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the efficient traveller

Golf-course architect Jeff Mingay is based in Toronto but much of his work is in the West and Pacific Northwest. He doesn’t mind the travel. ‘I’ll do anything to do what I love,’ he says.J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail

The Efficient Traveller is a six-part series that highlights how small-business owners and entrepreneurs can get the most out of their business excursions.

Jeff Mingay settles into his usual aisle seat as close to the front of the plane as possible (but still in economy), stows his carry-on luggage above him, throws his headphones on and begins to think.

The golf-course architect thinks about the layouts he's working on, specific holes that have been troubling him, dream projects that he wants to get his hands on and, ironically, about more flights he has to book.

At 6-foot-2 and claustrophobic – hence the aisle seat – he's done enough long-haul trips to make him a seasoned business traveller ("I never check baggage. It gets me out and on my way quicker"). He admits he has so many frequent-flier miles he can't figure out how to use them ("I work too much to take a vacation"), but he says he wouldn't trade his job for anything else.

"As far as my work is concerned, I'd go to the moon if they wanted to build a golf course there," the 41-year-old says.

In his near two-decades-long career, the head of Mingay Golf Course Design hasn't yet had to leave the atmosphere to design a course, but he does get up in the air rather frequently.

He says he spends about six days a month at his home in Toronto's Liberty Village neighbourhood. His daughter, 19, is in her second year at George Brown College in Toronto studying interior design, and Mr. Mingay smiles when it is suggested he should expand his practice so she can come along to update the clubhouses while he works outside on the courses.

Save for a stint at York Downs Golf and Country Club in the Toronto suburb of Unionville, most of Mr. Mingay's recent work has been in such distant places as Edmonton, Victoria, Kelowna, B.C., and Tacoma, Wash.

He says the long flights have always helped him get work done because, well, there's nothing else to do except work.

"If I counted them up, I'm sure there would have been many eureka moments on planes," he says. "Being on a plane gives you a lot of solitary time to think. It helps me out from a design perspective. I'm always thinking about holes, and how to fix existing courses.

"When you have that much time to just sit there and think – because there's not much else to do – it's extremely helpful."

Timothy Pychyl, an associate professor in the department of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, says Mr. Mingay's feelings are quite common. The business traveller no longer has this notion that an airplane is a refuge of disconnectedness.

"Many people find a plane a very productive place because they can't do much else," he explains.

Citing U.S. productivity guru and author David Allen, Dr. Pychyl says the plane is a unique place to get things done. "You have a fixed amount of time – the time the flight takes, minus expected interruptions for meals, etc. – and given that you're staying put, if you quickly isolate yourself from others and the on-board entertainment system, it's possible to get some focused work done and not waste time simply travelling," he states.

Dr. Pychyl adds that if business travellers aren't working during their flights, then they'd have to do that work later, when there will "probably be much better alternatives" for spending their time on the ground.

And for Mr. Mingay, that's – literally – getting his hands dirty.

Beginning in 2000, he worked under celebrated Canadian architect Rod Whitman on some of the country's best courses, including Cabot Links in Nova Scotia. He says on his first day with Mr. Whitman, he was working on a tractor, and, he's worked in that hands-on fashion since.

Inspired by golf course architecture as a boy in Windsor, Ont., and a junior member of Essex Golf and Country Club – designed by design pioneer Donald Ross – Mr. Mingay stated in an interview with golf blog Buffalo Golfer that while his younger brother was winning club championships, he was trying to figure out how Essex was designed and constructed.

He established Mingay Golf Course Design in 2008, and although he's spent his whole life living in Southern Ontario, he can thank Alberta-based Mr. Whitman for helping to build his brand in the Pacific Northwest.

"When I started out, I did a lot of my work out West, so coincidentally a lot of my contacts were based out there. Even though my home base is in the East, I do a lot of my work in the West," he explains. "But, I'll do anything to do what I love."

Mr. Mingay says although he enjoys getting work done while on flights – especially on some newer planes that have WiFi access – and travelling between working destinations, there is a part of him that wants to get even more inspired by new places.

"I've been thinking about how I can make a few more research trips, to remind myself why I love doing what I'm doing," he says. "It's been too long since I've done that."

But, unlike many who say business travel is a hassle that they would rather avoid, Mr. Mingay truly enjoys it.

"Everywhere I go I make sure to go see other things. I'll go see other golf courses, I'll check out ballparks, and restaurants, of course. I'm not rushing home – no offence to my family," he says with a hearty laugh.

"There's a lot of great stuff in the world that I really enjoy seeing. My job really affords me that opportunity, and I'm incredibly grateful for that."

Tips for productive time in the air

Bring work you can do without WiFi. Mr. Mingay is lucky. As a golf-course designer, he can draw on napkins or make notes on paper about a course he's working on. Others can download documents to review before boarding or write out drafts of e-mails that can be sent upon landing.

Make a friend. You never know who you might find yourself sitting beside on a flight. Maybe the person next to you in a suit is your next big client, customer or someone with great advice.

Quash the distractions. Like Mr. Mingay, invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones to help you focus on your task at hand (even if that's ignoring the screaming baby a few rows back).

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