Driving to and from work is a necessity most Americans face every day. Commute times vary widely depending on location, with many rural Americans enjoying a drive under 15 minutes while many city dwellers and suburbanites dredge themselves more than 45 minutes each way. Whether your commute is fourteen minutes or forty minutes, you can use the time productively to boost your day. Here are seven top ideas to make your commute more productive, or at least more bearable.
1. Listen to a Podcast
Podcasts are like Netflix for the radio, but they are free! Most podcasts are free to download to your phone using the built in iTunes app for iPhones or an app like Podcast Addict for Android. With these apps, you can subscribe and automatically download new episodes over Wi-Fi so you can listen during your drive without using precious cellular data.
Popular shows come from top producers like NPR, radio veteran Adam Carolla, podcast dedicated networks like Gimlet Media, and solo producers. I even have my own podcast, Personal Profitability Podcast. Whether you want news, stories, or other interesting shows, you can find a podcast that is exactly right for you.
2. Enjoy an Audiobook
If podcasts are not your thing, that doesn’t mean you are out of luck when it comes to audio entertainment in the car. Audiobooks are another great use of your car time. With audiobooks, you can learn, expand your skills, or escape the daily grind for a few minutes of fiction.
If you are a digital native, you will enjoy services like Audible, which allow you to download audiobooks directly to an app on your phone. If the $15 per month price tag is too steep for your taste, many library districts offer their own apps or options to get audiobooks for free. In the worst case, most libraries offer free audiobooks on CD.
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3. Take audio notes
Writing and notetaking are definitely dangerous activities while driving, but thanks to smartphones you don’t need a pen to take notes. Your voice will do the job just fine, and some apps even transcribe your voice into digital written notes that you can read, search, or reference later.
Apps like Google Keep and Evernote are perfect for digital note taking, as you can access your notes on your phone or computer. If you don’t want an integrated, cloud connected note taking app, iPhone users can use the built in voice memos app while Android users can download one of many free voice recorders.
4. Conduct Meetings
While some meetings require a pen, paper, and computer screen, many are more conversational in nature. Think one-on-one check-ins with a remote employee, a call with your business advisor, or a daily standup you have with your team. Try planning one or two meetings during your long commute into the office, test it and see how it goes.
If it works, move your other employee check-ins to your morning commute and get a solid block of time back during your office hours that you can dedicate to your work.
5. Catch Up On Calls
In an increasingly mobile world, staying in touch can be challenging. When we do chat with friends and family, it often happens by text message or email. In-depth phone conversations are slowly becoming a lost art. However, with a lengthy commute you have plenty of time to phone a friend.
In the days I used to commute from Downtown Denver to Broomfield on a daily basis, more than 20 miles and often over 40 minutes each way, I would call out-of-town friends or a relative on my way home to get caught up. Maintaining relationships is tough, but when you have 20 minutes or so to say hello on the way home from the office, it’s much easier.
6. Get to Know Your City
Google Maps might send you the same route every day, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow it. Testing new routes helps you get to know your city, discover new restaurants and shops, and breaks up the monotony of the same highway or crowded roadway ten times a week.
Even if it takes you an extra few minutes, testing different routes can be a fun way to get to know the lay of the land and help you avoid future backups with clever combinations of backroads. If you want to test out a new app to help you explore, check out Waze or City Mapper.
7. Shorten Your Commute
If you drive a long way to work, you have one non-traditional approach that can cut your commute by half or more. You could move closer to the office, cutting your commute time down to almost nothing depending on where you choose to live. While there are costs involved, there are big savings as well. It may not be practical for everyone, but younger, single workers have a lot of mobility and could move to save hours in the car each week.
Depending on your job and your company, you may also have options to work remotely. Even telecommuting one day each week is a major benefit in terms of commute time and productivity. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, your employer also experiences major benefits by allowing at least part-time remote work.
Stay Safe Out There
If you’re driving to work, remember that distracted driving is dangerous, so if you are interested in doing anything in your car that is not driving, make sure to be safe in the car. More than 30,000 people die in car accidents annually in the United States, so pay attention to the roadway even as you attempt to make your commute more productive. But even if you stay safe on the road, your commute may still be killing you.
The average commuter spends 26 minutes traveling each way to work. That is 1.8 trillion minutes per year in the car among all Americans. That’s the same as 29.6 billion hours, 1.2 billion days, or 3.4 million years, the time required to build 300 Wikipedias or the Great Pyramid of Giza 26 times, according to the Washington Post.
There is an important balance between safety and productivity in the car, but there are plenty of opportunities to be productive while commuting safely. From podcasts to brainstorming to phone calls, however, you can certainly put that time to good use.
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