The Life of a Traveling Behavior Analyst: Self-Management Tips

Now you probably thought you’d be reading about someone who spends hours in their car everyday traveling from client to client. Although that’s a common experience for many who work as an early intervention specialist for children with autism, or in positions as Board Certified Behavior Analyst ® - it’s one that I haven’t been a part of (outside a few times a year when consulting in the school district) for about three years. This is what I’m talking about:

  • Alarm goes off at 3am. Only way to get that gym session in prior to the flight, not to mention the work that needs to be finished before the 8am flight out of town.
  • 5am shower and upload the video edited yesterday as well as that day's blog post on this site.
  • 6am call an uber, slam down a quick smoothie, and out the door.
  • 6:30am transition from bag-check to security respond and push various social media campaigns.
  • 7am finish through security and game-plan the trip with you colleague 
  • 8am-11am slam out some work on the flight 
  • 11am-2pm lose these hours to the magical timezone gods 
  • 2am-3pm layover (i.e., find some damn caffeine)
  • 3pm-4pm last flight - quick one so use it to hang with the colleague and talk about the future of the field
  • 4pm-8pm land in the destination city, drop your bags and get some food and plan for the next few days of partnership planning 
  • 8pm-11 pm catch up on various team communications and knock out a few more tasks before bed
Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

It seems like it came out of no where, but these sort of days seem to be showing up quite frequently now. I never want to take them for granted - it's a pretty great way to experience the world of behavior analysis. Travel and enjoy the thing that you love most?  It's a win-win for sure. But there's a whole new level of self-management that I've realized that needs to come along with it (besides being good at time zone calculations with all the national and international colleagues that I work alongside).

Prepare ahead, and have a to-do list.

I plan, EXTENSIVELY. I can tell you what I'll be doing on a particular day at least 2-3 months ahead of time. Sounds ridiculous, but I've been able to figure out a set of priorities and strategies to allow for flexibility. Here's where they are currently at:

Scheduling Priorities

  1. Exercise & Family
  2. Close Friends & Colleagues
  3. Experiences (e.g., hiking big mountains, going to concerts, filming a local event)
  4. Work & Projects
  5. All other stuff life throws at me

Note: #5 includes many activities of daily living, such as dishes, laundry, and other things that just don't seem to be as important as society said they were.

Scheduling Strategies

  1. Give up some of your time on preferred days of the week - it's often that I'll give up a Saturday or Sunday - sometimes weeks straight in order to get ahead and prepare for some time off-grid doing things that are higher priority than work. 
  2. Add in a certain amount of time to "get shit done" - weekdays I typically give myself 4 hours of time that is "scheduled" but just for slaying tasks that are due or coming up quickly. All-in-all I have around 12 color coded calendars in Google that help me know what to do when for anywhere from 1 month to 6 months ahead of time. 
  3. Plan in time for the unknown - I usually have 1-2 hours a day for tasks like this (not I plan my days around 12 hour work days - to each their own)
  4. Minimize meetings to the necessary ones, and with only the necessary people
  5. Communicate - always. The more proactive you are on communication the more headache you typically save in the long run. I spend anywhere from 4-8 hours on technology a day, mostly split between communication and social media

Use every second you can find to be efficient.

I've been shocked at how much time I could find in my life. Here's a few "hacks" that I've added and that seem to do me really well: 

  1. If I catch myself saying "what's next" then I check a to-do list (note: my to-do lists include daily goals of self-care strategies) 
  2. Multitasking has been shown to work under certain circumstances, and not during others. It's really a mixed set of data - I usually suggest that people explore their ability through personal data and under various circumstances. It's taken a lot of practice, but I can handle texting and listening in and responding to other conversations at the same time. Not under all circumstances, but it's pretty surreal of an experience to experience multiple communication streams successfully, simultaneously.  
  3. Workouts are a time to zone out for me, but I can use them to accomplish other things based on the task. On casual runs I call family, on the stairmaster I watch YouTubers I really like to follow, and during my weight lifting breaks I have about 30 seconds to text or respond on social media. 
  4. During the drive to and from various meetings or work I spend time listening to podcasts or on calls to game plan or catch up with friends, family and colleagues.

Find Your Motivators 

What gets you excited to get things done? My specifics change all the time - I'm constantly trying to figure out how to keep myself as excited as possible about the day ahead. Here's a few larger things that aren't easy to align, but I've found really useful in my day-to-day. 

  1. Surround yourself with people that can push you, but who also share a similar vision. They may not play the same role you do, but they understand what your role is and everyone is working towards the same vision. I have regular check points with these people (often the specific people vary based on the project), where we continually focus on three things: (1) How life is outside work (casual convo that's meaningful), (2) what barriers are in the way of working towards the next milestone of our shared vision, (3) progress to date and next steps for the project. 
  2. Find content that gets you excited in the moment to work towards long-term goals. Currently, this is usually a slowly ever changing list of songs and YouTubers that I like to play throughout my day. Usually music during work sessions, and videos between work sessions. 
  3. Another strategy that works well for me is reviewing the larger goals for each vision. I use an app called Asana, which keeps everything I have my hands on organized. I mentioned having a good to-do list, and this app serves that same function. What it does is allow me to keep my lists organized, but also serve as a way of knowing what I need to do for the day and why I wanted to do that (i.e., which goal/value it is in service of). This kind of brings me back full circle to where I started - having a solid starting point with an organized to-do list. 

Above all, I think the most important thing (and what's been shown as best-practice in behavioral science) is continually evaluating on an individual level. If it's not working in service of your goals, then it's time for a change. For more on that, check out this blog post.

What's working well for you? Let us know in the comments!


Ryan O’Donnell, MS, BCBA

Affiliation: RYANO, LLC


Bio: Ryan O'Donnell hails from northern Nevada in the grungy, yet surprisingly classy, (and newly renovated) Reno, Nevada . He likes his climate like he likes his data: evolving, uncompromising, and progressive. He is a master of science; that is, he has a M.S. in Applied Behavior Analysis, however he has since grown to include many other interests, including entrepreneurship and capturing perspectives and stories through various mediums. He has used this degree to work with a lot of great people to help organizations and families in Florida and Nevada that support people with Intellectual Disabilities. Currently he leads product development and distribution for High Sierra Industries as a Learning Systems Development Specialist. His focus outside this role is on building a community of thought leaders and doers to create content that increases the transparency of behavior analytic technologies with the hopes of creating a platform that truly saves the world. His interests are all over, from artificial intelligence and machine learning applications to the theory and philosophy behind Why We Do What We Do ( In his spare time you can find him consuming social media, prepping/climbing a giant mountain, or walking around with his camera in his hand (and, occasionally, all simultaneously). Connect with him on most all social platforms via TheRyanoDotCom and let him know what drives you to pursue the Behavior Analysis vision.


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