10 Ways To Gain Energy From A Long-Haul Flight

In-flight safety demonstration on board a Luft...

Image via Wikipedia

Flying used to drain my energy. Whether on a short or long flight, I could not sleep. I could not rest. I felt crammed. I got stressed. I was inconvenienced by airport security. All of this went on for many years. Then, I decided not to wait to be comfortable until I was in a position of control, could travel business class or could avoid flying altogether. Rather, I decided it was a question of attitude and technique. In short, I started applying my very own principles of leadership from below to air travel. Overnight, I started looking at a flight as a relief. I actually gained energy from it. In fact, even on long-haul flights, I rarely get to all my planned pursuits. How did I do it? Let me explain.


1. Pick an airline

With fear of sounding like a marketing agent for frequent flyer programmes, pick an airline and stick to it. Not only will you have a quicker check-in, get lounge access, board early, and get your luggage early, you will also know more about what do do if anything about your travel situation changes. You will be aware what generally happens if the flight is delayed or cancelled. You will know the layout of the aircraft for each particular route so you can pick the best seat. You may even get to know the call center, cabin crews or check-in staff, which can come in very handy.


Many would instinctively pick a window seat to be undisturbed and to look at the sky. Fine. However, I recommend picking an aisle seat to give you the most flexibility. You do risk having to get up several times for people who need to use the toilet or want to move around, but being blocked is not an option for me.


2. Mentally prepare for the flight

Preparation is everything. You need to start this the moment you have bought the ticket. First the mental change: start imagining you are on the flight, completely at ease, think of the things you would like to do, how you would want to relax, what you want to spend this time on. Do you mainly want to sleep, relax, study, read leisurely, watch a movie, talk to a stranger, watch people or something else? This is not only a mental exercise, it has consequences. Think of all the obstacles that are likely to occur along the way. Try to remember specifically what frustrated you on the last flight and think of remedies. Write down any major conclusions and pack it with your bag for later reference and act on it if anything is required.


3. Strategize and choose your approach

After the mental charge, you pick your main approach to the journey and ensure you are properly equipped to do or experience whatever you have decided. I am not going to assume you are exactly like me, but here is what I generally do:


Improvise, zone out, fix what you can, ignore the rest, take charge of what you can, control your environment, become a leader where you can, enjoy not having responsibility in those instances you cannot lead. Perception is reality.


4. Supercharge your carry-on

Think of your carry-on as a survival kit. Always bring two carry-ons, a personal item and a bag.


As regard your personal item, make it look like a computer bag, but make sure you can survive for a day or two on its contents.

Sound and light proofing: earplugs to block aircraft noise, an eye mask to block unwanted light.

Nutrition: pack energy bars, mints, raisins, and gum.

Edutainment: pack a fully charged laptop, pad, PDA, several of your favorite magazines and a paperback.

Work: Bring some work documents and a pen and notepad to jot down ideas.

Identification and money: passport, credit cards, a small reserve of cash in Dollar, Euro and local currency.

Emergency equipment: bring a miniature flash light and first-aid kit.

Clothing: pack a cashmere sweater, scarf, and a change of underwear.

Toiletries: weigh the pros and cons of putting toiletries in your personal item allowed onboard. I always do since I never check luggage and because if I am forced to gate-check my bag, I am not left without means.

Information: bring phone numbers to all major airlines, your doctor, your emergency contact, and a few friends in a large radius between your departure and your destination.


As regards your carry-on bag as such, this is where you pack everything you need for a week. Pack a maximum of 5 sets of underwear. Bring dry washing powder sheet and plan to wash or dry clean your clothes every 3 days. Roll all your clothes. Use packing cubes for ease. On business trips, I regularly manage for several weeks on a small bag.


5. Launch your own pre-boarding prep

Sixty minutes before boarding, you should take a shower. Yes, it is possible if you have lounge access, and it is very much worth it. Thirty minutes before boarding, buy and/or consume a bottle of water, take a melatonin tablet (I use SleepMD), and eat so you are all set, if need be for the whole journey. Make sure you have time to use the bathroom before you board. Prepare for the flight, think about what you will do with the time on the plane, prepare for the inevitable stresses of boarding. Visualize what will happen. Remember that you have done it many times before. Make sure you are relaxed.


6. Find your own boarding routine

Boarding is not something the airline does to you. It is your chance to influence the crew. Actually, starting with check-in staff (who may turn out to be crew members for what you know), make sure you make a good impression. Be polite, ask questions about the flight, make yourself known, compliment their behavior or actions if at all possible. Generally, it is good to board as soon as you can, so you can fill the overhead compartments with your stuff directly above your seat. Frequent flyer status is great for this purpose, so make sure you always stick to the same airline.


7. Scan and screen fellow passengers

Most people approach fellow air passengers as if they were a random crowd. Doing so, they ignore most of the social dynamics in place and miss opportunities to exploit the characteristics of their particular sample of humankind. In fact, initial screening can be done while still in the terminal.


When you board the flight, make sure you make eye contact with each flight attendant you pass on your way. Smile. You are stuck with these people for hours. On the positive side, they are the only authority you will have to deal with for a while, or at least it may seem so. In reality, on board an airplane there is plenty of hierarchy to reckon with. Keeping this in mind, keep an observant eye and nod politely as you pass through the cabin with the first-class and business passengers. Also, make sure you are friendly with the people with aisle seats who can get up whenever they please and control other people’s exit options.


Then, make sure you are aware of the seat assignments of every parent traveling with kids. The reason is, they command unique attention from flight attendants and could also be a source (and extinguisher) of excess noise. As you pass through the aircraft, note various categories of people, the overweight who might impose themselves on the nearby seats or contribute to congestion, the new couples or teenagers who might talk all the way.


In fact, make sure you do a sweep of everybody in eyesight. Who might they be? Will they pose a threat to your relaxation? Are there any networking opportunities? A potential match? If any of those apply, try to move seats so you are closer to your target(s) or further from perceived problem spots. Finally, for your own safety, keep a watchful eye on suspicious or violent behavior. You would want to be part of the solution, or alternatively sit far away if you so please, should intervention be needed.


8. Scan a good radius around your own seat

Once you have found your seat, immediately put in your earplugs. I have found you can still hear what flight attendants tell you. The only thing to remember is to talk very loudly, as your own perception of the way your voice carries changes when you wear earplugs. After all, you only need to deploy a few expressions: “yes/no”, “orange juice/water, please”, and “thank you”. I cannot think of many other expressions that are useful if you want to conserve energy on a flight. In place of speech, use mimicry, body language, and facial expressions.


Think very carefully before you start a dialogue with the person(s) seated next to you. In all likelihood, you have made a choice that affects the whole flight. If you must talk to people, it is actually wiser to choose the people you meet in the hallway or in the bathroom queue, since you can always retreat to your seat. In short, think of your seat as your kingdom’s walled garden. It is nobody’s but your own. Develop a mental protective perimeter and let nobody disturb you.


Once you have your seat, it is time to domesticate the nearby environment. Check overhead compartments for extra pillows and blankets. Once boarding is completed, go on a scavenge hunt for whatever pillows and blankets remain. They will cushion and warm you and might mean the difference between a few hours sleep and angry restlessness. Make yourself comfortable, put on your seatbelt, put on your eye mask and relax. Now, even before the flight has departed, is the time to get some rest.


9. Divide the time into tasks during the flight

People say flying is boring. I find I seldom get done all of the things I wanted to do. Depending on how tired I am, I divide my time into five tasks: rest, work, thinking, eating and sleeping. Five is quite a lot. Just think about it, in 20-minute increments you can only get five slots. In hourly increments you can only get 1 slot for each. I try to set goals for each activity and I always bring pen and paper. A computer is of course useful, but not essential. Airplane time is quite unique. I never have this much time away from the web, the phone, the kids, or meetings.


10. Activate immediately after the flight

Some people would say you should rest after you fly. I do the opposite. I find that after such a concentrated time in one seat, I need to move around. Usually, the best option is working intensely for a few hours, working out for an hour, then getting a massage or hitting the sauna. After that, a dinner with friends is usually a great option or simply crash at an early bedtime, local time. I used to be horrible with jet lag, and the basic operation of my biological clock have not changed. However, I have learned to manipulate my natural tendency to stop functioning even after a few hours of jet lag, using leadership from below.


Toddlers become Leaders

A PlantSim toddler.

Image via Wikipedia

There is a growing trend to use toddlers as a model for positive (and negative) leadership traits.  This is not lost on FT’s Lucy Kellaway who in the FT Business Life On Work column on 13 September 2010 describes Nicholas Brann’s theory of leadership:

● Toddlers are full of energy and enthusiasm. You can’t beat a toddler who is really into something and going for it 100 per cent.

● Toddlers are natural risk-takers. They throw themselves into climbing down the banisters in the boldest, bravest fashion.

● Toddlers are persistent. When told not to smear jam on a DVD, they will wait a couple of minutes and then do it again.

● Toddlers are inquisitive. They will not be fobbed off with a stock reply but go on asking “why? why? why?”

● Toddlers are creative. Their felt-tip drawings on walls and sofas betray the liveliest imagination.

● Toddlers have great interpersonal skills. They are good at thawing the hardest heart with hugs and sloppy kisses.

Leadership from below takes some getting used to.  Toddler leaders can be exhausting, demanding, and unreasonable. But they are effective. The interesting thing to start paying more attention to, is what happens in a group of toddlers. Think a toddler birthday party. There will be plenty material for new theories, books, and challenges to the initial theorem.

The Rise of China’s Good Old Ideas

We are about to discover China. When I say we I mean all non-Chinese plus those Chinese expats who might have forgotten some of their own finesse. When I say discover I don’t just mean the China displayed in Beijing Olympics 2008. That was just the beginning. Nor am I only thinking of China’s economic power. That is a given. No—the interesting part of China—the one it will take decades to discover and understand—is its cultural heritage. And with that comes culinary exploits, traditions, leadership theories—all of which will be mixed into the global reality that things need to be simple, trendy, and have mass appeal. Finally, when I say China, I actually mean the entire Chinese hemisphere—including Japan and Korea. Hence, in a few years, the Asian idea of Chi (sometimes spelled Qi or Ki in Japanese or Korean) will become commonplace. What will that mean?

The rise of Chi

Chi is Chinese for energy. Not the kind of thing we pay high Euro for in our houses to keep warm in winter, but the force that controls life itself. While it may sound strange to Westerners, even to diaspora Asians, the fact is that the Chinese have had a sophisticated civilization for several millennia, and that many of their ideas are timelessly important. Particularly that of Chi.  

Let us just enter into the logic of ki for a moment. The notion builds on the fact that you as a person constantly interact with others in a physical location. Furthermore, what we traditionally call social interaction consists of a mix of physical, social, and mental processes. These occur in and around your body, and comprise your presence. Becoming aware of ki, you can to some extent control or relay energy to where it is needed the most. However, there is no need to believe in the extreme variants of parapsychology in order to appreciate ki phenomena at their most basic levels. Gestalt psychology, a fairly established brain theory that emerged in the 1930s, holds that the whole is greater than its parts–directly in line with ki-sensitive thinking.

The rise of Chinese Medicine

One of the core ideas—one which is practiced in Chinese hospitals even today—is that healing your body has little to do with only medication. Painkillers in the traditional sense only numb the pain, they do not attack the root of the problem. The health of a person is governed by invisible energy flows inside the body, surrounding the body, and in a person’s surroundings. Hence, you treat the energy flows, not the person per se. Obviously, at a decent Chinese hospital they combine Western and Eastern healing—and many patients benefit from that.

The rise of Massage

Most people will have the sensation that foot massage affects other parts of the body. How is that possible? Well, even without accepting sophisticated and seemingly far-fetched theories like Yin and Yang and Meridians or Channels, we might have to concede there are things we yet do not understand. Many will already be familiar with some kind of Asian massage, whether it be Shiatsu, Acupressure, or any variant of Chinese massage. Asian massage is not the Swedish muscle-toned torture we know from Scandinavian massage, it is subtle pressure, often with far-reaching consequences way beyond the impacted body part. The Asian approach is to manipulate energy, although manipulate is a Western word. What actually happens is to release pressure, tension, and energy that is trapped—so the system restarts.

The rise of the Martial Arts

Chinese martial arts like Kung Fu as well as the Japanese Aikido all attempt to manipulate ki. The energy that flows inside you also likely is responsible for interpersonal dynamics – what we more commonly (in the West) call personal chemistry. In Aikido, all emphasis is on using the force of your opponent to your advantage, never adding your own negative force. Jiujitsu, another Japanese martial art, preaches the use of both positive and negative force. Martial Arts are part of global culture.

The rise of Chinese Leadership

The Chinese leadership model emphasizes connections, dignity, and trust, which are equally important for Western leaders. If you now assume I am thinking of Chinese Emperors, or even of the current head of the Communist party, Hu Jintao, or premier Wen Jiabao, you are partially right, but only partially. Chinese leadership is so much more. For one, it is in evidence every day the Chinese people make a consumer decision. Think of the consumer power of Chinese society. They will reshape post-credit crisis production and maybe transform the way we all business in the next decades. You might have guessed where this leads us: towards leadership from below.

Leadership from below, those of you who are following this blog will recall, is the view that leadership is more about attitude than position, more about peers than hierarchies. For more detail, consult my book, Leadership From Below (on Amazon.com). In any case, China is the perfect place to test the idea that leadership can indeed occur outside the establishment. If it can in China, among the most hierarchical, controlled countries on Earth, it can anywhere. Can we find examples of such things already happening in China? Sure.  Social entrepreneurs are slowly changing the makeup of Chinese society. Entrepreneurs are building companies with hybrid values—Chinese and global. But it will take time. 

Two quite interesting, and opposing forces are active in Chinese society—the force of Chi and the force of the Communist Party. The Rise of China’s Good Old Ideas will require one of them to cede. But whichever wins in China might not matter to the rest of the world (I said might). Clearly, the world has already chosen Chi—and that trend can be seen way beyond Chinatown in New York, London, or San Francisco. Just think of that when you buy your local potion of Ginseng, see your massage therapist, get acupuncture, eat your weekly ration of Asian food, or send your son to Martial Arts classes. We are all de facto believers in something so elusive that we prefer not to think about it too much. Chi—the word and the lifestyle will not go away. It signals a time where leaders must be in tune with their surroundings if they are going to lead at all. Not such a bad idea, one might say.

Leadership From Below: Lesson #9:

Successful leaders combine Eastern life principles and Western management principles. Charismatic leaders have a strong presence, are aware of how energy flows through human encounters. Energy (ki) is they key to health, intuition, as well as innovation. Discovering China’s good old ideas is worth it–regardless your ethic origin.

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