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When people ask when you're joining the rat race, it sounds like such a dark and unpleasant way to describe working life. If you don't make the most of the time you spend on unfortunately necessary evils like commuting, it's going to feel a lot like a rat race taking part in a city's filthiest sewer.
Now, we all get to work in different ways. I’m going to list options that work for both mass transit and single vehicle commuters first, then break off into ones that usually serve one group better than the other.
The number one, hands down, best way to make use of your commute is by listening to audio books. When was the last time you read a book? I can't begin to tell you how many times I've asked that question and people have darkly admitted it's been years.
Yet with audiobooks, you can enjoy going off to a far off world with fiction or you can listen to something more educational.
Either way, you’re going to be entertained, and you could also be learning something in the process. If you don’t have time to read because your soul is slowly being consumed by your commute, listening to audiobooks passes the time in a productive way.
If you’re not a fan of audiobooks, try to listen from titles from a few different narrators. I was deeply opposed to audiobooks for years and years of being an avid reader, for I felt like I was always hearing narrators who I didn’t like at all. However, once I found some who were actually quite good like Will Wheaton, I found myself able to enjoy audiobooks.
Alternatively, if you do take mass transit and you’re not a huge fan of audiobooks, try reading ebooks.
2. Learn a language.
Yeah, you remember those GPS commercials where people got lost with a map and only had language learning CDs in the car, and would arrive at a gas station arguing about the map fluently in another language.
Silly commercials aside, listening to language learning materials is a great way to make your commute more productive. For most of us, there’s a language out there that we’ve been meaning to learn, but just haven’t done it yet.
Prior to a trip to Europe, I listened to endless YouTube videos that were focused on learning French words and phrases. If you’re driving, you won’t really be able to look and absorb the spelling, but this is a fantastic way to work on your vocabulary and pronunciation of another language.
If you really want to get in-depth, you could purchase an audio course from the App Store or Google Play Store, but there are a ton of very long and useful YouTube videos that can get you started in almost any language.
3. Make a to-do list.
Planning for your day to maximize the time you spend when you're not commuting is one way to get a little more out of your typical day.
Taking a little time to make a to-do list and organize your thoughts and goals never hurts. This is more of a soft way to spend your commuting time, but it’s certainly better than playing cell phone games or coming a bit unhinged sitting in traffic and only thinking about the tail lights of the car in front of you.
This one is going to be more for the weary souls out there taking mass transit. If you’re on a bus or train, even if you’re uncomfortably crammed between other poor, miserable computers, you can write. Write a poem, write a short story, start your memoir, or work on that next chapter of your novel. Whether you’re a veteran writer or someone just looking to productively kill time during the commute, try to utilize this time. Even if it means using a very basic notes app on your phone, write. Just write.
At the very least, if you don't always feel like you're being valued at your job, writing can be a helpful outlet.
If you’re determined to “write” while you’re driving, you could give dictation software a whirl, but any sort of digital dictation software isn’t going to give you a completely perfect rendition of your words. But if you don’t do a lot of formatting in your writing, or you just want to get some rough ideas written down, this can work.
5. Catch up with friends and family.
If you’re driving, try calling friends and family. It doesn’t hurt to perhaps give them a heads up and ask if they’re available to chat in the morning and evening, but if your cohorts are also working, there’s a fair chance that they’re going to be just as bored as you are when five o’clock comes around and it’s time to go home. Most of us have hands free systems of some type nowadays, so may as well make the most of that feature car manufacturers charge us a little more.
This is better for the drivers out there. You can potentially do this on a train or bus, but I’d only do so if it’s already the norm on that vehicle for people to use their phones. Most trains have rules against phone use, but there are some lines that allow it and have separate, designated quiet cars.
6. Socializing or Marketing
Here’s another one for the mass transit souls. If you’re going to use social media, try not to just scroll endlessly and perhaps silently like a post or two. Interact with your friends and family. Connect with new people who have like interests. Put that social back in social media and make it your goal to have a meaningful interaction with someone, that way, you’re gaining value in the time you’re spending.
Alternatively, if you’re a creative soul and you have any sort of side hustle that involves promoting yourself or selling things, put a little time into that. Go through your social profiles and make some updates to them. Marinate your thoughts a little and if you haven’t tweeted in a while, come up with something clever to share. If you're a little worried about how to approach this, there are ways you can go about using social media professionally that can help.
7. Purposeful Relaxation or Meditation
Here’s one that’s definitely for mass transit riders. If you have a long stretch on a train or bus and your day is usually unbelievably stressful, try to unwind, perhaps with a meditation app if you need a little push to get started. With apps and special soundtracks to promote meditation, you can usually set a timer for yourself so that you don’t miss your stop. Noise-canceling headphones can be a huge help for this as well, since they’ll help drown out some of those typical mass transit noises.
Ultimately, figure out what works for you. Try some of these suggestions. Try all of them.
I strongly feel that maximizing your commute can significantly help with work-related burnout, particularly if you have a long commute. If your day is protracted with an extra two or more hours of commuting time, that’s contributing to your general fatigue and any feelings of discontentment that come with not having enough time for yourself.
However, if you can pursue a hobby like reading or use the time to forge stronger connections with your loved ones, then you’ll feel better about yourself. Even if you’re tired, even if your job is stressful, you’re reclaiming time in your day and turning something frustrating into something energizing and productive.