I think I’ve discovered the ultimate productivity trick (and sanity saver). After 25 years of traveling 50 percent to 75 percent of the time for business, I’ve stopped. Completely. I returned home from my last trip on May 17 and haven’t taken a business trip since.
I initially cut out business travel for self-preservation reasons. If you read my last Inc. column, you know that I struggled through a depressive episode in the first half of 2013. Depression wasn’t new to me, but this time I slammed into a wall. After months of traveling almost nonstop and binge sleeping on the weekends to recover, I woke up one day in January and realized I couldn’t--and didn’t want to--do it anymore.
So I stopped. As part of a series of tactical life changes, I eliminated business travel the rest of the year to see how it worked out. The result? It has been incredible--so incredible that I’ve decided not to travel for business at all in 2014.
In case you’re wondering, my work is international. Foundry Group, the VC firm where I’m a partner, has investments all around the United States. Techstars, which I co-founded, has programs throughout the country and has recently expanded overseas.
My writing on start-up communities (Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City) and with organizations like the nonprofit UP Global takes me around the world. So I felt compelled to travel. Sometimes I enjoyed it, but as an introvert, mostly I found it exhausting. I wondered, Could I really be as effective at this work without traveling?
Part of the reason I was able to travel as much as I did was that I set up my systems to be able to work from anywhere. If I had to be in New York for a few days, I was just as connected to Boulder (my home base) as I would have been from anywhere else. My epiphany was that because I
could work from anywhere, why not make that place Boulder?
There were only two things I had to do to make this work. The first was decide to stop traveling completely. I’m not good at doing things moderately, so it had to be all or nothing.
The other key was really mastering videoconferencing. It’s not a new technology--I’ve been using it for many years--but the vast majority of companies I work with have unique, inadequate setups. Usually this means you wind up with the least-common denominator: a crappy Skype call.
At the Foundry Group office in Boulder, we installed Oblong’s Mezzanine system, which we believe is the future technology for collaborative, distributed work. (Full disclosure: Foundry is an investor.) We rolled out LifeSize videoconferencing in every Techstars office. We made sure each conference room had high-quality audio and video for any Web-based videoconference call. We figured out how to deal with multiparty calls and learned the magic trick of separating audio and video streams.
I tried every videoconferencing software program I could find and practiced relentlessly, driving as many calls to videoconferencing as possible. And I learned that when I am on a videoconference, I can’t have anything else going on, or else I pay almost no attention. So I’ve learned to give the task at hand my sole focus.
It has been transformative for me. Since June, I feel as if I’ve been doing the best work of my life. I’m as creative as I’ve ever been. I’m in the moment completely when I’m working. I’m no longer shredded from the exhausting and dehumanizing process of trying to get from one place to another by air travel, and I’m getting all my work done at the same time. The real bonus? Walking my dog every morning is a special joy, and going to bed each night with my wife is magnificent.