5 Tips for Getting Work Done On the Road Instead of Procrastinating

Joanne Poh



I am sitting in the waiting room of a hospital as I write this article. I’ve also worked on trains, planes and buses, in airport lounges and on park benches, time that would otherwise have been wasted waiting. While I probably look like some workaholic loser to my fellow commuters, it’s useful to be able to lighten my workload in situations where my time would otherwise be spent fiddling with my phone.

If you travel often for work, work remotely or simply spend a long time commuting or waiting for people in strange places, learning how to get work done on the road can give you a huge advantage in terms of how efficiently you use your time. Here are some tips for working on the road.


Use dead time on transportation

When we take public transport in Singapore, we tend to try to find the fastest possible way to get from Point A to Point B. But when you’ve got work to do, it can sometimes make more sense to spend a little longer on your commute in exchange for a seat.

For instance, before the opening of the Downtown Line, it used to take about 1 hour 15 minutes by bus from my home to Orchard Road, while by bus and MRT it would take about 1 hour. If I had to choose, I would still pick the bus ride, because I would almost always be able to get a seat and put in at least a solid hour of work on my laptop. I might save 15 minutes by taking a feeder bus/MRT combination, but I would hardly be able to squeeze in any work due to the frequent changes and not getting a seat on the MRT.

Commuting is pretty much dead time, and if you have a long round-trip of 2-3 hours per day, you should absolutely find ways to work during that time. One advantage is that the bus or train ride just flies by when you’re working, while it seems to crawl like a snail when you spend the whole ride staring at your smartphone. The same applies when your bus takes 20 minutes to arrive—20 minutes of solid work just flies by, while 20 minutes staring at your watch and cursing SMRT feels like 20 years.

For those who travel frequently for business, you spend huge chunks of time waiting when you fly, whether you’re sitting by the boarding gate, standing in line to get your boarding pass or waiting for an interminable flight to be over. Use that time to get some work done so you can relax a little more when you arrive at your destination.


Charge your devices fully before leaving the house

You can’t always rely on the fact that you’ll have easy access to a power point. Remember what happened to that girl who got slapped with a hefty bill after charging her phone using a power socket at an MRT station?

If you work on a laptop or have to reply to your emails on your mobile phone, keep your devices fully charged before you leave the house and you won’t have to worry about running out of battery when you’re still working.

If you’re on a Macbook Pro, your battery should be able to last at least 5-6 hours even if it’s a little busted. That’s more than half a day’s work right there.


Use headphones to block out sound

Trying to hunker down and work but keep getting distracted by that auntie on the bus nagging her kid about getting a lousy score on his math test? Or is the cafe whose wifi you’re using blasting unforgivable Justin Bieber songs?

Then you’ll be glad you’ve got a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Plug them into your MP3 player or laptop, clamp them on over your skull and you’re instantly in your own world. Sometimes I just leave them on without playing a sound just so I don’t have to listen to other people’s conversations as I work.


Buy wifi, but only if you have to

When it comes to supercharging your productivity on the road, disconnecting from the Internet when you don’t need it for work really helps. I work two to three times more efficiently when I don’t have internet access, which is why I often deliberately choose to work outside of home.

However, if you desperately need wifi and don’t have access to cafes that offer it free (if you’re travelling in places like Bangkok or Melbourne, wifi is readily available at many establishments and you don’t really have to worry), consider paying for a subscription.

Changi Recommends has a hassle-free service for portable wifi rental that allows you to collect and return the device at the airport so you can easily do that before and after your flight. We’ve covered the details in another article here.

Unless it’s a one-off thing, avoid using your mobile phone’s hotspot, as the desktop versions of sites are often much heavier and you can bust your data quota for the month quite easily.

When you travel, just make sure you stay in accommodation that offers free wifi and you won’t have to use this option. If you’re travelling on the company’s dollar, hotel wifi is a given, and if it’s not, request that your employer pay for portable wifi so you can actually get work done.


Leave the hotel room or your bedroom for higher productivity

Anyone who’s ever had to work while travelling knows you can go crazy spending too many hours glued to your laptop in your hotel room. After an evening or two, you start to feel sorry for the cleaning lady who’ll undoubtedly be the first person to find your corpse.

I find that working in new settings boosts my concentration considerably, especially when there’s no wifi and I don’t have to worry about being sidetracked by social media.

If you’re working out of a hotel room, take your computer down to the lounge, or walk to a nearby park. Lucky enough to have a very light computer, like one of those Netbooks or a Macbook Air? Then you can just slip it into your bag, go for a walk around the city and then get a bit of work done at a nice cafe or restaurant.

As someone who works even on holiday (yes, sad life, I know), I find that I am way more productive when I’m on the road and have the benefit of working in new surroundings, than when I’m working out of my bedroom.

Do you ever work as you travel? Share your tips in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.