Ultimate Ways to Unlock Your Commute (Part 1)
Updated: Feb 25
The thought of getting back into the daily commute is an idea that may not fill most of us with joy, but here's how you can use that time to your advantage.
How to Look Forward to Your Morning Commute
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? The thought of commuting to work seems like quite a foreign concept these days. And yes, we may never go back to the full five days a week in the office routine of years past. But as 2021 moves along and companies slowly make their way back to some sort of in office / work from home hybrid, this also means the return of the oft-dreaded commute.
But a commute to and from work doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, when treated the right way, commuting to work can be a great way to ease into your day (or your return back home).
In a 2017 article published in Harvard Business Review, behavioral scientist Francesca Gino discusses the results of a study she conducted that found that people who "maintain small routines on the way to work—such as checking the news on the train—feel more excited about the day ahead, more satisfied with their jobs, and less stressed-out than those who had no set routine."
This approach supports the research that shows that having a commute isn't inherently a bad thing. A 2001 study from the University of California Transportation Center found that people enjoy having a commute, as long as it is reasonable. They found the ideal commute time, calculated based on the mean of all responses, to be 16 minutes.
They write: "On the whole, these results support the contention that commute time is not unequivocally a disutility to be minimized, but rather that there is an optimum to be achieved which can be violated in either direction—i.e. it is possible (although comparatively rare) to commute too little as well as too much."
A commute is, in its own way, a routine. If you spend it thinking about the role you're switching into, it helps prepare you to make that switch and makes the transition less stressful. It can help to have a morning routine you follow to create some predictability for your day, so that you have something to look forward to in the morning. Whether it is getting a cup of coffee from your favorite coffee shop, catching up on social media or the news, or listening to your favorite podcast, it can put you in the right mindset for the rest of your day.
Ways to Make the Most Out of Your Morning Commute
There are plenty of ways to make the most of your morning routine, and what works best will vary from person to person. Here are some ways you can try.
Connect with Others on Your Commute
Commutes are generally viewed as time for solitude. For some, the drive or ride to work offers much-needed downtime before a busy day. But for others, commutes can be isolating.
In one 2014 study of 200 train riders published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers found that most believed that they would have the most enjoyable commute if they could sit in solitude. Those riders were then split into three groups: one group rode in solitude, those in the second group were instructed to connect with a fellow rider, and commuters in the third group were instructed to do as they normally would on their way to work. At the end of the study, the riders who connected with another passenger - whether they were instructed to do so or not - reported the most positive commuting experiences.
So instead of riding in solitude, try taking a moment to reach out to another person on your trip to or from work. Perhaps you can chat up the newspaper salesman in the subway or talk about the weather to the guy you always see at the bus stop. Who knows, maybe it could be what you both need to get your day started on the right foot.
Engage Your Mind
If you’d rather keep your commute a solo journey, no problem! Another great way to spend your commute is to use the time to challenge yourself to get the juices flowing. Whether it is doing a crossword puzzle, listening to a thought-provoking podcast, or reading an interesting book, commuting is an opportunity to prepare for the day ahead. Instead of coming into the office groggy and in dire need of a cup of coffee, come in feeling refreshed and ready to tackle your work.
If you need some inspiration, check out the rituals of some folks who are well-versed in commuting:
“When I’m stuck on a train that’s not moving, I comfort myself with the fact that I am still able to get work done. I never edit but I do read a good percentage of my submissions on my commute and, though of course I’d rather not be commuting at all, it’s valuable to have that prescribed time. Often on the way home from work, though, I’m too tired to read and that’s when crossword puzzles are my salvation. My favorite days to commute home are Mondays and Thursdays because on those days I can print out puzzles. Monday is also when the New Yorker crossword goes online, and if I haven’t finished Newsday’s Saturday Stumper, I’ll pull that out as well. For some reason I only do the New York Times Crossword at home!” - Amy Gash, executive editor at Algonquin Books, rides a train for 90 minutes to Manhattan from New Jersey.
“I take the bus to and from downtown Minneapolis, and on my daily commute, poetry is the best companion. The artform itself is one of movement and transport, and the compression of poetry means that I can read several poems on my 30-minute bus ride, or I can dwell and remain on one poem, turn it around and around. Either way, I am always someone else who gets off the bus than the person who got on. Recently on my morning commute, I have also listened to an episode of the poetry podcast ‘The Slowdown,’ with the former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, who beautifully provides a poem and some signature wisdom in just five minutes every weekday.” - Jeff Shotts, executive editor at Graywolf Press, rides a bus to and from downtown Minneapolis.
Transition to Your Next Role
Why not use your commute to prepare yourself to transition into your next role? This can certainly make commuting less stressful so that you feel refreshed, engaged, and ready to be productive both when you get to work in the morning and when you get home in the evening. At work, you play one role. But at home, you play a different role.
While studying the impacts of commuting, researchers from Harvard Business School found that people who use their commute to mentally prepare for the transition into their next roles were less likely to suffer the negative impacts of a long commute:
They took four groups of people and instructed each group to engage in a different activity during their morning commutes:
One group was instructed to do something they enjoyed like listening to music, looking at social media, or reading the news.
One group was told to spend the time planning for what they would do that day/week at work and thinking about how those activities would help them reach their goals.
One group was told to split their time between doing things they enjoy and planning for the day/week of work.
The final group was given no specific instructions and told to just do whatever they normally did during their commutes.
They found that many people - particularly those who experience "greater work-family conflict" - were able to bypass the negative consequences of a long commute by planning ahead for the day at work. If you're suffering from commute-related stress, it may be worth trying this exercise for a few weeks to see if it helps. By thinking about big picture work items and goals on your way to work - and making personal life plans on the way home from work - you may find it easier to switch into the role that you are moving into during each commute. Want to learn more about the different ways to achieve optimal work-life balance? Go no further and check out this series, you’ll love it.
The Bottom Line
Your commute to and from work can be a great way to start your day off on the right foot and decompress as you’re returning home. Returning to the office can be your chance to reclaim your commute and make it something that you look forward to. If you want to learn about even more ways to take back your commute, check out our next post.
At Kahana, we live and breathe content creation. We love learning new concepts, exploring emergent trends, and writing about topics that foster creativity and wellness. If you're interested in writing with us or would like to collaborate for your dream business blog, we'd love to hear from you!