Productive Airplane Rides

Today I heard an interesting statistic:

One hour of work on an airplane is equal to three hours of work in the office.

Wow! Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? If that is true, then basically, you’d get just as much done if you spent three hours every day on a plane and take the rest of the time off. Offices of highly paid workers would be better off if they would stop leasing expensive floorspace and just get everyone airline tickets every day.

Okay, so maybe it doesn’t scale to something you can do every day of the week, but if you’ve ever worked on a long plane ride, this statistic doesn’t sound completely unreasonable. Planes offer the following:

  1. A bunch of people you probably don’t want to try to chit chat with.
  2. You are physically tied down to your seat.
  3. It is usually so uncomfortable that you couldn’t go to sleep even if you wanted to.
  4. Your work surface is 16.5 inches wide by 9.5 inches deep, so you can only focus on a single task.
  5. No phone calls.
  6. No internet access. (Well, that is changing for some planes, now.)
  7. The roar of engines cover up other conversations.
  8. If you can watch television, you probably only have a single channel and chances are it is something you don’t want to watch anyway.

Now, if we could only recreate this same environment in your regular office,you’d be in productivity heaven. So should we all take out our desks and replace them with airline seats?

Probably not. But it is worth trying to create more distraction-free blocks of time. Here are some ways to do it without getting on a plane.

  1. Turn off your Internet connection for a while to focus on work without the distractions of email and the web.
  2. Forward your phone to voicemail for an hour.
  3. Come in early to do some of your intense mental work when there isn’t anyone around to distract you.
  4. Clear your desk of everything but the project you are working on.
  5. Bring in a very large fan that makes as much noise as a jet engine, and no one will try to talk to you in your office.

Okay, so the fan idea might be a bit much, but you get the idea. (Maybe we need a jet engine ambient sound.)

The point is that you are probably losing a great deal of work time in the office. It sounds like you might lose as much as 66% of your time due to distractions, etc. Just think how much more productive you could be if you had even a fraction of that 66% back.

Office interactions are an important part of what makes organizations function. However, they can turn into huge time sinks if you aren’t careful. Be purposeful with your interactions. Don’t neglect to build the relationships you need to do your job effectively, but don’t over invest in relationships that are of no benefit.


  1. Jimmyj says

    These are good tips. I’m usually sleeping or reading a book on a plane. Now I have to figure out how to do those things in my office. :)

  2. says

    Love your insights. I’m heading for Colorado Friday and can’t wait to get something done!

    I think I’m heading to walmart for one of those full size house fans that gobbles up kittens and creates gale force winds!

    Seriously, very cool post.

    Leadership Freak


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