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Traveling is an exercise in wasted time. The lines, the security pat-downs, and the inevitable delays. Clearly you want your flight to leave on time, but if you use the time right, a flight delay can be an excellent way to catch up on work you otherwise might not prioritize.

Do it right, and a flight delay can end up saving you time, increasing your efficiency and accelerating your success and results. Really!

Here are nine things I try to do during flight delays to achieve those goals.

1. Keep a list of things to brainstorm
There are always things I need to do that require little more than my brain and something to write on. Brainstorm topics can include an upcoming blog post (write the outline!), the key points for a plan you need to develop, new channels you want to test in an upcoming marketing campaign, new offers to throw into an existing channel or sales effort, etc. Oftentimes, the brainstorm is the hard work. Once you have basic ideas down, finishing the work (or plan, or blog post, etc.) is like running downhill.

2. Do a brain dump
There are lots of things in your brain that come and go. And unless you put them into a trusted system, you’re bound to never act on those ideas. Some are strategic, some are tactical, but if they’re important to you they need to be somewhere you can reflect on and prioritize them (now or later). Take time during a flight delay to let your brain wander and write down whatever comes up. Could be a new product idea, a reminder to buy cat food when you get home, whatever.

3. Have a call list ready

Matt Heinz

Which calls you do you need to return? Who haven’t you caught up with in a long time? Consider the time zone of whomever you’re calling, but the list of people you could call is extensive. A colleague with feedback on a project or a new idea. A friend who just got a promotion. Someone in your network you haven’t connected with in far too long (this could be a daily list).

Have a few emails that need returned? Make a call instead. I bet you have a far more productive, valuable conversation and exchange than what would have been delivered with a short email.

4. Inventory your bigger projects
What are the big projects you’re focused on right now? Are any of them stuck? Do any of them require a next step from you, or something from another individual or company, to keep on the right track? I recommend having an inventory of your current projects with you on a regular basis (even if it’s recorded online somewhere). When you have time (and ideally at least once a week), work through that list and make sure each has a specific next step that someone owns. This is pure GTD.

5. Prep for or recap your recent trip
If you’re on your way out of town, make sure you have a comprehensive inventory of your priorities. What would success look like on the trip home? What do you need to accomplish, gather, execute or finalize before you step back on a plane? If you’re on your way back home, write up a short recap of your immediate to-do’s. When you get home and back in the office, you’ll immediately be busy and behind. If you write up your to-do’s from the trip now, you’re far more likely to get them done (and benefit from the results).

6. Network

Photo via Michael Duxbury

Email former colleagues. Write a few unsolicited LinkedIn testimonials. Use the downtime to get back in front of people who have helped you in the past, whom you might be able to help today, and who could be a partner in the future.

7. Catch up on email
Yes, spending time in email is OK. But I give you one caveat – do it in offline mode only. Ignore the temptation to import new emails that will only distract you. Instead, get caught up on the backlog (there’s good stuff in there!). Focus on putting a few follow-up emails from your recent trip in the Outbox to sync when you’re back online. I promise this will get you working through your inbox and priorities faster.

8. Find some good podcasts
There are still a ton of great podcasts being produced on a regular basis, on every topic imaginable. Think of them like “listening to blog posts,” especially if you prioritize topics you’d otherwise want to read in a blog or newsletter or trade magazine.

9. Call your mother
Or your father. Or your sister. Or your kids. Being productive isn’t all about business. Our lives get so crazy, it’s easy to get sucked into work and neglect (or push to another time) the people who matter most to us.

What do you do during a flight delay? How do you use that time?

Matt Heinz is president of Heinz Marketing, a Redmond-based sales & marketing firm. You can connect with Matt via emailTwitterLinkedIn or his blog. He writes occasionally on GeekWire under the column Productivity Porn. Previous columns…An introduction to productivity porn: How to be lazy, productive & successful… 15 New Year Resolutions for Entrepreneurs.… Productivity Porn: 7 tricks for beating procrastination.

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