HOW NOT TO GET CONSUMED BY BUSINESS TRAVEL
And how to make it enriching!
Lessons from being often on the move
It‘s 4:00 A.M. I run the last routine check at my hotel room in Tokyo. I want to be sure that I am not leaving personal stuff before heading back home. Despite the intensive travels lately, I didn‘t feel consumed. In fact, I have been enjoying the last trips and felt the urge to nail down and share what has helped me turn intensive business travel into an enriching experience.
Beyond the first excitements of traveling to different corners of the world, visiting exotic sometimes glamorous cities and learning about different cultures, the job involving intensive business travel could be draining both physically and mentally. It was for me. It still is, when I am not able to plan it correctly.
WHY YOU SHOULD RUN AWAY?
Being regularly on the go stresses the body and puts one‘s biological clock in disorder. To add extra weight and to have the consequent health issues are a simple question of time.
The biggest challenges though are mental. When traveling you‘re out of your comfort zone, you often have to deal with conflicts, achieve results with many unknown variables and on top of all that you‘re away from your loved ones.
If you‘re not up to these challenges, you‘d better run away from such a job. If you have the stamina to embrace these difficulties, accept your errors and learn from them, you grow stronger. The below applied ideas are not coming from consultants or physicians. They are the direct results of my own trials and errors over more than 20 years of traveling for business.
How fit are you?
Unless you‘re running away from a toxic spouse, when you‘re abroad you have less energy than when you‘re home. The flight to your destination already robs you from a good amount of energy. Your body is adapting to a different climate and time zone, and you probably missed some hours of sleep in that too soft or too hard a mattress of your hotel bed. Your ability to be alert with your customers and to register the high amount of new information is diminished. It is not so uncommon for people to kip in meetings. To be well rested before the trip are essential to prevent that. A good level of fitness also helps.
You need also to be active during the trip. That‘s why I try to find hotels with a gym and do some exercises either in the morning or in the evening. Another possibility to be active is to find a hotel that is a walking distance from your customers. Additionally that will help you to reduce the torture of sitting in traffic jams.
It won‘t do much if you exercise and then indulge in all kinds of food and alcohol consumption that are in abundance during business travels. With time, one should clearly identify what constitutes a balanced diet. Don’t settle for whole day meetings with junk food offered to save time. Plan a break for lunch and seize the opportunity to try healthy local foods that are common nowadays almost everywhere.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER?
If you manage to be active and eat well, a part of the battle is won. The rest of the battle is mental coming from the facts that:
• You’re out of your comfort zone.
• Results in international markets often are not visible in the short term.
• You’re away from the people that count in your life.
How empathetic are you?
Being well prepared before the trip is a must. All the preparations that you do however are no guarantee that discussions with your international customers will go in the direction you wish. Being empathetic is the name of the game. The fast talking high pressure salesman is out of business. Listening to and analyzing what your counterpart is trying to say is crucial towards understanding the situation to reach a win-win deal. It took me a long time to refrain firing out quick solutions before grasping the real situation. By developing empathy every time, even with all the challenges of cultural differences, new business opportunities might open up. And if not, you either have to learn to listen more carefully or should be looking for different customers.
It is a marathon, not a sprint!
It is always good to close a big deal and to head triumphantly back home. If it happens, that‘s great. Celebrate it. Often it won‘t. What is agreed when you‘re abroad may not be executed either partially or completely when you’re back in your country. And that‘s either because your customers didn‘t grasp the implications of what you agreed on or that the environment has changed. One ought to think of this business as a marathon and not as a sprint. While the long-term goals should be kept in sight, one has to agree on small steps that are digestible and easy to follow through. These short-term goals could be altered if the situation changes and there would be a need to act differently. By keeping an eye on the progress of the business one reduces the risk of bad surprises and the frustration of seeing invested efforts gone to waste. There is nothing more disheartening than to acknowledge your efforts were fruitless.
Separating business life from private life is an unwritten rule in many northern European countries. This rule is old and depicts times when people had a cold emotionless mask at work and a different more human one at home. In our times, being human and vulnerable at work is rather a strength than a weakness. This calls for the need to connect with our counterpart. This is no invitation to dwell on our personal problems at the workplace, but rather to connect beyond the small talk and the business transaction. Learning about the other person and scratching beneath the cultural surface make not only the business more efficient but also bring us more in touch with our humanity.
Step back, meditate!
I always wondered about the people working on their Excel spreadsheets during the whole flight, only to be interrupted by the flight attendants at meal time. How efficient would it be if only I could use my travel time so productively! I tried it many times. It was short lived. Being a constant working machine combined with a long absence from home takes a toll on me. My breakthrough moment was when I realized that I have to insert a relaxing time into my trips. Being it in the airplane, or in the hotel or any other place where I could have time on my own. A time when I don’t have any expectations of myself when I am able to meditate, read, reflect or jot down my thoughts. These, I learned, are valuable opportunities that allow me to be present in the moment, take a step back from the hassle of the business life and reflect on what matters most.
These are my thoughts for making the most of my work travels to influence positively my business and private life. Giving the modern life we lead with the threats to our body and soul, these lessons when applied also in our daily life bring with them endless possibilities.