For many people, the next few weeks are likely to be filled with trains, planes and automobiles. Making your way through the holiday season often requires making your way to somewhere else altogether, from visiting family a few states over, to taking an exciting New Year's trip across the country.

Regardless of whether you're a quick train ride away or have quite the trek in front of you, you can get things done while you're on the road.

Since your auto-reply has warned everyone you'll be late to the e-mail game or out of the office until next year, it might be tempting to ignore the things you need to get done altogether. But if your to-do list is piling up and your stress level is climbing along with it, it makes way more sense to be strategic about staying productive on the road, even during the holidays.

Take it from someone who has spent the past four years with more time on an airplane than in my own home (it feels like!). You can knock off major chunks of work, writing, emailing, planning or researching even while traveling. You won't have to miss holiday festivities, or be “that person working” while everyone else is having fun. After all, nobody wants to be dubbed the “holiday workaholic”.

Follow these tips to show up to family functions and friendly get-togethers feelling relaxed and on top of things:

Pack Travel Essentials

Your productivity on the road really begins before you ever get there. You've probably been in an airport and walked by a terminal to see a crowd of people huddled on the ground... next to the outlets, of course. If you hope to get things done while you're traveling, plan now with a few fabulous gadgets to keep you connected and hustling.

Haley Conklin, an engineer who traveled well over 160,000 miles this year for her job, says she can't live without noise cancelling headphones. “They allow me to tune everything out and focus on what needs to be done,” she says. You also want to think about what will keep your productivity lights on, like an external power source in case the plane doesn't have it. If you want to get really sassy, check out this luggage + power source combination by Away, which allows you to charge your smartphone from your carry-on. Cool. The essentials will be different for everyone, but think power, sound, cords, pens, notebooks and glasses galore.

Be Smart About e-mails

E-mails can take over your life while you're traveling. Whether you're at the family's house not paying attention to anyone because you're “trying to get through messages” that piled up while traveling, or your phone is constantly going off, you can combat a lot of this by being strategic with your inbox.

Productivity expert and author of Work Simply, Carson Tate, suggests making specific time just for e-mail. While on the road, “plan an designate specific times to check and respond. For example, you could decide to check e-mail in the morning and once in the evening,” Tate says. Having that schedule will keep you present and yet on the ball.

Conklin has another strategy: "I always work on responding to important e-mails and working on things like updating project plans and reviewing documents which don't require Internet.” You can cue up all the messages you need to get through while in transit and write responses, to be sent when you're connected again. Hello holiday inbox zero.

Utilize Calendar Blocking

Often your travel day will seem back to back without realizing you have numerous 15- or 30-minute windows that get wasted waiting for people to board or standing in line at security. By blocking out your calendar on travel days alongside the calls, e-mails or planning you need to get done, you can see what makes the most sense to do and when. Block out your calendar for the entire day, down to the details of riding in a cab, going through security, or sitting on the train. During each block, schedule tasks or the work that needs to get done that makes sense for that time frame. You'll gain back so much time that way.

Set Priorities Ahead of Time

Not everything needs to get done while you're traveling. And especially during the holidays – it probably shouldn't. Rome will always be burning, so learning to prioritize what must happen while you're gone versus what needs to be done but can wait is imperative. If you're trying to figure out what stays and what goes, take this tip from Tate: "Ask yourself if the projects and tasks on your list are still relevant, are directly tied to the organization's strategic goals, and have a significant return on time investment. Then, ask yourself if they provide meaning and joy. As you answer these questions, there are probably a few tasks and projects lurking on your list that need to be removed. No one is going to miss them, especially not you.” Make sure you know exactly what needs to get done while you're hopping from transportation to place, and make sure you have what you need to accomplish that.

Staying productive during holiday travel isn't always the easiest, but it can make such a difference in allowing you to stay present and engaged when you arrive to your destination. In the end, do whatever will help you stay balanced.

I'll leave you with this final and perfect advice from Tate: "Find your own rhythm or pace that enables you to restore, create, grow and achieve without burning out on the road and neglecting your personal life."


Maxie McCoy is a writer and speaker with a message: how to find and follow your inspiration for an extraordinary life. Maxie delivers inspiring writings, actionable video, and customized sessions on 
maxiemccoy.com. She also develops curriculum and offline experiences for the Millennial career website, Levo.