Why is it possible to be so productive on an airplane?

At 30,000 feet (which is where I’m writing this), we’ve got only a few choices. If we’ve got a laptop and a good book, we can work or read (both high-quality, productive options). Our non-productive options, though, are of poor quality. Read the seat-back magazine, watch an old Friends episode on in-flight TV, or look out the window. Our usual distractions are absent (or at least muted).

The lesson here is that productivity is often about subtraction, not addition. When we put ourselves in an environment where we have little choice but to do our work, we tend to do our work. Instead of worrying about motivation and psyching ourselves up, it might be worth asking how we can make our usual environment more like an airplane cabin at 30,000 feet.