General Electric chief marketing officer Beth Comstock is no stranger to travel, but it wasn’t always something she looked forward to.
The road warrior spends about 50% of her time away from home in New York City, travelling often to GE corporate headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut, and flying to San Francisco several times a month to oversee GE Ventures, the company’s startup investment arm. She also travels internationally about once every quarter.
Early in her career, Comstock was afraid of flying. That started to change, though, once she figured out how to use her flights to be productive.
Today, the veteran executive has come to see her time in the air as a blessing in disguise — an opportunity to disconnect, recharge, and do creative work.
“It’s turned out to be a place where I’m not just productive, but creative,” says Comstock, who became GE’s chief marketing officer in 2003. “You say, ‘Wow, I’m above the Earth. I’m in this amazing place.’ You look out the window, and your mind just wanders.”
To get the most out of every flight, Comstock likes to plan what she is going to get done beforehand.
If she’s travelling on a 13-hour flight to Asia, for instance, she’ll think about the work she would like to do and how much sleep she wants to get, scheduling the most meaningful work for the beginning of the trip.
Comstock works in two-hour cycles before taking a break, which she often uses to do some reading.
This past summer, she was “totally obsessed” with Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgård’s “My Struggle” series. More recently, she has read “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by the business writer Greg McKeown.
At 36,000 feet, Comstock’s favourite kind of work to do is writing — which she does by hand — because the isolation gives her time to reflect that she often doesn’t get when she’s on the ground.
On every flight, she brings a big stack of paper and a nice pen to write anything from a LinkedIn post she’s been thinking about to a strategic business plan for the company’s advanced manufacturing division.
Comstock says most businesspeople today have what she calls “pajama jobs.”
Because most businesspeople today have what she calls “pajama jobs,” requiring them to join conference calls at all hours, flying is a time to disconnect.
By that she means global positions that occasionally require them to join a conference call in their pajamas. That’s why it’s especially important to carve out time to think without being interrupted by a text message or email.
“Wi-Fi on planes can be really great, but I rarely use it because it is a distraction,” she says. “Trying to find these moments wherever you are to unplug and be creative is essential, both as a businessperson and as a person.”
During the latter half of an international trip, Comstock makes time to get about three or four hours of sleep. After she wakes up, she likes to watch something on her iPad before reading a novel or catching up on email.
And when the plane touches down, she’s able to leave with the knowledge that she has made the most of her travel time.
“In business, flying is a fact of life. Few of us really like it, I think it’s fair to say,” Comstock tells Business Insider. “I had to overcome a lot to get to the point where I look forward to a flight and use it to spur creativity.”
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