Your daily commute, whether you get behind the wheel and drive or hop on a bus or train and wait, doesn't have to be sunk, wasted time. Whether you use it productively or just use it for a little solace, here are some great ways to make use of the downtime.
10. Listen to Audiobooks or Podcasts
If you don't already use your commute to catch up on engaging podcasts, listen to audiobooks, or just recharge and let your ears and brain do the heavy lifting, you should absolutely start. Whether you heave headphones on and you ride the bus or train, or you're driving to work and connect your phone to your car stereo, that downtime is perfect for a podcast or a chapter or two of the audio version of a book you've always meant to read.
If you need a little help getting started, check out our commuity-generated list of the best podcasts to listen to, and our rundown of the best audiobook services worth subscribing to. You may also want to listen to our own locally produced podcast, Static.
9. Discover New Music
If you have internet access while you commute in the morning, it's a great time to fire up a streaming station and experience some new music. Sure, sometimes you just want to start your day with music you know and love, or something that really sets the mood for the day, but other times it can be great to explore a new artist, check out Spotify's Discover playlist, try something new like previously-mentioned Playlist a Day, or even check out a completely new music service that's full of tunes you won't hear elsewhere. It's so easy to complain there's nothing good or new to listen to these days, but honestly, just a little effort to find something great pays off in droves.
8. Take Time for Self Care
Take it from me, even if you make self care a priority (and you absolutely should,) you probably don't have enough time to offset the stress and anxiety of everyday life. We're all busy and all have tons to do, so instead of viewing your commute as dead time, lost and wasted, use it as an opportunity to take care of yourself and your mental and emotional health.
Take this opportunity — even if it's in a crowded train or a backed up highway — to show a little gratitude for the things and opportunities that you do have. If you can, use the time to email a loved one or a friend and connect with them. Sending a loving message only takes a little time, and can do a lot to help you relax as well. When my commute was a 25 minute drive each way, I used the evening commute to talk to my family on the phone. It kept me in touch with them, and it was relaxing. If neither of those options are for you, that downtime is a good time for a little inspiration, especially at the beginning of the day, where you'll want to start off on the right foot. In any case, using that "downtime" to recharge instead of stressing out about the commute itself — or about the work that came before or is coming after it — can help a lot.
7. Make It Leisurely
This one requires that you leave the house (or the office) a little early, but it's one that can make a huge difference in how hard your commute actually is. There's nothing like knowing that you can take your time and leisurely meander to work or home after a long day. If you're lucky enough to have a job that doesn't insist that you have a butt in a chair at a specific time of day for a specific number of hours, this is even better — you can leave the house knowing that you'll get to work when you get there, and leave the office knowing that you'll get home when you feel like going.
It's a really empowering feeling, and even if you do have one of those jobs, leaving the house just that much earlier can give you the freedom to stop and grab breakfast before you head in, sit and enjoy a coffee or the sunrise, or even just not get stressed out that you left with just enough time to get to work and now there's traffic. Give it a try — it's life changing. Just make sure you apply the same logic to going home at night, and actually, you know, leave.
6. Give Yourself a "Daily Review"
Doing a weekly review can save you a ton of hassle and headache, but a daily review may give you just the mental clarity and direction you need every morning to start the day off on the right foot. Remember, the purpose of the review isn't to do work — it's to make sure you're working on the right priorities, and tackle the important things first.
If you're stuck on a train, in a bus, or even in a car on the way to the office, it's a great time to check your to-do list for the day, make sure the important things are at the top, make sure you're working on the right priorities (even if it feels like everything is important,) and make changes as necessary. If something needs to be pushed to tomorrow, better to do it in the morning when you can explain why you're pushing it. Either way, nothing like that downtime at the beginning of the day to make sure you work on the right things with the time you have, and nothing like the end of the day to get everything neatly set for the day ahead. It's so powerful that one of our favourite to-do apps has it built-in.
5. Find a Better (or Different) Route to Work
One of the best ways to improve your commute is to optimise it. Part of that involves finding better and different ways to get to work, especially if you're tired of struggling through the same old traffic, or know your train will be packed every morning. Doing so can even exercise your brain, as well as make sure you spend the least amount of time possible making your way to and from the office.
Maybe that different way is just a different route, side streets instead of the highway, or the scenic route instead of the direct approach. Alternatively, it could mean driving part of the way and taking mass transit the rest of the trip, or ditching the car for a bike, or something of the sort. Don't leave options and possibilities on the table, and find something that works best for you.
4. Use It As Brainstorming Time
Some of our best ideas come in those moments where we're alone with our own thoughts, able to really reflect on the ideas we have without having something immediate that needs our attention. Maybe it's when you're looking out of the window, or perhaps while you're in the shower. If that all sounds familiar, consider using your commute time for the same purpose.
Whether you're driving or on a bus or train, let your mind wander a little bit and do a little brainstorming. Follow your own thoughts and ideas. Maybe you'll come up with a better way to handle a tricky problem at the office, or maybe you'll finally figure out the time to tackle that pet passion project you've been meaning to start. Remember, that downtime isn't just important, it's necessary.
3. Disconnect Completely
Speaking of the importance of boredom, distraction, and procrastination, sometimes it's best to just completely disconnect. Maybe just listen to some music, or even better, enjoy the silence or the sounds around you. Don't read anything, don't check in at work, turn off your phone and save its battery, and just try to relax and be in the moment. Don't worry about work — it certainly isn't worrying about you. The world will keep turning if you take a half-hour or so to just concentrate on getting where you need to go safely and in one piece. Consider it a public service announcement. It can be difficult — we're all busy, and want to use every waking second to be productive (ideally, with the goal of making things easier for ourselves later), but sometimes it's better to just cut it all off and do absolutely nothing for a little while.
2. Try Meditation
Similarly, being in the moment is a great segue into meditating. You don't need special pillows or clothes or a special room to meditate — it's really just about making sure that wherever you are and whatever you're doing, you're there, present, and your mind isn't floating off to the next thing you have to do, or some other situation that you feel demands your attention.
Meditation comes in many forms, but in general consider it your brain's "scheduled maintenance," and you can do it just as easily in a quiet room as you can on a noisy train or clogged beltway on the way to the office. Here's a guide that can help you get started, even if you're not sure it's for you.
1. Ditch It, Shorten It, Drop It Entirely
Of course, no list of ways to improve your commute would be complete without the option of ditching it, shortening it, or dropping your commute in favour of remote work (at least some of the time.) Commuting takes a toll on your overall health — but you probably don't need us to tell you that, you know it already. What you may not know is that ditching it can, in some cases, amount to essentially a $50,000 raise what with the saved fuel, maintenance, transportation costs, and related health costs if your commute stresses you out.
Maybe it's worth looking at moving closer to where you work, or at least moving to a part of town where the commute is a little easier. Maybe you can convince your boss to let you work remotely a few days a week., or maybe you can find a place close to mass transit instead, so at least you don't have to drive. Whatever you do, cutting your commute down can, in most cases, be the best way to make it better.