The travel time it takes to and from work each day isn’t just annoying: It can impact your health by causing feelings of stress, anger, and social isolation. A primary reason commuting takes a mental toll is because we perceive the travel as “dead time” where we get nothing done.
Your commute doesn’t have to be full of dead time, though. You can channel these quiet moments of self-reflection into a productive part of your daily routine by focusing on tasks you can accomplish along the way.
While commuters on subways, buses, and trains can use their hands and therefore, have time for emails and written tasks, even car commuters can get a lot done if they get in the right mindset.
5 Ways to Get More Out of Your Morning and Evening Commute
- Listen to a business podcast
- Spend time brainstorming
- Learn a new language
- Practice your conversation skills
- Set positive intentions
1. Listen to a Business Podcast
Find a relevant podcast that lets you learn on the go. Invest time in researching podcasts that are directly relevant to your work or that can help you improve tangential skills.
When evaluating a podcast, ask yourself:
- Does the host annoy me? If so, skip it. You don’t want to start and end your workday with someone who drives you crazy.
- Does the podcast length fit my average travel time? A 10-minute podcast for an hour commute means you’ll have to listen to 6 episodes along the way. Because there are so many podcasts available, find the one that better aligns with your travel time.
- How often are new episodes released? You want to find a podcast that has a thick backlog and new episodes released regularly, otherwise, you’ll blow through the show fast and have to start the process all over again. We recommend finding a podcast that uploads at least one episode a week, preferably two.
You can also treat yourself throughout the week by switching up podcasts. Do one business-focused podcast, and then one fun podcast that talks about a hobby or non-work-related subject you’re interested in so you don’t get burnt out on business talk.
2. Spend Time Brainstorming
Even if you don’t have your hands free, you can still get some work accomplished while you commute.
The isolating quiet time is actually a great place to flesh out new ideas and think of innovative ways to problem-solve. If you can’t write things down during your travel, try audibly recording yourself so you can think out loud and revisit your train of thought.
This will not only help you prepare yourself for tasks before you get into the office, but it will also help you improve your emotional intelligence.
3. Learn a New Language
Turn your dead time into an opportunity to learn a new language.
There are tons of language apps designed for audio learning such as Memris, Babbell, and Duolingo.
Research which app you’d like to use and then flip it on during the trip. If you travel by bus or train, invest in a good pair of headphones.
Here are some of the benefits of learning a new language:
- Improve decision-making skills: You can train your brain to make better decisions by teaching it to pick up on nuances and subtleties, which leads to more rational decision making.
- Develop a better memory: A recent study found that bilingual children outperform monolingual children on tasks that involved memory.
- Increase your attention span: Noticing a trend here? Learning a new language is good for your brain! You can teach yourself how to concentrate by developing the necessary skills needed to switch between different languages.
- Learn to multitask: Teaching yourself how to speak two languages also teaches you how to focus on multiple tasks and ignore distractions.
- Get a bigger brain: No, we’re not kidding. A group of Swedish scientists did an MRI study and found that certain parts of the brain were bigger and more developed in participants who had learned a foreign language.
4. Practice Your Conversation Skills
If you are commuting on public transportation, use the time to meet someone new and work on your conversation skills. This will not only teach you to be a better communicator, but it will also make you happier.
You never know who you might meet on the bus or train, and you’ll never find out if you always spend your time with your head down.
If you’re traveling by car, you can still focus on improving your communication skills by phoning a friend or colleague.
Make sure to set up the Bluetooth in your car to communicate safely.
5. Set Positive Intentions
Harness the power of positivity on your commute and watch how it transforms your appreciation for the world around you. This mental practice can take less than 10 minutes to accomplish.
Simply jot down or say out loud things you are grateful for in the morning. You can also take time to set your intentions for the day. What do you hope to accomplish?
On the drive home, recap and reflect your day in a positive way.
ake difficult conversations or situations and break them down to the lesson learned.
Make the Most of Your Commute
While commuting does come with its share of costs (gas, tickets, tolls, car insurance, and vehicle maintenance to name a few) your mental health does not have to be one of them.
Using this time to tackle tasks on the go will help you develop yourself while also becoming a happier, more productive person.