When I lived in San Diego I commuted 2 hours round trip from downtown San Diego to La Jolla five days per week. Not to mention the additional 15-30 minutes it took me to find parking when I got home.
This wasn’t even a pleasant drive. I was stuck on a major highway moving about 20 miles per hour jumping every time a motorcyclist sped in between the lanes going way faster than the law allowed. After a long day of work, the drive grated. It felt almost impossible to get anything productive done when I finally walked through the door.
I’d literally drop my bag on the floor, kick off my shoes, and get into comfortable clothes as fast as possible.
After months of this routine I realized something needed to change or I’d lose too many years in this rut. I found strategies that worked for me to turn the commute I dreaded into times of connection, reflection, and growth. I’d like to pass along to you what I’ve learned so you can take back your time too.
1. One day I had to stay late at work and didn’t leave until around 5:45 rather than my usual 5:00. I found out something interesting, if I left 45 minutes late I still arrived home around 6:15 because I missed some of that initial traffic. Now, I had no intention of working an additional 45 minutes every day but the benefit of spending less time in the car everyday was worth taking a week to figure out how I could use that time to help me feel more productive. After testing out different strategies (reading, answering emails, wandering aimlessly around the office, talking with coworkers) I figured out the perfect solution: I would take that 45 minutes to walk to and from the grocery store. The grocery store was down one hill and up another taking about 20 minutes round trip. So every day I’d get in at least 20 minutes of exercise and have 10-15 minutes to pick up groceries which encouraged me to cook at home (saving money) and eat more fresh produce.
Your Task: test times you leave for work and home to see if you can cut down time in the car and use that extra time to either start your day off in a better mindset or round out the day on a good note.
2. Living on the west coast while my whole family was on the east coast meant it was often difficult to connect. Thankfully my drive home situated me perfectly to call friends and family post dinner time on the east coast. Every day I'd pick a different person to call and we'd either talk for the whole drive home or I'd get to touch base and use the rest of the time for something that helped me unwind, such as music that I'd dance along to in my car.
Your Task: Are there people in your life who are available to talk during your commuting hours? Take that time to connect with them. If you already have a habit of calling family or friends when you get home or on the weekends, this strategy frees up time when you aren’t in your car to do something else while still connecting with loved ones. And if you aren’t already in the habit of touching base with people who matter this new approach may help you become closer to the people in your life.
3. The worst part of commuting for me was feeling as though time drudged along while my mind aimlessly wandered from one thing to another, never accomplishing anything worthwhile. I had such limited time and I wanted to use it to grow. The best thing I ever did was begin listening to audiobooks. My goal was to “read” all those books I’ve always planned to read that helped me grow as a person, but were still interesting. With audible, downpour, and free audiobooks from my library I was able to read about a book every two weeks. When I was in between books or waiting for something to become available from the library I’d also check out podcasts to listen to during my commute. Now, my purpose was personal growth, but you could easily use that time to catch up on your favorite romance books, crime novels, or any other fiction collections you enjoy. The idea is not to have another chore or activity that feels like work, but rather do something you find a good use of your time. Besides simply driving.
Your Task: check out your local library. Chances are they are part of a network of libraries that allow you access to a huge source of downloadable audio books. If the books you are looking for aren't available at the library you can always request it, or buy or rent audiobooks through one of the many companies out there.
4. Part of my commute meant sitting on a shuttle bus that took me to work and back to the staff parking lot at the end of the day. This added an extra 30 minutes to my total commute and I’d use that time to close my eyes and practice mindfulness meditations. Practicing meditation daily settled my mind to start the day and helped me transition back to personal time at the end of my day. I found that the more regular practice I had the easier it was to handle minor irritations, frustrations, and people in general throughout the day.
Your Task: if your commute involves sitting on a bus or riding a subway or train, use that time for an eyes closed activity such as meditation. I have free downloadable guided meditations for my newsletter subscribers. Check them out here.
5. These days I have a lot more flexibility in my schedule since I work for myself in private practice. This flexibility has allowed me to modify my work schedule to avoid the heavy traffic times – I generally work from 11:00 am to 7:30 pm. This helps to cut my commute in half as I'm not on the road when everyone else is. I understand that not everyone has as much control over their schedule as I do, but often times there is the opportunity to make small adjustments for a huge gain.
Your Task: take a look at your work schedule and traffic patterns. You can even use Google Maps to view potential traffic if you leave at various times throughout the day. Connect with your boss or look at your schedule to see if there is an option to get to work early and leave later or vice versa in order to cut down your commute while doing the same amount of work. Some companies even have the option of working from home part-time. If that is at all possible encourage your boss to give it a trial run. The most important thing is that if you are working from home or you do change your schedule that during those times you work extra hard to prove that it is an effective strategy – one where your boss can't say no to turning the trial run into a normal routine.
I found what worked for me and I encourage you to test out different strategies to see what works for you. Who knows, you may surprise yourself and begin enjoying your commute!
I'd love to hear changes you've made to your commute and how it worked out. Please leave a comment below.
Dr. Jessica is a psychologist (supervised practice), author, and trainer who is dedicated to bringing science-driven advice and information to everyone.