The travel list: how to get things done when you’re out of pattern

karens sketchnotes

karens sketchnotes

I do enjoy travel, and sometimes get a good bit of work done when doing so.

But I used to find there were all these things i wanted to get done…but I wasn’t at my iMac with the nice Yeti microphone and the webcam and the camtasia video editing software and the faster speeds and all my bookmarks working like a charm.

Instead I was sitting on a plane, with no wifi…

…or rushing from one gate to another in an airport…

…or standing at a train platform, with a suitcase and a jacket and a bag and everyone crowding me…

And it made me feel travel was sometimes rather wasted time.

Lately I’m finding it to be one of the most productive times ever, when approached rightly.

Here’s what I do to prepare, so I can actually make a list of things to do whilst traveling – and get them all done!

This process works well for any length of trip – 2 days down to manchester, or three weeks to Atlanta and South Carolina and Phoenix and California….(which I’m on right now! Hello from South Carolina!)

The key is to be realistic about how I’m going to feel. 

How things are going to go – or not go.

I’ll be out of pattern – different cities, restaurant food, lack of sleep or jet lag, delays, back to back meetings or events in person.

I’ve tried being super optimistic and identifying all these amazing things I’ll get done when traveling.

And whilst I love optimism and seek to remain positive, i need to be realistic about what’s going to feel like it matters, and what will suddenly seem less important. 

So here’s what I do before the trip (I start thinking of these a few days before I go):

1. Set aside a day (or half a day) with no meetings, so I can finish things up before going. This is so I can do all the following steps, and it’s literally impossible to do all of this AND have meetings right up to end of day before going.

2. Finish all the outstanding stuff that i definitely need done, but don’t have a specific deadline. The only things that are going to feel important (and therefore get done) when I’m traveling are those that have deadlines, or i know someone else is waiting on me.

3. Finish anything that is much, much easier on a desktop than on an ipad. As much as i love my iPad Pro, there are some things like slide decks and detailed review of PDFs and projects requiring ten browser tabs open at the same time, which are simpler and faster on my iMac.

4. Record any videos I need done. Videos need space, time, and equipment: and short of bringing video equipment with me, when I’m traveling it’s only live videos and short ones on social that i get round to. Maybe some client interviews now and then.

5. Download anything that would take ages to download on poor wifi or mobile data. Sometimes just a few documents or screenshots is all i need to get work actually done…but without it, I can’t even start. A small example is the “Karens notes welcomes” that I sketch out – every one who signs up to these karen’s notes gets a custom welcome sketchnote. I like to personalise them based on brand, so if I have say 15 welcomes to sketch, I’ll grab a quick screenshot of the 15 websites so I’ve got colours and styles to hand and can do the sketches even without wifi.

6. Make a list of content I actually plan to write. Not a vague list of content ideas I’d love to write about if i gave it more thought: but specific topics, with bullet points & concepts already fleshed out.

7. Charge everything, and pack all the bonus chargers. It is extremely frustrating to have four spare hours somewhere (and even some energy and brain power to work on things) and discover you’re at 13%. Or 4%.

8. Bring ONE book I intend to read (and finish). I’ve tried bringing two or three, and all that happens is they stare at my balefully whilst I do other things. But if I bring only one, intend to read it, and have no other option, it’s more likely it gets read. This trip, it’s “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown.

9. Make a list of things I CAN do whilst traveling, and things I MUST do. This is based on deadlines, availability of documents and systems (see points 3 to 5), and expected brain power levels.

I’m learning on the way TO my destination I’ve got lots of energy and enthusiasm for work projects (and content and emails and messages and all).

On the way back, not so much.

I tend to pour myself out in the in person meetings and events, and combine that with travel and inconsistent food and multiple hotels (with iffy sleep).

By the time I get on the train or plane or into the car, I’m out. Nothing feels urgent (because it’s probably not) and I end up reading a fiction book or listening to music, or I faff about on my phone or do little tasks or just stare out the window.

Now that I know that’s my pattern, I plan accordingly, and set my expectations better.

And most times, I get everything on my list done. The better I am at preparing and being realistic, the more likely it is I’ll achieve every item.

Now and then, for some items I’ll realise I was expecting a bit too much from myself, and I leave it until I get back (or decide not to do it at all). And that’s a win too.

To sign up for #karensnotes every Saturday, fill in the form here.

Follow me


Well. So. Small update.

Was out hiking on mull and slipped on a rock crossing a burn, and broke my ankle. (I remember hearing an audible “crack” as I went down.)

No signal on phone. Managed to climb down a ravine to get to a more open place and hopefully signal. At that point still convinced it “wasn’t that bad”. Tried to walk along the path and realised yes, it was that bad.

Phoned coast guard, who were utter legends. Sent a boat AND a helicopter. Sun was setting and they didn’t want me sitting in the dark. Oh my word it was cold. Helicoptered out to fort William hospital (nicest people ever), then down to airdrie where I got a cast.

Ankle broken in one place. Doctors pleased (as much as you can be!) it’s a clean break & lining up well. I’ll be down for 4-6 weeks.

I’ve repeated myself a lot over the last few days so here’s the short version to all the questions, with appreciation for the care.

Yes, I’m okay. I’m also utterly exhausted & have hit the “damn, this is going to be a long road” phase. Taking it one day, one hour at a time. 

I’m being looked after. Very kind friends and things being delivered. My amazing sister @secondsunrise2 flying in tomorrow from america to be with me for a few weeks. SO grateful.

What do I need? I’m good on the basics. There have been unexpected costs and more coming so if you want to PayPal monies for deliveries or getting my car & belongings back or all the taxis or whatever, feel free. I’m hardly destitute so only do that if you want to send something useful and aren’t sure what. PayPal username karenlreyburn. Amazon wishlist in bio. Random care packages also happily received!

My car & belongings are up on mull. I have people to help and we are working on timing. But if you’re on mull and want to return a car near Glasgow, let me know :)

Shout out to the Coast Guard for being so swift, & that beautiful combination of sympathy and practicality.

Download the @what3words app. Literal lifesaver.

That’s all for now. All the love. Oh - and no, I don’t hold this against mull at all. It’s still my happy place. Things happen & the mull community has been beautiful. Shout out to @treshnish who couldn’t have been kinder. ❤️
Morning walk. I stood and watched the ferry come in and the sun lighten this little edge of the world.
Been going through old photos and letters - the last of the boxes i had stored at my sister’s house in america. 

When I first moved to Scotland, I only planned to live here for a few years and then go back. Then after a few years I wasn’t ready yet…then I got my residency…still not quite ready….then started a business…then Scottish citizenship…bought a house …finally accepted this is my home and I wasn’t moving back. 

And with every visit back to the states I would go through more boxes, more photos and letters and memories. I’d keep some and throw others away; take photos out of frames and give away the frames; and as time went on I was able to distinguish between the ones I definitely wanted and needed to keep, and those which were lovely at the time but didn’t need to be saved anymore.

Over twenty years on and this past trip I went through the very last of the boxes. I joked to my sister that I’ve now officially settled into Scotland 😆 

This photo of me and my Gramps is a fave and definitely a keeper. Most of the photos and letters I’ve kept are those of family - parents, grandparents, sisters, nieces and nephews. And as much as I love taking landscape photos, I noticed that 20 years later it’s the people photos I am more likely to keep. Thankful for the traditions and patterns of seeing family every year or so since moving to Scotland. They’re small things - baking Christmas cookies and going for walks and going for road trips - but it’s the time together and the continuing family jokes and the memories which remain. And a few photos.

My grandfather (and all my grandparents) have now passed on, but I remember with fondness sitting around at their kitchen table, eating fresh vegetables from the garden, playing scrabble, laughing and talking and drinking coffee.

It’s the small things, and the rhythms of family, which last. ❤️ 
#family #memories #grandparents #oldphotos
Made fresh mince pies for the first time ever. Over twenty years in Scotland and I’d never tried to make them from scratch, so I figured…now is the time! I’m doing lots of thanksgiving baking (yes, we stretch it out here so I’m still prepping!) and decided to buy the ingredients. 

Dried fruit…mixed peel…lots of spices…and Venezuelan rum :) I made up the mincemeat last night, and then today put it in the little pastries and even cut out the wee stars to go on top!

I think I can safely say they’re the best mince pies I’ve ever had. Fresh out of the oven sprinkled with icing sugar and with a glass of said rum alongside :) 

Now we are curled up with a Harry Potter marathon, with plenty of mince pies AND a thanksgiving feast still to come. Happiness! 

#mincepies #homebaking #maryberry #maryberryrecipe #happythanksgiving #happychristmas #harrypotter #hpmarathon