Like most entrepreneurs, I'm "on the grid" most of the time, answering emails from my cell phone, texting, taking conference calls in the car, and so on. Building a business in today's world demands near-constant connectivity. But most of us catch a break at 35,000 feet.
When the FCC announced it was considering a proposal to lift the ban on in-flight cell phone use, some travelers responded with cries of opposition and outrage. The possibility of being stuck beside someone shouting over terrible reception for hours is enough to strike dread into the hearts of many of us frequent fliers.
On top of the noise pollution, a cellphone-friendly aircraft cabin would destroy one of the last places of refuge in our hyper-connected world. Here's what I do on a long flight: put on a pair of noise-canceling headphones, close my eyes and think, write something that requires me to really focus on what I am trying to communicate, or catch up on reading that demands my full attention.
Far from being a waste of time, this low-fi in-flight entertainment has a number of profound benefits.
Reading is good.
Ever since my geeky adolescence, I've loved to read. Reading enhances vocabulary, strengthens analytical thinking skills, improves focus and concentration, and leads to better writing. And it calms the mind, allowing part of your brain to relax, recover, and sometimes inspire. Studies have also shown that reading fiction can make us more empathetic and help us connect with other people back in the real world.
But most importantly, reading is a great source of pleasure. Here are a few books that I'm pretty sure are not on any highbrow list of "Top 10 CEO books," but are satisfying and fun reads:
• Ready Player One: Pure brain candy for those of us who grew up in the '80s.
•No Shortcuts to the Top: My friend Ed Viesturs is the only American who has scaled each of the world's fourteen 8,000-meter peaks without oxygen. His book is an amazing story about someone who is still very much at the peak of his career.
•The Devil in the White City: This is a fascinating true account of the 1893 World's Fair and the serial killer who lurked behind the celebration and spectacle. A must-read for history buffs and for Chicago-lovers like me.
Also, I am an avid and longtime reader of the New Yorker magazine, which is still one of the greatest collections of good writing around. They stack up on my credenza and when I travel, I always grab a few to tuck in my bag.
Taking a break improves productivity and fosters creativity.
With Wi-Fi available on most commercial flights, it's tempting to tackle a big work project (Or simply clean out your inbox. Yes, for those who know me, I must come clean, I am guilty of the occasional 4-hour calendaring maelstrom.)
In his book "Focus" (another good one for a long flight) psychologist Daniel Goleman speaks to the virtues of "mind wandering." When we let our thoughts drift, they naturally settle on -- and mull over -- the challenges and questions that matter to us. Ever had a "Eureka!" moment in the shower? That flash of insight isn't a coincidence. It's brain science.
If you want to improve productivity and focus, you need to let your analytical mind rest. Regularly devoting attention to books, magazines, stories, films, music or whatever else sparks your imagination is critical to staying at the top of your game in business. Imagination is the root of creativity -- and creativity is the root of innovation.
Here's a suggestion: play one of your favorite albums (yes, I know that term dates me), but listen to the entire album when albums were... albums. Led Zeppelin is my favorite default. Just let your mind wander as the artists take you through their musical journey. You may be surprised by what comes to mind while you're not focused on a specific task.
My fellow business travelers, if the FCC does lift the cell phone ban, perhaps we can just agree to show some kindness toward each other and not bring the cacophony of cell phone chatter into the quiet sanctuary in the sky.