The Atlantic Challenge

Every now and then I like to make up games. While they’re similar to Dan’s “parlour games”, these games are life and business games. Instead of thought exercises, they’re doing exercises.

As well as being fun, games make life more interesting, and serve as challenges with which to test yourself.

This brings me to my latest challenge – a travel- and business-related one.

If you travel with any frequency, plane rides can be one of the biggest wastes of your time. Sitting at the gate, sitting on the plane, killing time with movies you don’t really care about, and the oh-so-subtle arm-rest wrestling match between you and the guy in 14B.

Most people “kill” time and get absolutely nothing done, particularly on long-haul flights, which is an enormous waste of their time.

But, when used correctly, a flight can become one of the most productive times in your week, if you’re well-prepared. Up in the air, you’re freed from the normal incoming distractions of your work desk and, if you’re focused, you can get a whole lot of work done.

The Atlantic Challenge is an attempt to turn that flight times into productive times.

The Atlantic Challenge


The Atlantic Challenge is a challenge to create a new business or income stream while on a flight over the Atlantic Ocean (hence the name).

It assumes you’re flying a standard NYC – London route (which takes about six hours and is exactly what I did just the other day), but any Atlantic flight route will do (as long as you note the distance flown and the time taken).

The Rules

The rules to the challenge are pretty simple:

  1. All actual work must be done on the flight.
  2. You can prepare before hand (in fact this is highly recommended), but you must not get any actual work done prior to flying.
  3. Computer work must only be done at cruising altitude (when they say you’re allowed to use electronics).
  4. The work must be completed by the time you exit the plane (the only exception here applies to uploading documents, which you may do post-landing).


The Atlantic Challenge works is because it incorporates several of my favorite principles:

  • MVP – The minimum viable product states that you don’t need to create the best product in the world straight away; you just need to create a basic product that’s sellable in order to validate the idea.
  • Pareto’s Law – You only have six hours, so rather than trying to do everything, you simply focus on doing the one or two things that will get you closest to your MVP.
  • Parkinson’s Law – You only have six hours, so there’s no time to mess around! Get to work!

In other words, this is the bootstrapper’s version of Startup Weekend on steroids and at 30,000 feet.

Known Obstacles:

  • Battery life – If you’re balling up in business class, you’ll have an advantage, but if you have to manage a deteriorating laptop battery, you’ll need.
  • WiFi limitations – This is becoming less of an issue, but can still be a problem. Again, planning beforehand can make this a non-issue.
  • Fancy logo design – This isn’t needed. Graphics are going to take too long and don’t provide any actual value when you don’t have a product. You just need to get started.
  • Access to e-mails – Don’t email. This isn’t a productive use of your time.
  • Data collection – Spending time collecting data and reference points, and looking up information is going to take precious time that you can’t afford. Do this beforehand and have it at the ready.


Note: The easiest way around all these limitations is to plan ahead and not waste computer time. If you’re not actively creating something using the computer, put it away and sketch out things in your notebook instead.


You can do this on an ongoing basis depending on your flight lengths.

Suggested alternative challenges:

  • (Shorter) The Coast to Coast Challenge (LA – NYC = 4 1/2 hours)
  • (Longer) The Pacific Challenge (LA to Tokyo = 10 hours)

What can you create if you give yourself just a few hours? I dare you to find out.

Announcement: There are a few spots still available if you’d like to join the July Impossible Adventure & go bungee jumping in Portland. Sign up here.

Photo credit: Ronnie MacDonald and Global X

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  1. says

    Interesting little challenge. It is definitely easier to do if you are in business class. If you are flying an international route and crammed in the middle aisle in the middle seat between two little kids and you can get work done then that would be impressive.

  2. says

    Like this one! I either do something like this (challenge to totally finish an essay) or the exact opposite. The “veg out” challenge. Don’t think about anything that appears immediatlely relevant to my projects :)

  3. says

    I did this from MDW > LAX. Thought of a bro-tank eCommerce site targeting Chicago’s bros that go to North Ave and Oak Street beaches. Sad to say it did not go through :(

  4. George says

    I have to admit that your website is getting better and better as time goes by . It takes me
    out of the ordinary thinking too much about this fucked up world with no solutions whatsoever
    and puts me in the proper mind frame of stop thinking and start doing . I thank God for people like you , which are very few , that teach us how to turn lemons into lemonade .

    Keep it up , dude .

    • says

      Oops – should have added this in! I outlined the webinar strategy for a new product, built an opt-in and laid out the email series for the lead-in to the launch #boom.

  5. says

    This a another classic idea of yours. I like idea of overcoming obstacles, in this case (crying babies, narrow seats with no leg room, people with bad body odor, etc.) But this is worth a try and could be a real adventure.

    Best regards,

    Nicolas Hale
    Art of Adventure

  6. Frank says

    This is ust the blog post I needed.
    I have project in my pipeline that absolutely needs this.
    Since I don’t have any flights scheduled I will just go to the nearest forest and do this.

    Great post and thanks a lot Joel.



  7. says

    I like this concept and the fact it focuses the mind on delivering an output as well as a concept! Ideas become nothing if not implemented. I’m going to book a cross county return train trip to try it out on one of the many ideas gathering dust in my head. Thanks for the motivation :)

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