If you're like me, you probably go into each flight with good intentions. "I've got hours of uninterrupted time," I always think to  myself, "I'll get so much work done."  But after too many unproductive flights, I've learned that if I actually want to get things done while I'm in the air, I need to strategize, plan ahead, and be prepared. It's taken a lot of trial and error, but these are my proven strategies for getting things accomplished while I'm in flight.

1. Plan ahead. 

The most crucial trick to getting work done on a flight is planning ahead. When I make an in-flight to-do list of tasks that I can reasonably accomplish on an airplane, I'm far more likely to be productive.

For instance, I know from experience that working on a laptop in an economy-class seat is basically a non-starter. There's just not enough room to be able to open my laptop and work without elbowing the person next to me or hitting the seat in front of me. So if I'm stuck flying economy, I always make myself a to-do list that only includes tasks that don't require a laptop. Instead, I do work that I can accomplish either with an old-fashioned notebook and pen, or on a tablet.

2. Get ready to go Wi-Fi-free.

While more and more flights are Wi-Fi equipped, some aren't; and on others, Wi-Fi is prohibitively expensive or uselessly slow. So I always make sure to gather all of the materials that I need before I fly. This can entail downloading emails, documents, or other work materials that I store in the cloud, and making sure that all of the work software that I need to use works offline. 

Even when I'm on a flight where Wi-Fi is available, I like to treat my flight time as Wi-Fi-free time: that way, I can focus on the tasks that I've set for myself, and not get distracted by incoming emails or other online distractions.

3. Minimize interruptions. 

Among the biggest hindrances to a productive flight are, unfortunately, other passengers. When you're packed into an airplane with hundreds of other people, you are guaranteed to encounter something or someone who annoys or distracts you--whether it's loud talkers sitting around you, crying babies, or even over-attentive flight attendants.

You can minimize these interruptions. One way is to sit in a window seat, instead of on the aisle. It may not be the most comfortable spot to sit, as you won't be able to stretch your legs, but you also won't be bothered when the other passengers in your row need to get in and out. 

You can also invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones, which will help to block out the noise of other passengers.

4. Board last.

Having a productive flight can start before you even get on the plane. Shahariss Beh of Hackernest suggests that, rather than joining the fray as people clamor to be first on the plane, you should just sit back and get more work done. Being one of the last to board helps you avoid the hectic hustle of the lines and bumping of elbows, and you have more time to stretch out in the airport and work in comfort. 

5. Clear your head.

While it may not seem productive, taking a bit of "me" time during a flight will help you to be more productive in the long-run. I enjoy bringing a journal along to unload any unwanted baggage and write about my hopes and dreams for the future. It can be a rather cathartic experience to daydream while your head is literally in the clouds!

Published on: Nov 9, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.