If you’re like most full-time American professionals, you work anywhere between 50 and 60 hours per week. If we’re being honest, it’s probably a little more than that since our smartphones keep us connected to work at all hours. And if you’re anything like the average American commuter, you spend almost an hour commuting roundtrip, every day.
With all those minutes in stop-and-go traffic or waiting for public transit, it’s easy to think of your commute as a time suck from what feels like dozens of other productive tasks you’d rather be doing. Here’s the thing: your commute can actually be a really productive part of your day if you just shift your mindset and turn to activities that improve your personal and professional well-being.
Check out these five tips to help you make better, more productive use of your time during your commute.
1. Network and socialize
Carpooling isn’t just about saving money—it’s like social media, only in real life. When you carpool, you have ample opportunities to network with people in different fields, find a mentor, get to know your co-workers, or make new friends. And you don’t need to do any extra work since you’re already commuting every day. Carpooling apps like Scoop take care of scheduling, coordinating, and even matches you with nearby co-workers or neighbors for a super-convenient trip to the office. If you live near carpool lanes, you might be able to cut down on your commute time, too.
2. Invest in your personal and professional development
Personal and professional development can happen pretty much anywhere, including your commute. Rather than shell out thousands of dollars on conferences and training classes, you can download audiobooks or podcasts created by the same folks who lead those expensive events and courses.
3. Clean out your inbox and strategize your day
We spend nearly 30% of our workweek, or more than 11 hours per week, on email, and it’s typically the first thing we do once we sit at our desks. But if you take public transit to work, you’re fortunate enough to be able to tackle your inbox before you get to the office. You can also spend your commute planning out your day (e.g., create to-do lists, block off your calendar for specific projects, etc.) so you can hit the ground running once you get into work. If you commute by car, you can use the voice-to-text feature on your smartphone to do all of the above.
4. Learn a new language
Remember in high school or college when we touted our near-fluency in a foreign language? Then we graduated, stopped practicing, and can now only ask the location of the bathroom or library? Us, too. Consider downloading an app like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone to pick up where you left off. Mastering a new language is valuable in the workplace and is generally a useful skill to have. We don’t recommend this to commuters on public-transit, as most apps require you to practice out loud.
5. Take some “you” time
Many people feel like their actual workday starts and ends with their commute. That’s a lot of time spent doing work, and thinking about work, but not a lot of time on ourselves. If you take public transportation, carve out this time to scroll through Facebook, Instagram, or your favorite news app. Shop online. Finish that novel you shelved for a year. If you’re carpooling, spend the car ride talking about your latest binge-watch on Netflix, your hobbies, or whatever else you love to do. Clearing out your inbox and planning the day will undoubtedly help make you more productive in the office, but so will making time for you—just in a different way.
We might not be able to just opt out of our commutes, but we can all make the commute more enjoyable and productive so that it adds real value to our lives, both personally and professionally.