It’s safe to say that when Willie Nelson wrote “On the Road Again,” he was not talking about the mind-numbing, soul-sucking treks many Americans engage in as they commute from home to work, and vice versa.
How do I know? Well, for one thing, for the most part these daily drives don’t entail bucolic fun with a band full of gypsies, but rather lonely slurps of watery 64-ounce Polar Pops sucked down while gazing across a never-ending horizon of traffic.
Yet, for some employees, it’s a fate that simply cannot be avoided. The U.S. Census reports that, in 2013, 86 percent of all workers used a vehicle for their commute, with less than 10 percent of those drivers choosing to carpool. That means more than three quarters of us are making a solo drive to the job each day.
And for many commuters, we’re not talking about a simple joyride over to the next burg. In fact, The Washington Post noted that, in 2016, the average American commute grew to 26 minutes, a jump of 20 percent since 1980. The Post goes on to emphasize that average commuters are spending nine days a year just getting to and from work, a span of time that most of us would prefer to spend on a beach vacation. Even worse, for a small but still significant part of the population—a healthy 3.6 million of us—daily "mega commutes" that stretch to 90 minutes each way result in annual accrued travel times of one month (31.3 days, to be precise).
So, how can you reclaim this time and avoid commuter’s burnout? For starters, put down the nose-hair clippers and avoid doing anything else that will distract you from the task of driving. DIY manicures, balancing your checkbook, and blissing out to a super-Zen guided meditation might feel good in the moment, but let’s face it: an early morning fender bender isn’t going to help you de-stress. Instead, read on for six quick tips on how to take back your commute, and still get to the office in one piece.
1. SET INTENTIONS AND REFLECT
One easy, low-tech way to improve your commute is through a simple shift of mindset. Whether you drive, take public transportation, walk, or bike, your commute serves as a transition from your personal life to your professional world. So why not use this time in the morning to set intentions for your day? Apps like Evernote allow for hands-free dictation and easy organization of your thoughts, lists, and plans.
At the end of the day, spend time reflecting on the successes and challenges you faced, and give yourself some time for closure before getting home. A voodoo doll is always a handy option, but apps like Agile Speech's ASAM offer up a little more productivity value, allowing you to cruise through your email inbox and keep you out of the weeds.
While at one point it seemed like rideshares had fallen out of fashion, a recent article in The Wall Street Journal makes the case that carpooling is slowly making a comeback. Have coworkers living close to you? Consider using your drive time to plan collaborative projects, or even as a chance for a little informal bonding that can strengthen the productivity and resilience of your team. Don’t particularly like your coworker/neighbor? No problem! Just tell them you’re quietly doing tip #1.
3. BURN SOME CALORIES
It can take careful planning, but if you’re walking or biking to work, you've found one of the most classic commuting lifehacks around. Getting in a workout while getting to work is a great way to start your day full of endorphins and a sense of accomplishment. While cycling commuters still make up a very small percentage of overall commuters, that number has now risen to 786,000 people annually, according to the U.S. Census.
Biking commutes are more popular in Western states, with Portland, Oregon, leading the pack with a 6.1 percent rate of bike commuters. The Northeast has seen more growth in walking; 15.1 percent of Boston residents enjoy a stroll to work for their daily trek. If you choose to ride or walk, make sure you’re getting the credit—apps like Strava can help you track and analyze your exercise data to make the most of your workout.
And if you can't avoid the car ride? Try some safe, stationary core exercises. Try sitting upright in the driver's seat and drawing your navel inward toward your spine. This will stabilize and strengthen your core, and just a few minutes every day will help you feel a bit leaner and more supported. By the way, lifting your 64-ounce Polar Pop to your mouth doesn’t count as exercise.
4, READ FOR PRODUCTIVITY OR PLEASURE
As The Wall Street Journal reported last summer, "Audiobooks are the fastest growing format in the book business today." This means there are more great reads to listen to during your drive time than ever before. The Nix, a "bold and brilliant" novel by Nathan Hill, topped off Audible's list for the best audiobook of 2016.
The world’s largest producer of digital audiobooks, Audible offers plenty of titles for business advice, self-help, memoir, historical non-fiction, and fiction. Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It? It’s in there!
5, TALK IT OUT
If you live in an urban area, there’s a good chance that you spend your commute on public transportation. While this form of travel can seem attractive to daily drivers, the grind of cramming onto a packed bus, train, or subway each day can bring its own form of commuter burnout (I mean, how many times can you watch the same man excavate his nose?).
To make your commute more productive, research suggests that you should actually look up from your book, phone, or podcast and engage those around you in a brief conversation. As Business Insider reports, the act of chatting with strangers can have a positive effect on your mood, and productivity levels.
6. SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF, AND SAVE TIME
While micro-management can be a major source of stress in the office, keeping an eagle-eye on the details of your commute can save you major time. Apps like Waze will keep you posted on traffic and congestion, and even alert you to the best places to pull off for gas, breakfast, and coffee Polar Pops. Saving these precious few minutes can mean a less harried start to your day and a more productive morning. And if you want to really get a high-tech jumpstart on your drive? Try this alarm clock that wakes you up earlier if your daily route looks too congested.
Commuting can be a bummer if you let it, but with a little help you can use it as an opportunity to transition into your workday with purpose. Who just can’t wait for that?