Whether you’re fully back in the office or working from home with a flexible schedule, there’s a good chance you’re commuting to work more than you were a year or two ago.
This, for many people, is… not fun, especially if you have a long commute. But it could be! (Trust us.) Just as the human need to eat several times a day evolved into an opportunity for pleasure (eating something good), so can your daily commute to and from the office.
There are plenty of things you can do on your way to work — some practical, some fun, some healthy — to help you make the most of your commute. Here are some tips, broken down by how you get to work.
However you get there (including driving)
Leave 15 minutes early
If you don’t enjoy your commute, leaving early might sound like a strange idea. Why give more time to something you dislike?
But we’re here to make commuting easier for you do like (or at least take advantage of), and leaving early means you’ll actually be able to use your commute as planned. If there are delays but you left early, they won’t distract you from what you want to do.
Also, if you leave early, you won’t start the day stressed and preoccupied with getting to work on time.
Get ready the night before
It’s easier to leave early and stress-free if you don’t have to frantically run around the house before running out the door.
If you can organize your work bag, lay out your clothes and organize your children’s school things in the evening before, then the morning will be more pleasant and you will be in the right space to make the most of your personal time during the trip. It might sound ambitious, but you’d be surprised what you can accomplish in five minutes before bed, when you’re not scrambling to get everyone in your household out through the schedule.
Have a backup plan
Things happen. Children refuse to put on their shoes. An unexpected construction project creates a surprising detour. The train is delayed.
Embracing the chaos (to the extent possible) can help, or at least accept that these are things you can’t necessarily change entirely on your own. But it can also have a backup plan.
Allow your child to put on shoes in the car. Double-check your route to work on Google Maps before you drive. Ditto the train route. (It’s amazing what real-time map updates can offer these days.)
Choose the nicest way…
…within reasonable limits. We’re not suggesting you take an extra hour to get to work just to see a river, but you might think it’s worth adding a little time to improve the journey. If you drive to work and it takes you an extra 10 minutes to pass through tree-lined roads as opposed to crossing a car-lined highway, it might be worth it.
If you’re taking the subway and there’s an above-ground or over-bridge section that takes a bit longer, you might find that the benefit of not being stuck underground makes it worthwhile. And if you live in a city like New York, which has expanded its ferry service, you might even want to make your trip home a full excursion, complete with walking to and from the ferry terminal.
Listen to audiobooks, check out new music or listen to the radio
We won’t suggest podcasts—you’ve already thought of that—but audiobooks are often underappreciated. Modern life can make it difficult to read a novel properly, but if you don’t mind doing it in chunks, commuting is a great way to do it while a professional reads for you.
For music, sure, your commute is a great time to listen to old favorites, but why not use it to check out new stuff on your favorite streaming service, to see what you want to add to your playlist or maybe even buy? And often a car ride is just the right time to put on a new album and listen properly.
As for the radio, we spend so much time on our devices reviewing things we’ve chosen (or things the algorithm has offered us that we think we’ve chosen) that we’re not exposed to a lot of random stuff anymore. So choose a radio station in the car or on the phone and see where that journey takes you. You will come across new ideas and new songs.
Learn a language
This is one of the few activities that is without a doubt better if you drive. You can of course listen to language courses on public transport, but you may feel less comfortable mispronouncing Italian on a crowded bus than you do in the privacy of your car. There are any number of services, including Duolingo, that you can try for a nominal fee.
Call friends and family
Studies show that connecting with our loved ones helps us live richer, fuller personal lives. The occasional text or email is nice, but a (hands-free) phone call can often create a more meaningful connection in the same amount of time.
Best of all, you might even be doing double duty: Helping someone else achieve work-life balance by also making the most of their travel time.
Unless you drive yourself to work
Leaving the car at home opens up a world of commuting possibilities. Your commute can become a form of exercise if you walk or cycle to work. And if you go by public transport, there are even more activities available.
Read a novel
Yes, audiobooks are great (as mentioned above), but there’s a wonderful, tactile pleasure to reading a book that’s made of paper, and your commute is the perfect place to do it. You spend a lot of time looking at a screen; here is a structured chance not to.
Deal with your business
Instead of using your commute for fun, you can use it to deal with drudgery, so there’s more time for fun later. Book appointments, buy life insurance, pay bills, buy food… The list of small but important tasks you can tackle on your commute is long.
In the spirit of getting tasks out of the way, use the trip to sift through your inbox, respond to simple emails (watch out for typos in transit), and generally be prepared for when you get to the office. This isn’t the most “me-time” method of commuting, but if it’s a choice between dealing with emails here or at home the night before, it seems better in terms of work-life balance.
This is a perfect time to do something that can help you reduce stress, focus on a healthy work-life balance, and build personal and professional resilience.
This will be easiest if your commute involves a seat, not too many vehicle changes and relatively quiet. If you’re new to meditation, there are plenty of apps to guide you, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Aaptiv, the fitness and wellness app available at no cost to eligible Haven Term policyholders via the Haven Life Plus bonus rider. It is well worth getting for anyone working on their physical and mental health.
It is very, very hard to do nothing (meditation, as mentioned above, is not really does nothing), but it’s worth a try. Why not try using your commute to just sit (or stand) quietly, enjoy the view and see what happens.
See where your mind goes, see what thoughts and ideas pop into your head. In the same way that some people have great ideas in the shower, when they aren’t specifically doing much of anything, the same thing can happen if you approach your commute as an opportunity to just be for a while and look at your surroundings.
Take a notebook
If you zone out, you might find that you have some ideas. To document them, don’t pull out your phone—if you do, you’ll zone out again, check emails, and doom scroll. Just write your thoughts down on paper and then go back to thinking about them. Commuting time is your time; you are not required to be productive.