleagues, I’ve always believed in using travel time to get ahead on my business work. That way, when I get home I don’t have to play catch-up; instead, I can spend more time with my friends and family. I’d rather rest from the rat race in my own living room.

In my constant search for ways to save time while working, I’ve investigated or tested dozens of mobile apps that help me complete my work more easily. Most do a good job, but some stand out more than others. Here are four superbly helpful and productive travel apps I urge you to try if you haven’t already. (Now that the Wi-Fi is available on some flights, they’re more useful than ever.)

1. Yelp. Have you ever wandered around a strange city, looking for a decent place to eat? Don’t waste time looking or eat a bad meal—just consult Yelp. Our fellow travelers will have reviewed just about every eatery in town, from high-class establishments where I can meet with clients to local burger joints that serve great food at low prices. Create a free account to get all the bonuses, and you’ll never have to hunt haphazardly for good food again.

2. PackingPro. I write about productive packing fairly often, because even a little disorganization in this department can slow you down. If you can’t seem to keep up with the dry cleaning and your iPad’s charger, download this app from iTunes. It costs $2.99, but once you’ve set it up, it’ll remind you to pack everything from clean underwear to your meds and electronic accessories.

3. TripIt. Track logistics information with TripIt and access your itinerary right on your phone: no more printing and pulling hardcopies. It’s by far my favorite productivity app! I forward confirmation emails to plans@tripit.com, and it automatically populates my itineraries. Then I can access the details for my travel either online or from my mobile devices.

4. Evernote. Evernote is a crowd favorite. If you use only one, choose this one. How they managed to pack so much into a single app—FREE unless you use gobs of data—boggles the imagination. You can take photos of receipts with it, and later upload them into accounting programs. Taking notes is easy, and storing them by keyword even easier. It’s a snap to search for them later. You can even search for handwritten text in a photograph (great for snapping photos of whiteboard notes for later transcription). You can get Evernote versions for just about every smartphone or tablet. The best part? You can not only store a huge amount of data in almost any medium—audio, video, photos, text, etc.—you can synchronize your account across all devices. For maximum productivity, read Brett Kelly’s witty, ever-expanding Evernote Essentials. It’s fun and instructive simultaneously.

Around the World in Four Apps

It won’t surprise you to learn you can tap into literally hundreds of travel apps nowadays, if not thousands. But we all need a place to start when overwhelmed with an embarrassment of riches, and I’ve suggested these four because business travelers tend to find them über-helpful. That said, just consider this your jumping-off point, and don’t hesitate to try other apps. They may work better for you than these—and inevitably, as technology advances, new apps will take their places. You never know: thought-driven apps like the plane in the Clint Eastwood movie Firefox may come online any day now.

What are your favorite travel apps?

Give Me a Break! Get Your Rest and Protect Yourself From Burnout

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” — John Lubbock, British scientist and politician.

Give Me a Break! Get Your Rest and Protect Yourself From Burnout by Laura Stack #productivity #rest #balanceBy nature, most of us in the business world feel driven to prove ourselves—by working hard, generating massive productivity, and moving up through the ranks. Before long, it becomes second nature to work long hours with a tight focus on work, often to the exclusion of other things in life. Some of us willingly sacrifice exercise, a decent diet, vacation, weekends, and even family time to get ahead.

But what are we getting ahead for? If you really care about your work, you’ll want to do what’s best and most productive for the organization. This means helping your team advance over the long haul, rather than burning out in an absurdly short period of time. Sure, a flashbulb may be super-bright…but a quiet 40-watt CFC lasts tens of thousands of times longer.

What I’m trying to say is: Give it a rest!

The Global Energy Crisis

Ask the average American worker how they feel at any particular point in time, and if they answer honestly, many will say, “Tired.” We work hard, don’t play hard enough, and don’t take very good care of ourselves. According to recent studies, the average American leaves about nine days worth of Paid Time Off (PTO) on the table at the end of each year, including three vacation days.

For starters, make sure you take your PTO—all of it—if you want to maintain your health, sanity, and productivity. It exists for a reason. Time spent completely away from work helps recharge your energy and brain function, leaving you better able to produce when you return. Some of the most successful people in the world recognize this fact and take it to heart. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, takes weeklong vacations every four months. Richard Branson of the Virgin Group regularly takes “inspiration vacations” that expose him to people and circumstances he rarely encounters in his normal life.

According to Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project, 74% of all employees “are experiencing a personal energy crisis” that precludes them from doing their best on a daily basis. This exhaustion triggers poor work and disengagement from their jobs.

Slow Down to Speed Up

I’ve based my entire practice on teaching people to produce maximum results in minimum time®. It’s a trademark and our company tagline. But in addition to skills such as planning, prioritization, focus, and email management, I show them how even the small things, like taking breaks, can help them accomplish more while maintaining a reasonable work/life balance.

I’m not telling you to kick off your loafers and take a nap under your desk for the rest of the afternoon, but you do need small, regular breaks to help you keep your head in the game. According to studies by researchers at the University of Illinois, maintaining too tight a focus for too long eventually causes your focus to fade. Even if you’re paying close attention, your brain stops registering what you’re studying after a while. You then need a little time off to reset your focus. Humans apparently focus best for periods of 15-45 minutes at a time, though many researchers recommend working in 90-minute bursts before taking a brief break. I prefer 45-minute focus periods, followed by 15 minutes of “recovery,” email processing, quick calls, etc.

That said, if you don’t feel the need for a break, don’t take one unless hours have gone by. You might have to set a timer to make yourself take a break. You should take at least a couple quick breaks and your meal break during the course of the day. Most labor laws mandate these breaks for good reason. According to James A. Levine of the Mayo Clinic, the best kinds of breaks are those that encourage physical movement. So the best break might involve taking a quick walk around the building or getting some sunshine.

Reeducating Yourself

Not taking breaks because you’re trying to impress your superiors with your diligence? I assure you, they won’t be impressed if your productivity drops because you can’t focus, you start making errors from too many hours at work, or if you drop because you’ve worked through too many weekends. When it comes to long-term productivity, a slow, steady burn is always preferable to a burnout. So take your breaks, take your days off, and especially take your vacations—by order of The Productivity Pro®.

Are You Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution? Putting “Lead” Back into Leadership

Are You Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution? Putting "Lead" Back into Leadership by Laura Stack #leadership #productivityMany people split the world into dualities: You’re either this or that. Positive or negative. On or off. Black or white. But in reality, human behavior occurs mostly in the shades of gray between any two extremes. So when it comes to leadership, I hate to say, “You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.” But it’s easy to see how it could be true.

“Lead” means “go first.” So followers look to a leader for examples of how to behave and what to do. According to research by anthropologist Lionel Tiger, most baboons look at their leader every 20 seconds to see what they’re doing. My Australian Shepard Lily follows me around the house and even while seemingly dozing, keeps an eye on me for cues of what to do. When we go for a walk, she continually looks at me for signals. Humans aren’t much different. Your team members look to you to model their behavior…and like it or not, they’ll follow your lead, whatever you do.

If you wander in at 9:00 every morning, don’t expect they’re going to rush out the door to arrive by 8:00. If you thrive on regular 60-hour workweeks, your team members may wear themselves out trying to keep up with you, even if you don’t expect it. You don’t want them to slack off, and you don’t want them to drive themselves into burnout, but your behavior will serve as their role model one way or the other. Your attitude is contagious, too. If you’re grumpy, you’ll transmit that. If you’re enthusiastic, they’ll notice that too. So choose the one you want others to exhibit. Promote a solutions-only atmosphere to end useless complaining. Encourage new ideas. Make optimism your default state.

You’ve heard the saying “monkey see, monkey do.” What can you do differently, and how can you act differently to yield greater team productivity? How do your team members react to your work habits and moods? What purposeful changes have you made in the past that have directly influenced your team for the better?