Despite the recent uptick in people working remotely, most people still commute back and forth to an office. And that takes quite a bit of time out of each day. In America, workers spend about an hour a day commuting to and from work. When you factor that the average number of workdays per year exceeds 250, that calculates to the equivalent of more than thirty-one workdays, or six workweeks, spent in transit. The number becomes even more staggering for those who commute for long distances or routinely deal with heavy traffic.
The problem with commuting is not just lost time. A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people with longer commutes had, on average, higher blood pressure, bigger waistlines, and were less fit than those who worked closer to home. Other studies have found that couples in which at least one partner commutes long distance are 40 percent more likely to separate than other twosomes.
The good news is that we can be strategic with our commutes to diminish their negative impact while producing surprisingly positive results. By using our commutes wisely, we can achieve so much in the form of learning, thinking, strategizing, self-care, and tying up loose ends that gnaw at us and diminish our focus. Here are some tips to get more things done as you set off on your way:
- Learn – It can be difficult to find time with everything we have going on to engage in real, purposeful learning. As you travel, read or listen to content that will educate, motivate and inspire you, offer you tools for success, or some combination thereof. I am personally a big fan of audio books and podcasts (including mine,) which I listen to as I drive or ride on public transportation. If your situation allows it, consider bringing along a good book, industry-related magazine, or Kindle reader. It certainly helps if the time you spend learning takes place just before you step into the office. This allows you to instantly reflect on it and see how you can apply that knowledge to your work. On top of that, you’re preparing yourself to think critically right off the bat, allowing you to be on top of things from the get-go. If paying close attention to an audiobook sounds too ambitious to you, learning a language is a much simpler alternative. Knowing more than one language is, for many jobs, important and helpful.
- Think – Our mind is our biggest asset. Use your travel time to think. You can focus on big picture, strategic issues, use the time to strategize or problem solve, set goals, or plan out your day. Your evening commute should include a post-day review, which will set you up for greater success the next day. Consider “going silent” by focusing on silence to the point of near-meditation.
- Catch up – Assuming that it’s safe and appropriate to do so, take time reply to emails, take calls, and catch up with your team and projects while you’re getting to your next important destination. Be careful, though, not to make your commute a full extension of the workplace, or you will make it much harder on yourself to set healthy work-life boundaries.
- Carpool or travel with good people – Going to work with one or more people allows for conversation and idea sharing. Socializing has many positives emotional benefits, including putting us in positive moods. You can also use the time to raise issues that you’re grappling with. You never know who might offer a breakthrough solution to a problem that you’re dealing with. That includes from people who don’t work with you or even within the same industry.
- Exercise where possible – If you can, walk or bike to work. It’ll help prevent weight gain and also provide other health benefits. As we discussed, exercise also helps with productivity while at work. For rail or bus riders, get off a few stops early for a bonus 15-minute stroll.
- Be creative – Use your travel time to work on creative projects. Take along small crafts you can manage without making a mess (such as knitting) and keep it in an oversized bag. Take a notepad and try some fiction writing exercises.
- Rest – Riding the rail or bus can offer a great opportunity to close your eyes and grab a few minutes of sleep. Of course, don’t sleep through your stop!
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, is an executive coach who helps busy leaders be more productive so they can scale profits with less stress and get home at a decent hour. Register for his free productivity webinar at naphtalihoff.com/webinar.