• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


Working on the Road

How to stay productive when you're away from home.

December 30, 2015

Shira Lurie is a doctoral student at the University of Virginia researching early American political history. Follow her on Twitter @shirby9 and on her blog.




Grad school often necessitates travel. Whether it’s visiting family and friends, attending conferences, or working in archives, we are frequently on the road. While these trips can be a welcome break from daily routines, I have found them to be quite disruptive. What should have been a nice vacation turned into a stressful event in which I fretted increasingly over the work I needed to be doing. But when I tried to get work done on the road, I encountered the opposite problem. Now, instead of making the most of my trip, I spent the bulk of my time at my computer. Neither of these options seemed especially healthy or useful. But since I wasn’t about to stop travelling, I needed some inspiration in a hurry. After reading around and chatting with my peers, I came up with the following set of ideas to help balance between work and life on the road.


1. Set realistic goals

There’s nothing worse than piling a bunch of books into your suitcase only to unpack them unread when you return home. In addition to wasting valuable luggage space, it can also be very demoralizing. Instead, be realistic about what you can achieve while away. Think through your itinerary and plan your work around the time you have. Doing this ahead of time will also give you a chance to preemptively make up some work in the days leading up to your trip. And be sure to include in your schedule time to explore and enjoy your destination!


2. Focus on outcome, not time spent

Instead of worrying that you’re not getting a certain amount of hours in, focus instead on the goals you set at the start of your trip. A change to your daily schedule will often require you to break up tasks you would normally complete all at once.


3. Be creative with your time

In conjunction with the above tip, you may need to be creative in finding some time to work while on the road. Some people are able to work well on trains and planes (but I’m too busy willing my plane to stay in the sky). There may also be natural times in your day when there is some downtime - before bed, early in the morning, lunch breaks, waiting in lines. Even several fifteen minute slots a day will get you closer and closer to your goals. In short, don’t look for big blocks of time - be creative in finding several little windows throughout the day.


4. Compromise

Especially when visiting family, taking time to work can often leave me feeling rather guilty. A friend recently suggested to me that I seek a compromise in which I promise to be free at certain periods of the day in exchange for some uninterrupted work time. I retreated to my computer when most family members were at work or when my nieces were napping, but was available in the early evenings when everyone was together. In this way, I got the most out of my trip without feeling like I was neglecting my work.


5. Don’t see relaxation as a waste

Perhaps most importantly, I have learned not to see taking a break as unproductive. Taking a few days off often allows me to return to my work refreshed and more productive. With this knowledge, I can now enjoy a respite from my normal routine without the accompanying guilt.


How do you plan to stay productive during the holidays? Let us know in the comments! Bonus points if your post includes lyrics from “On the Road Again.”


[Image by Flickr user Sandor Weisz and used under Creative Commons license]


Back to Top