Under most conditions, your daily commute is a waste of time. You have to drive to and from the office, accomplishing zero tasks, for a set amount of time. While the length of a commute varies wildly, the average person drives 20-30 minutes one way, resulting in nearly an hour of unproductive time each day, or 5 hours of unproductive time each week.
If you’ve worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve come to understand just how valuable that commute time could be if applied properly. Fortunately, there are some strategies that can help you maximize your productivity even during these long commutes.
These strategies can help you improve your productivity, and make the most of an otherwise “dead” commute:
1. Eliminate the commute when possible.
This is kind of cheating, but I’ll advise you to just eliminate your commute whenever possible. Unless your role is exclusively dependent on interacting with other people or equipment that can only be operated by hand, you can probably work from home (at least occasionally). Even if your role is mostly interactive, you can spend an occasional work-from-home day catching up on administrative work. Make a plan to work remotely on occasion, and you’ll instantly save yourself hours of time. If you meet resistance to the idea from leaders or partners, consider citing some of the research that supports the benefits of working from home.
Some days, you’ll have to commute to the office, and when you do, consider biking there. Riding a bicycle will, in many areas, take more time out of your day, but if you live in an area with tightly congested traffic, it may actually help you save time. On top of that, if you’re exercising on a daily basis anyway (as you should be, to maximize your health and productivity), biking allows you to kill two birds with one stone. Of course, this assumes you’ll have some ability to change clothes and/or clean up before beginning your shift.
3. Take public transportation.
Most of the tips in this article are designed to be executed while commuting to work via personal vehicle, but there are some tasks that are impossible in this channel. Instead, consider traveling via public transportation; if you do this, you’ll have the chance to read emails, review your Gmail analytics, listen to podcasts, browse through your project management platform, plan your day, and even network by talking to the people you’re commuting with. As an added bonus, you’ll reduce your carbon footprint and save money.
4. Listen to news or podcasts.
If you are traveling by personal vehicle, much of your productivity benefits will be derived from audio interactions. For example, you can listen to the news, or listen to some of your favorite podcasts. You can also listen to audio versions of books you’ve been wanting to read. If your industry forces you to stay up-to-date, or if you’re working on learning new skills and concepts, this is vital time you can use to progress yourself.
5. Host brief team meetings via conference call.
If you have a morning huddle like many teams, you can take care of this short meeting with an early conference call. Check in with your employees and partners, some of whom may also be commuting, and get up to speed for the day ahead. Note that this is only a good idea for short or basic meetings; if you’re delving into complex territory or discussions with many participants, it’s better to give the group your complete focus.
6. Brainstorm and plan.
Consider turning off the stereo and giving your mind more time to wander. This is a perfect opportunity to brainstorm and plan for your future. Having some dead time, without any stimulation or task to work on, is ideal for cultivating creative thinking—which is why the cliché of coming up with good ideas in the shower exists. If you’re not brainstorming, you can loosely plan for your upcoming day, setting goals and priorities for yourself.
7. Manage commute-related stress.
Finally, make sure you’re taking an active role in managing commute-related stress. Congested traffic, rushed routines, and running late can all spike your blood pressure and set a negative tone for the rest of the day. Take things one moment at a time, practice deep breathing, and focus on positive self-talk to combat this.
If you’re driving a car or riding a bike, remember, your number one priority needs to be your safety and the safety of the people around you. No amount of emails read or phone calls made is enough to justify putting your life in danger.
If you want to squeeze the most potential value out of your commute time without increasing your risk, the only options are to work from home when possible and take public transportation in other cases.