By Dirk Zeller

Just as you should plan out your hours, days, and weeks on a regular basis, you should use the same strategy for the times you’re on the road. By planning ahead, you’re able to maximize your time, squeezing every drop of productivity from your trip. For each and every business trip you take, sit down in advance and be sure you address the issues set out here.

By following this process every time you travel, you reduce the potential for glitches, delays, and loss of productivity.

Scheduling multiple engagements for one trip

Some businesspeople have travel schedules that put them on the road as often as twice a week, sometimes sleeping at home for only a night before flying out for another one-day or two-day trip, often to a destination close to the one they just returned from. That makes about as much sense as stopping off at home between trips to the grocery, the gas station, and the dry cleaner.

Whenever possible, group your business trips together, creating one weeklong schedule instead of scattering several small trips over a couple of weeks. It’s bound to reduce your commutes to and from the airport and possibly your total travel time, and you can allow for a longer stretch of home-base time for yourself.

Even if your destinations aren’t close to each other, it may still make sense for you to book multiple engagements for the same trip. You may do a little zigzagging in the skies, but overall, you’re using your time more efficiently. Why not fly from Chicago to Atlanta to Phoenix and back home to Dallas? Combining your three meetings into one weeklong travel-thon instead of spreading them out over two or three weeks keeps you home for a bigger block of time.

As you plan a scheduled business trip, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have other upcoming travel obligations that you can take care of on this trip?

  • Can you reschedule this travel commitment to a time when you have other meetings or events in that location?

  • What else can you do or whom can you meet with in this destination or region?

  • Can you perform some tasks there that you typically may not travel for, such as meeting with a client or vendor?

Identifying trip objectives

In the process of making polite chitchat on a flight, the same questions crop up with virtually every person you sit next to: “Flying for business or pleasure?” And “What brings you to fill-in-the-blank?” When your seatmate establishes that the trip is for business, he or she typically responds to the second question with something like “Oh, I have a meeting with a client” or “Going to a conference.”

Well, you don’t expect or want fellow travelers to tell you all the details about what they hope to accomplish, but it’s critical to their success that they’ve answered the question for themselves long before they slide their laptop cases under the seats in front of them.

Identify your objectives before your trip. By getting a handle on your objectives, you can do a better job of preparing for your trip. For instance, say you’re heading up a meeting of colleagues at the company headquarters to address a recurring communications problem and come up with a viable system that ensures all offices receive corporate directives in the same manner at the same time. By nailing down some specific objectives, you’re then able to identify other preparations necessary to accomplish your goals, such as closing the big sale on a new prospect or meeting with your best customer to resolve delivery issues.

And no, when naming your objectives, “going to a meeting” or “attending a seminar” isn’t enough. What do you want to accomplish by the time you return home? Depending on your responsibilities and the purpose of the trip, your answers may look like some of the following:

  • I want to learn everything I can about the client and her company.

  • I hope to turn the prospect I’m meeting into a client.

  • I intend to learn how to operate X software program so I can effectively perform a new function in my job.

  • I’ll make a minimum of ten networking contacts for future business relationships during the workshop breaks.

  • I plan to resolve the issue with the home office so we can return to our successful production levels.

Your objectives raise questions that allow you to effectively prepare.