Making the most of commute time

According to the U.S. Census Bureau (PDF), the average travel time to work (one way) in 2011 was 25.5 minutes. Of those who worked outside the home, 8.1 percent had commutes that were 60 minutes or longer. That means the average person spent 4.25 hours commuting each week, and a significant minority spent 10 hours or more.

If you’re one of those people with a sizable commute, how do you make good use of that time? The answer will vary depending on whether you drive, bike, or take public transit, but the following are some suggestions.

If you’re driving: Don’t use your phone

I’ve already written about how dangerous it is to talk on the phone when driving, even if you’re doing it hands-free. And obviously texting is dangerous, too. If you need to check your messages or reply to a call, please find a safe place to pull over before responding.

Use the time for learning

If you’re driving, you can listen to informative radio shows or put interesting podcasts and audio books on your smartphone or other mobile device. Also, a number of universities provide free audio lectures on a wide range of subjects.

You can also save articles from the web to the Pocket app and then use the “listen” function to have them read to you.

You might also use apps or CDs to help you learn a foreign language. I learned some rudimentary but useful French by listening to a few tapes over and over in the car, until the vocabulary stuck. (Yes, tapes — it was a while ago.)

If you’re using public transit, you can obviously expand your possibilities to include magazines, newspapers, physical books, e-books, etc.

Use the time for relaxation

Podcasts, audio books and such don’t have to be educational — they can be just pure fun. Sometimes it’s nice to just get lost in a good novel. Or you might choose to listen to music, either on the radio or on your mobile device. The right music might put you in a good mood to begin the day or might help take the edge off a not-so-wonderful workday on the way home.

If you’re using public transit and have an Internet connection, you could use the time for reading and updating social media, such as Facebook or Twitter.

Another idea would be to use the commute to practice mindfulness, as Maria Gonzalez explained in the Harvard Business Review:

The idea is that you are continuously aware of three things: your body, what you see, and what you hear. This is what it is to be mindfully present as you drive.

Use the time for work

If it isn’t feasible to leave work behind, and you’re using public transit, you could use your commute time to handle some of your email. You might also update your to-do lists or take some time for planning and strategizing.

Strike up a conversation

If you’re driving, it can sometimes be nice to have a commute partner. Some years ago, I drove to a yoga class that was a half hour from home with someone else from my area, and we both enjoyed getting to know each other better. It even led to a job for me.

And here’s something that might interest those taking public transit. Kathleen Elkins reported in Business Insider on a study done by two behavioral scientists, Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder, and published in October 2014:

Epley and Schroeder took their experiment to the subway. They randomly assigned three groups of commuters: One was instructed to connect with a stranger, one was asked to remain disconnected, and the control group commuted as they normally would.

While participants predicted their ride would be more enjoyable sitting in solitude, the research team found the exact opposite — those asked to engage in conversation reported a more positive, and no less productive, experience.

How do you use your commute time? Let us know in the comments.

7 Comments for “Making the most of commute time”

  1. posted by Pat Reble on

    I always use my commute time to listen to audio books. It makes me look forward to the ride to work, and helps me wind down on the way home. It’s a useful bridge between work and home which helps to keep healthy separation between the two.

  2. posted by Christy King on

    I listen to audio books on my commute too. I check them out from the library, either CDs from the brick-and-mortar library, or MP3s from the online library.

  3. posted by Laura on

    In the morning, I listen to a podcast while I put on my makeup (I take the train to work). Other things I do while listening to podcasts are scheduling bills for online payment and balancing my checkbook. I also read e-books and regular books. I also check e-mail.

  4. posted by jc on

    I have a short commute, 10 minutes in summer, more than that in winter with bad roads. In summer I will listen to the radio, but in winter when it is dark and there are moose on the road I just focus on getting home in one piece. My husband’s commute ranges from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on where in the field he’s working.

    I know of several people who use public transit and they do needlework (knit, crochet, embroider) while in transit. I have small “pocket projects” that I have in my purse to work on while waiting for classes or meetings to start or at the doctor’s office.

  5. posted by Aliza Burton on

    I travel on three major highways during my commute. I almost always hit traffic, even on off times. I like listening to humorous books on CD because it really helps alleviate the annoyance of the traffic I inevitably seem to get in the middle of.

  6. posted by laura m. on

    Agree about not talking on phone even blue tooth-hands free when car is moving, people need to pull over and stop. I listen to music with usb drive or radio.

  7. posted by JR on

    I have a mega commute (1.5 hours each way, by train and subway). I often use the time to compose music on my iPad (using GarageBand) and have recently started an online music theory and production class via Coursera. I used to lament not having enough time to work on my music. Now, I look forward to my morning and evening “slogs”!

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