Filling the Void: How to Make the Best of Down Time

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When it comes to travel, it’s all about the bag you carry.  Take two identical suitcases. Despite weighing the same, the one stamped to a Carribean vacation feels infinitely lighter than one ticketed to a sales meeting in Des Moines, Iowa.  Traveling for fun and traveling for business can look very similar, yet feel very different.  For vacations, we count down the days until we leave, for work trips, the days until our return.

Why do we hate business travel of all sorts?  It’s not the work.  Selling makes each day go faster.  Conversely, it’s the dead time in-between the work. Whether it’s time spent driving, flying, or in hotels, it all feels useless, and for good reason. By driving 30-40k miles, I spend an estimated 50 working days a year, staring through my windshield. Other salespeople leave town for weeks at a time. Either way, it amounts to valuable time siphoned right out of our lives!

Still, we all accept sales travel as necessary, but does it have to be a necessary evil?  Thanks to technology, we have more choices to pass the time than ever. Unfortunately, they’re not all created equal.  Some time-killing activities make us feel and perform better, and some ultimately make life more difficult.  Below is a guide to help salespeople make the most of down time.  Consider avoiding the bad behaviors and replacing them with the better options provided.  

Avoid: Unhealthy or Dangerous Habits

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Yes, ideally, we’d all snack on quinoa and green tea all-day.  Back in reality, we satisfy ourselves, on occasion, with unhealthy habits.  Afternoon escapes to our favorite drive-through or retail wonderland can have harmful long term consequences.  In fact, one habit is likely to feed the other (I love puns, please don’t judge!).  Other habits, like texting and driving, put our lives at risk and should be eliminated.  It’s helpful to remember the quicker the satisfaction arrives from a given activity, the quicker it leaves..

REPLACE WITH THIS:  Learning and Creating

Consider the following temptation-inducing situations. Stuck in an airport terminal?  Grab a book!  It’s one of the best ways to sharpen your mind for selling. Have a long drive ahead of you?  Download and listen to an audiobook!  You’d be surprised how much time you can fill without extra calories or credit card bills.  And what the heck do I mean by Creativity?  Travel time provides the ideal environment to brainstorm!  In fact, many of’s posts started as dictations to my iPhone while driving.  The key, I’ve found, is to learn and write about subjects you enjoy.  You’ll arrive at your destination, refreshed and fulfilled instead of haggard and annoyed. 

AVOID THIS:  Co-worker Gossip, Office Politics

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Nobody’s perfect and we all need to let off steam, on occasion.  It’s nice, at first, to know someone else shares your sorrow and frustration. As an ongoing topic of conversation, however, commiserating does little to make us feel better.  We all know, that at times, life sucks. Why should we waste time bringing ourselves down? After all, bad luck has a way of interrupting us whenever it wants.

REPLACE WITH THIS: A Focus on the Future and Collaboration

Relax, no pom poms are required! Without using false positivity, we can acknowledge current problems and direct our conversation to actions.  This is one of the most powerful ways we can use down time. Your mood will lift when you focus on what can be done instead of what can’t. And, talking through alternatives forces us to organize thoughts into logical form.   In this way, the practice of verbally responding to a customer problem, in the safety of a coworker phone call, helps bring the solution to light. In my experience, trusted colleagues have helped to formulate my best ideas!

AVOID THIS:  Negative Self-Talk

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We’ve all done it.  The minute we’re out of a bad sales call, we review it in our minds repeatedly, and experience the same pain, repeatedly.  We know something must be our fault, so why not everything?   Refer to “Your Worst Sales Manager: A Survival Guide” earlier in this blog for more on negative self-talk.  Stories abound of perfectionist types, like Steve Jobs, and how much they accomplish.  Does anyone ever ask them how happy they are?  It’s good to be driven, as long as you also enjoy the journey itself.  Sorry perfectionists,  instead of making us better,  self-criticism usually makes us worse.

REPLACE WITH THIS: Stoic Philosophy

Stoicism is the belief that we don’t control others, only our own choices here and now.  And, not only do our choices include our actions, but also our feelings.  Try listening on your podcast player to Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic.  Each episode lasts less than five minutes. Neither pro or anti religeon, Stoicism is simply an empowering acknowledgement of reality.  Learning it is like being handed something you’ve tried to find for years, the rules to life. The choice of what to do with the wisdom is yours.

Getting Started…

There are many books and courses designed to help us optimize our down time. Some may be quite effective, given the time and effort. To get started, I offer a much simpler idea; use positive habits to crowd out negative ones. Think of your time like a garden.  If you fill it with good things like seeds, fertilizer, and water, you can grow a bountiful crop.  Otherwise, the weeds take over. Let’choose to spend our downtime wisely and cultivate the life we want!