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WORK-LIFE BALANCE

How to Live With Jet Lag: 7 Tricks
 

There's no cure-all for jet lag. But there is a sane way to travel.

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I spend my life on planes. Often, when people ask where I live, I answer simply: "Seat 7a." I work equally in the U.S. and Europe, with a few side trips to the Far East, so I'm regularly asked how I handle jet lag. I've read a lot of the science on the subject, tried out most of the remedies, and found no magic cure.

Instead, to some degree, I try to ignore jet lag. I learned to do this because I found my kids had no interest in it; when I came home, they just assumed I was on their schedule and had no sympathy for any excuses. It taught me a good lesson. 

So here are seven tricks I've learned to help me cope:

1. When you're on planes, don't work or watch movies. 

Too much time in front of a screen in an airless space numbs the mind. It can feel like a nice break, but it won't give you energy. So bring an old-fashioned, hard-copy book and enjoy the freedom you have to read without interruption. On most flights I take, I can start and finish a book, and I find I remember it better because I wasn't interrupted.

2. Don't eat.

These days you're rarely offered edible food on planes anyway, but I find my body is always a lot happier if I eat when I'm on the ground. I know business-class meals are supposed to be a treat. But the truth is, they're the most expensive fast food in the world. So ignore them. Instead, have pizza at the airport before you board.

3. Try not to drink.

I definitely feel better if I don't drink alcohol. However, if I'm boarding a long flight at the end of the day, I'll have one glass of champagne or wine. Then I stop.

4. Listen and sleep.

On long flights, I always listen to the same audio book. I still have no idea how it ends, and my sense of its narrative structure is bizarre. But I've conditioned my body to recognize that whenever I hear that voice, it's time to sleep. I'll take a generic sleep aid, like Tylenol PM, and get anything between four and seven hours of sleep. (What I must never do is listen to this book while driving.)

5. Be where you are.

As soon as I arrive, I do my best to get acclimated into the local schedule. This is for no other reason than that it distracts me from how discombobulated I feel. If I'm on the same schedule as everyone else, I act normal, even if I feel distinctly strange.

6. Go to bed.

When I get to a destination, I try hard not to schedule dinners or evening meetings. This isn't always possible--when it is, I go to bed as early as I can. That may mean waking early the next day, but that's fine: I can always get work done while others sleep.

7. Take time to recover.

After long or complicated trips (my last one was nine flights in 12 days), I try to schedule a recovery day. The longer the trip, the greater the accumulated chaos on my return. I also find that I want time to reacquaint myself with my office and my routine. The first day back is invariably nesting time: I look like I'm working, but really I'm just reminding myself of home.

Last updated: Aug 22, 2012

MARGARET HEFFERNAN is an entrepreneur and author. She has been chief executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. In 2014, she published her fourth book, A Bigger Prize: How We Can Do Better Than the Competition.
@M_Heffernan




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