Right now I am sitting in the Las Vegas airport. With an hour to kill, I decided to write this blog entry with the harmonious sound of slot machines ringing in my ears.
I know so many road warriors who pride themselves in being able to get to the gate just as the doors are closing. Not me. I appreciate having extra time at the airport to relax and work before my flight. In fact, I tend to get to most places early. And there is a good reason.
My background is process design where there is a concept called “the theory of constraints.” The general idea is that “success” is limited by at least one constraining process (i.e., a bottleneck). In the business world, this means that if you want to make more money, the best way to do that is to increase the throughput at the bottleneck so that overall throughput is increased. You can think of this as strengthening the “weakest link in the chain.”
I use the theory of constraints in my personal life. With nearly 1 million miles of flying under my belt, I have never missed a flight. How is this possible? Because I allow plenty of time to get to the airport. I live a mere 15 minutes from Logan International in Boston, yet I typically leave for the airport two hours before a flight. Why?
We are all at the mercy of various bottlenecks: traffic on the way to the airport and long lines at the check in counter, baggage drop-off, and security. Any one of these could prevent me from getting to my plane on time…and I can’t predict when it will happen.
Therefore, instead of sitting in my office working until the last minute and then scrambling to get to the plane on time, I get to the airport early and work there. My philosophy is to put as many of the potential bottlenecks behind me before I settle down. When I get to the airport, I always check in first and drop off my luggage (I know I can print my boarding card from my computer before going to the airport, but I find this saves me very little time as I still need to check my luggage). Although I could then sit down at Dunkin’ Donuts and relax, I still have another bottleneck – security – ahead of me. Therefore, if possible, I go through security before getting my bagel and diet Coke. Besides, we can’t bring liquids through security anymore.
With technology these days, I can be as productive at the airport as I would be in my own office. I have a BlackBerry which delivers my email. I use my BlackBerry as a modem to connect my computer to the internet. The airport is an effective remote office. And doing it this way allows me to be totally stress free. I “put bottlenecks behind me” nearly every day.
If I am heading to a meeting, but haven’t eaten, I may drive through the known traffic spots before getting some food. I always leave plenty of extra time. The worst that happens is I arrive at my destination ahead of schedule. And since I assume that I will be early, I plan activities (work or pleasure) for me to do during this spare time. The good news is, I never have to have a contingency plan for if I am late.
It costs $2 to ride the T (Boston’s subway/train system), and you must have a ticket to go through the turnstile. When finishing one trip, I always purchase tickets for my next trips. This way I do not need to buy tickets when I am in a hurry to catch a train. There is nothing worse than shoving dollars into a ticket machine (and having the machine spit out your crumpled bills) when you hear the train pulling into the station. I know if I miss a train, I will have to wait at least another 15 minutes.
With potential bottlenecks behind you, you save yourself time and frustration. You will almost always be on time. And you can still be highly productive when you arrive at your destination early. OK, you won’t get that wonderful adrenaline rush this way. But in the long run, this approach keeps my blood pressure in check. Besides, numerous studies show that people who are not under severe time constraints operate at higher levels of performance. Goal-Free Living is stress-free living which is highly-effective living.