With few exceptions, we all have to travel from our homes to wherever it is that we work. For some it’s short, for others, not so much… But everyone can see it as an opportunity, a chunk of time to maximize.

The trick is to figure out what you want to get out of your commute.

Are you trying to relax? Pump yourself up? Unwind? Begin or continue work? Learn something? Shut off your brain for a while? Does the time of day or direction determine what your commuting goal is? (Besides the obvious of, you know, getting to or from work.)

With the many types of commutes available, only a little bit of research, planning, and listening to yourself can make the opportunities work for you. Below is a list of ideas for how to do this.

If you get to work by…

DRIVING A CAR

(No surprise, this is far and away the most common way most Americans get to work.)

Listen: Driving a car limits you to only audio stimulation – reading isn’t possible – but the opportunities are endless with podcasts, talk radio, e-books, and music.

I always listen to music. Music is a phenomenal way to pump yourself up for a big day or unwind after (any) day through music. I regularly curate Spotify playlists to listen to on my commute. (The originally titled “Commute” includes Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Queen, Rihanna, Judas Priest… it’s OK to laugh. I think my playlists are awesome.) With a little preparation, you can cultivate the right soundtracks to get you thinking, dreaming, loosening up – whatever you need.

Talk: I know many people who use their evening commute to catch up on phone calls. You can also talk… to yourself. I know I’m not the only one who often needs to talk through a big presentation or a potentially difficult conversation that is soon to be had. Isolated in a closed vehicle en route to such a presentation or meeting offers a great space and time to blather your way to what you need to say.

SHARING A CARPOOL

Talk: A potentially tricky situation that’s very dependent on who you carpool with. If it’s a significant other, for example, you can catch up on your day, talk something through, etc. Having isolated time together could be helpful.

Listen: If this is your coworkers or others, it may be tricky to agree upon the same thing to listen to. It may also be challenging to read in a moving vehicle (I don’t have a problem reading on the subway, but I do get nauseous in a car). I’ve never carpooled before, but my thoughts would be to agree upon podcasts or a radio station (NPR, for example) that are enjoyable and informative.

Think: If you’re a passenger and the mood of the crew allows for comfortable lulls of silence… stare out the window! Let your mind wander. Take the time to think. Giving yourself freedom to space out is proven to aid in decision-making. Sitting in a vehicle that welcomes peace and quiet provides an opportunity to do this that you may not otherwise have in your life.

WALKING

Listen: This mode may also exclude in-depth reading. But, use this opportunity to listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks.

Work it: Unlike other modes, you can actually get some exercise. If your load of work items is relatively light and you’re able to change before and after work into more.

Think: Or, forget exercise and just stroll. Look around, lose yourself in thought.

USING PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

(My mode!)

Read: On the subway in the mornings, I read the Washington Post’s free Express newspaper and then read additional news via Twitter until I get to work. In the evening, I respond to personal messages or emails, and I read either books on my Kindle – business to self-help to literary nonfiction to novels – or more news via Twitter. (I’m lucky that most of my subway ride is actually above ground so I have data access.) Every now and then, I will veg and stare out the window (because some days I just can’t handle Infinite Jest). Some days I’m forced to ride in a crowded car and must stand, smashed between strangers and regretting every decision that lead me to that moment.

Listen: I play music from Spotify from my phone the entire time. I don’t normally listen to podcasts while commuting. I tried listening to audiobooks when I first started this commuting option but thought I missed out on too much when I’d have to divert my attention from the storyline to fighting my way into a crowded car or when trying to hear the conductor relay over a crackling PA that our train was experiencing mechanical difficulties and would be offloading. (Big city living at its finest.)

N/A

Lucky you, remote worker! I occasionally work from home and treat it as a day that I get to sleep in. Normally I drag myself out of bed, make some coffee, and then fire up the work laptop and spend time responding to emails before getting ready for the day. In the evenings, I normally jump right into some other task at my house. It’s easy to see how an albeit short routine would help those who work from home transition into the rest of life. Listening to music, have a snack/cup of tea, watching a funny video, cleaning (that’s me), going outside for a quick walk – anything to take you from work to whatever’s next in your day.

In order to make the most of your commute, you need to do a little work. This may involve finding and downloading podcasts, organizing music, seeking out reading material, wearing the right shoes – more broadly, thinking about what you want to accomplish on your commute and then enabling yourself to accomplish that.

A little bit of planning can go a long way, but leaving room for spontaneity so that you can respond to what you need from your commute at a particular moment can turn those trips to and from work into a productive experience.

What do you do in order to get the most out of your commute?

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