Managers are flying more than ever before. Each year, several million hours of business travel are clocked by energetic executives travelling busily to client locations and conferences, and also tired managers flying back home at the end of a tough day. How should managers utilize these many long hours in the air, to maximize professional growth and happiness ?

Typically, busy executives use flights to catch up on sleep, or read the newspaper. Many attempt to work on their laptops, notwithstanding the cramped yogic posture that this requires, amidst cramped economy class seats. These have become virtually automatic flying habits. But have you thoughtfully considered the many other nice and useful things that you can do while flying?

One important thing that any executive must do is realize that flying time is “me only time". This is very valuable space and time for yourself—an invaluable window of calm in today’s hectic world—where you don’t have to constantly balance the demands of bosses, clients, teams and family. Therefore, maximize the use of flying time for yourself. Here are some interesting things you can consider doing.

Quiet meditation

There is something about flying 30,000ft high up in the skies, that naturally promotes the meditative spirit. A flight is a brilliant place to meditate. After take-off, tell the crew not to disturb you. Then, use any meditation technique which you have taken a fancy for. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, do your best to banish all distracting thoughts from your smart managerial mind. If you are a digital geek, use a meditation app. If you are merely musically oriented, carry some meditative chanting or music on your smartphone, and plug into it. In olden times, people used to go high up to the Himalayas to meditate. Think of flights as modern Himalayan caves, soaring well above earth.

While eating something you really like in solitude, use the time spent in a flight just for yourself and not to work. Photo: iStock
While eating something you really like in solitude, use the time spent in a flight just for yourself and not to work. Photo: iStock

Joy of eating

Flights can become great eating places, particularly if you bring your own favourite food. At airports, I often pick up the comfort food I love (for example, fried chicken), and then I eat it, very slowly and totally undisturbed, on board my flights. This is an amazingly happy pastime, because eating your favourite meal slowly, with absolutely no upcoming urgent meetings or digital distractions, can be so liberating.

You focus totally on the food you love, and experience delicious flavours which you have taken for granted. Given that many executives eat their daily meals hastily, sandwiched between hectic meetings, relaxed eating on flights is a thoroughly rejuvenating activity. Believe me.

Deep reflection

Use the uninterrupted time you get on flights, to reflect deeply on your work and life. As managers, we are often addicted to action, leaving ourselves very little time for reflection. Flying time can provide us the answer. Pull out your notebook, list out everything that is going superbly for you, and things that are not going so well, then ask yourself all the searching questions. Reflect on what you can do better, at office and home, over the next several days and weeks. Reflect on the higher purpose of your career or life, that’s important too. Aircrafts are particularly good places for such thinking sessions, because you are far away from the hurly burly of daily life, and good reflection requires distance from the battleground.

Spontaneous conversation

Flights are wonderful places to strike up conversations with strangers, which can often turn out to be very insightful. Once, I spoke to a young chef seated next to me, and, in two hours, had obtained delightful insights into how customized menus are created for big fat weddings. On another occasion, I spoke to a portly businessman, who took me on a very interesting voyage through the joys and sorrows of the real estate business, with a remarkable interlude on why and how he always ends up extending his holidays in Goa. Serendipitous conversations with strangers enable you to break away from the same few people you meet each day, and so they add a fresh dimension to your life.

Total binge-watching

What better place to binge watch Netflix, or unwind over your favourite movies, than on a long flight? Binge-watching is becoming a cultural phenomenon of our times, and if done in moderation, it helps you unwind totally from daily pressures, and have super fun with some great content. Binge-watching by yourself at home or office can potentially have varying adverse impacts, ranging from deteriorating relationships to dismissal from service. However, on a flight, there is no such guilt at all because you are alone, and this is your personal time.

Time to create

A flight provides you uninterrupted space and time for any creative activity that you love. This could include writing a thought paper for an interesting project that has been on your mind, sketching a design or doodling, creating a collage of photographs on your computer, creatively planning your next holiday, or building imaginative ideas for your next team off-site. Some of my best ideas and writings have taken birth on flights, and creative pursuits are always energizing.

Harish Bhat works with the Tata Group. He is always keen to engage in an interesting conversation on a flight, but mind you, only after he has eaten well.