I'm living in chaos right now.

I'm heading out on a trip soon, and I'm (of course) leveraging the opportunity in multiple ways. I'm testing out a bunch of travel gear, more on that later. I'm bringing a grand total of three laptops along to make sure I can keep writing on a ten hour flight. And, I'm making decisions about which items will fit in a bag and stay under the 50-pound limit.

A longer trip like this means more planning and more stress, but I've learned one important lesson about how packing can destroy any productivity before you depart. You're constantly thinking about passports, suit coats, and laptop chargers. In my job, I'm already herding cats and spinning plates. Now, I'm also trying to juggle fruit baskets at the same time. It's a little crazy. Fortunately, I found an answer.

Here's my trick.

I'm not leaving until Wednesday, but I'm already packing. Why load up my belongings, charge my phone, and pack so early? You might question the logic, since most people pack right before they leave. Why get your ducks in a row before the ducks are ready to fly? However, since I'm ready to go now, it means I'm able to focus on other tasks and finish up assignments and other work. I'm free to not procrastinate.

I remember writing about stress management versus time management once. It resonated with readers so much that, to this day, people still email me about it. The idea works. Time will take care of itself--we know that from the movie Arrival. What seems to cause way more problems is stress. According to science, stress is technically anything that causes mental or physical tension. I define it as unresolved issues. Our brains are wired to stick to a set pattern. We like things to be predictable, normal, and stagnant. We like to avoid any hint of disruption. In fact, I've heard that procrastination is really another form of stress avoidance. If it is something we don't want to do or don't like doing (or that's new and unpredictable), we see that as a form of tension. We try to avoid stress, so we put things off (e.g., going to the doctor or finishing a sales deck).

Back to packing for my trip. It's stressful! It's time-consuming! It's unpredictable! What if we bring the wrong item or forget our passports? We put off packing because we know it is drudgery but also because it causes stress. My approach is to pack a day or two early. I'm all packed right now--clothes folded, laptops tucked into a case. My mind has put the act of packing into the "done" category, and now I can work normally. I'm not thinking about finding items that are scattered all over my house. I'm not making a list of things to bring along--I know what to bring along because it is all in my luggage right now.

There's a side benefit to this approach. In terms of the science involved, our brains tend to like order and predictability, so it gives me a boost to know my bags are all sitting at the door. I can add an item or two right before I leave, but I know I have the essentials.

I am working harder right now and I'm finishing more work because the stress is not getting to me. All that's really left is the act of loading the bags, boarding a flight...and taking a really long nap on the plane.

I can even imagine getting more work done on the trip. I can flow right from working to travel, not working to packing to travel. Will you try this trick sometime? Let me know if you suddenly get a burst of energy to finish more tasks before you leave on a trip.

Just don't forget your phone charger.

Published on: Nov 14, 2016