Here’s a Quick Productivity Secret: Don’t Buy Wifi on Flights

July 14, 2014

I have a productivity secret. It’s a simple one, but it works.

It’s this: I just don’t buy WIFI when I fly. Not at the airport and not in the air.

I didn’t intend for it to be one either. It happened because I was being cheap.

Whether I’m traveling for business (which I do a lot) or pleasure, I deliberately pass on the pretty unbelievable technological breakthrough that makes it possible to connect to the internet at 30,000 feet. That’s it. And it makes me amazingly productive.

Tim Ferriss is right. Email received is a function of email sent. Take yourself off the grid for a second—stop the bleeding—and then go through your inbox offline. You’ll be amazing at how quickly you start banging them out, how many emails you’d saved for later you are now fine with deleting, how easy it is to get back to Inbox zero.

In the air, free of distractions, I have ideas. I have the patience to deal with that problem email I’ve been putting off. I can reflect. It occurs to me to send my girlfriend a nice note. I put together tomorrow’s To Do list. I am re-energized. I have a clear head. (Extra tip: I usually listen to the same song over and over while I do this.)

Of course it’s not just email and planning. I’ve edited books in the air. I’ve filled out Q&As. I’ve written articles. I am writing this article right now, in the air between Dublin and New York. The map on the screen tells me I have about two hours to wrap it up before I land.

read too. I’m like a binge reader and air travel is my enabler. Give me a cross country (or god forbid, an international one) and I’ll burn through everything I’ve been meaning to read.

But of course, none of this is possible if I am on Gchat or getting hit with real time emails. Or if I’m checking out articles designed deliberately to push my buttons. The whole equation falls apart if the endless choices of the internet are available.

This productivity zone is possible for $9.99-14.99 free. That’s why you shouldn’t fight Airplane Mode. Embrace it. Let it be your friend.

I’m not the only one to do this. In fact, I’ve found it’s a trick shared by some of the busiest people I know. Some of us even plan travel if we feel stuff piling up. It brings new meaning to the advice of the writer John Fante: “When stuck, hit the road.”

The new version: When email is piling up, when you have a bunch of boring things you don’t want to do, when you need edit/write/create, book a long flight.

If you want a satisfying feeling, here it is—opening up the laptop when I get to the hotel or back to my house and seeing the outbox launch a hundred emails one right after another, like paratroopers out of the back of a transport plane.

How much have I actually saved doing this? I don’t know—a thousand dollars over the last five years? But that’s pennies compared to the work I got done.

Next time you fly, treat yourself to not getting WIFI. You’ll thank me.

This column originally appeared on Thought Catalog. Comments can bee seen there.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

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