Whether you drive, bus, bike, walk, or segway to work, the average American spends more than 100 hours a year commuting. That’s more than the average two-week vacation. Who would consciously choose a car over sunny Croatia? No one.
All those hours add up. For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were a little more than 139 million workers commuting in 2014. At an average of 26 minutes each way to work, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, that works out to 29.6 billion hours, 1.2 billion days, or 3.4 million years spent commuting in one year. With that amount of time, you could have built the Great Pyramid of Giza 26 times. Or at least complete one New York Times crossword puzzle.
Instead, you’re waiting for the bus or stuck at a red light.
Until teleportation becomes a reality, your commute is unavoidable. It’s a chore, but it can also be an opportunity if you change your thinking, stop scrolling through Instagram, and use that time to get a jumpstart on your day.
Here are six ways to make your commute more productive:
1. Create your to-do list
If you’re not driving into the office, take some commute time to jot down your top three to five priorities for the day. Make sure they are specific and realistic. For example, if you are working on a website redesign, break up that big to-do item into smaller priorities each day, like mocking up the new navigation one day and working on the homepage the next.
Creating this to-do list helps you focus your time and energy where it really matters, instead of trying to accomplish many small, unrelated tasks throughout the day.
Evernote tip: You can also record audio directly into Evernote, so you can capture your to-do list safely while at the wheel.
2. Find your inner zen
Sneak in some meditation to help you start your day calm and refreshed (as long as you’re not operating something with wheels). Apps like Headspace or Calm offer guided meditation sessions on topics ranging from sleep to focus. Calm even offers a session specifically for commutes. Even just a few minutes of meditation can reduce stress and improve concentration, focus, and memory.
And remember, you don’t always need an app to realize these benefits. Disconnect completely and let your mind wander, but remember your stop!
3. Mix up your mode of transportation
It’s easy to fall into a commuting pattern — grabbing your car keys, walking the same five blocks to the bus stop, or clipping on your helmet. While it may add more time to your journey, consider breaking up your routine. This not only provides a change of scenery, it may also help boost creativity. By changing up your strict morning routine, you’ll allow your brain to naturally unwind, creating the perfect environment for creative thinking.
Do you usually commute by car? Try mapping out a biking or walking route for a change and get a workout in at the same time. Is your commute route popular, as in crowded? Try finding a vanpool to meet new people or take the bus to have some quiet time to recharge.
4. Brainstorm fresh ideas
The bus or train may not seem like a calm oasis, but in reality, it is completely free of interruptions. You won’t have to worry about coworkers coming up to your desk, rogue meetings, or any of the many obligations of family life. It’s just you, your device or notebook, and the journey. Take advantage of this time to focus and tap into your creativity.
Are you a writer or artist? You can find endless inspiration from people watching or taking in the places you pass through on the bus or train. If inspiration doesn’t strike right away, that’s okay. Use your commute as a time to open up and hone your power of observation. You never know when something will pop up later in your work.
5. Listen to a great story
If you get motion sickness while reading in a bus or haven’t quite figured out how to read while driving (we’re joking, please don’t try this), podcasts may be your new best friend. If you’re looking for ideas and best practices to organize your work and declutter your life, check out our podcast, Taking Note. For inspiration, listen to Rad Awakenings with Khe Hy, where Khe hosts conversations with a diverse list of successful business people, many of whom, in spite of their outward success, feel unfulfilled. They share stories of personal growth and the lessons they’ve learned.
For career motivation, tune into Lead to Win with Michael Hyatt. Drawn from his years of experience as a CEO and motivation speaker, Michael shares stories on how to organize your busy life and become a better leader.
Want some more podcast recommendations? We have several.
6. Avoid the commute altogether
The easiest way to have a great commute? Avoid it completely! Join the 70% of employees globally who work from home at least once a week and shorten your commute to that handful of steps from your bedroom to your office.
Of course, not all of us have the option of working from home. Some things simply can’t be done away from the workplace. But if you do have the option, just think of everything better suited to a work-from-home day: writing a guest post for your company’s blog, taking a training to add to your skills, listening to a TED talk for motivation — the list is endless.
It’s time to reframe your commute
You commute to get from point A to point B, but it can be so much more than that. Try to reframe the definition of your commute and look at it in a more positive light. That time may be the only part of your day when you are truly alone. You’re surrounded by coworkers in the office and go home to your family or roommates. Those are all positives, but the downside is that your brain is always on. By being alone and really appreciating that solitude, your mind can relax, recharge, and explore new territory.