There are two words that strike despair into the hearts of drivers everywhere: “commute” and “traffic”. If you are one of the 128+ million people in the United States who commuted last year, you’ve probably had some of the following thoughts go through your mind while sitting on the road:
“Yep, here’s the part of the drive where the radio gets fuzzy.”
“Seriously? Another accident? You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
“I swear, this radio station plays the SAME SONGS EVERY DAY.”
“If I drive 45 minutes each way to work, that’s 1.5 hours a day, which is 7 hours a week, which is almost 400 hours a year… I’m wasting my life sitting in traffic…”
As one who has spent many hours on the road commuting to and from work, I feel your pain. Commuting back and forth each day can be mind-numbing, and when all you focus on is the terrible traffic, you’ll probably find yourself turning irritable. By the time you get to work (or home), you’re in such a bad mood that you can’t get any work done.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.
You can give your brain something else to do during the drive, which 1) makes you less irritable, 2) makes you feel more productive, and 3) removes most of the despair from your daily commute.
Most commuters in the US (75.7%) drive alone. If you’re one of them, that means you have complete freedom to use your driving time however you choose. If you ride the bus/shuttle/subway, you still have plenty of options for using your ride time. At any rate, here are 3 ideas for productive things you can do during your commute:
1) Learn a Language
Out of all of the different tactics I have used, this has been my favorite use of commute time. Many people think that learning a language requires sitting in a classroom and taking notes. However, that’s not the only way. If you are interested in speaking another language, you can learn one while driving. Of course, you won’t be able to work on your spelling, but you can practice grammar, vocabulary, listening comprehension, and pronunciation while you drive.
Some languages are more difficult than others, but you can make great strides towards fluency just by using the time that you already spend in your car each day. If you are on the road for 400 hours per year, then you could be 70% fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, French, or Italian (among others) just by utilizing your daily commute for one year.
Obviously this means you can’t use courses that require you to sit in front of a computer. But there are courses that are completely audio based, that have proven to be very effective. I used Pimsleur to learn Mandarin Chinese while I commuted to and from work, and I was very happy with the results. My Mandarin speaking friends told me that my accent was almost perfect, and I could impress them with how much I could speak and understand. And keep in mind that Mandarin is supposedly one of the more difficult languages to learn, yet I was able to learn it just by listening to the Pimsleur audio CDs. So if you pick something more simple (like Dutch or German), you’ll probably learn even faster than I did.
2) Listen to Podcasts or Lectures
Are there any topics that you’ve always thought were interesting, but you never had the time to learn more about them? This could be the perfect way to expand your horizons!
There are numerous free podcasts on the internet (iTunes, PodOmatic, NPR, Stitcher, others). Try downloading a few and burning a CD, or put them on your mp3 player if you can hook it up to your car stereo. You can also find free lectures (iTunesU, LearnOutLoud, others), which are generally more scholarly in nature than podcasts. If you would prefer to hear a story, there are also many free audio books available (Audible, BooksShouldBeFree, OpenCulture, others). This is a great way to enrich yourself while sitting in traffic.
3) Read a Book
If you ride the bus/shuttle/subway, you can get lots of reading done on your commute. I once had a job where I rode the shuttle to work each day. I have never read so many books as I did during those months on the shuttle! I read science fiction, books on finance, humor, religion, almost everything. You can get cheap books through PaperBackSwap (which I made heavy use of), local library sales, or you can download free ebooks for your Kindle.
If you aren’t too keen on reading books, you can also bring a laptop along to respond to emails or read the latest news headlines.
Hopefully these ideas will help you make the most out of your daily commute. If you have other ideas for how to be productive on your drive to work, leave them in the comments below!