Hello fellow travelers! So, this is a post for members of the commuting tribe. I live in suburban New Jersey and commute to New York City during the week. It takes an average of 75 minutes each way, so I spend at least 2+ hours on the train or bus every day. That’s a lot of time and I decided a while back that I should focus less energy being frustrated about it and more energy using it to my advantage. So, here are my top tips for how to make your commute work for you. Maybe you’ll even start to look forward to it?
#1— Make a List and Get Some Things Done
The best hack I’ve got for your commuting time is to make a commuting to-do list and knock out some of your household tasks. I’m big on list-making and I use the Wunderlist app to organize my various lists. I have a to-do list specifically for my commute and will usually make a plan right after I settle in on the train. This uninterrupted time is great for all manner of nagging tasks including grocery shopping (especially if you use an online service like Fresh Direct), kid birthday party planning, vacation planning, ordering kids clothes, making doctor appointments, etc. Of course, this requires some sort of electronic device. I carry my iPad which I have attached to a Bluetooth keyboard, but my husband is able to complete many fo the same types of tasks on his phone.
#2– Make a Plan for Your Day
If your job is like mine, you are managing a never-ending flow of emails, requests, and tasks. If you try to sit down and dive right into your email, you’ll go down a time suck rabbit hole. Instead, spend a few minutes during your commute thinking about your most important priorities for the work day. It will keep you from getting sucked into the email vortex and help you start off the day with your best foot forward.
#3– Get Creative
Getting your creative juices flowing is a great way to either start off the day right or wind down after a stressful day. Writing is obviously an outlet for me, but there are other things you can do on a train or bus including drawing, knitting, or the newest fad – coloring! Studies have shown that regular creativity can reduce stress, so this has multiple benefits.
Commuting is a perfect time for meditation, in my view. In fact, the Calm app, of which I’m a big fan, has an entire series on meditating and commuting. The great thing about meditating is that you really can do it anytime and anywhere. The great thing about meditating on your commute is that it can help lower your blood pressure and put you in a great frame of mind to either start a productive day at work or re-enter your family life in a mindful way. Sometimes, if I’ve had a particularly hard day, I will do a loving-kindness or gratitude meditation in order to reset myself before I get home to the kids.
#5– Meet Up With a Friend
I have a dear friend who lives in my town and is often on the same train as me. We’ve gotten into the habit of texting each other to check if we’ll be on the same train. I probably see her in this way about once a week. We catch up for an hour, tell each other our joys and woes, get advice on challenging home or work problems and then part ways. I always feel so much happier after I’ve had this time with her. No surprise, since there is a lot of evidence that meaningful interactions with friends is a key to happiness. The thing is, when you’ve got little kids and a demanding job, it can be hard to make time for friends. This is a great solution to a perennial problem.
#6– Make a Date With Your Spouse
My husband cherishes his commute for different reasons than I do. He is mostly an introvert and is recharged by quiet reflection, so sitting beside me as a chatter away about whatever is on my mind is not necessarily his idea of awesome. But, every once in a while, the commute can be used as a sort of date for the two of us. Friday night is a good pick for this, since both of us are less distracted by work. Try cutting out of work a bit early and meeting your husband or wife for a drink nearby the train or bus station before you head home. You’ll walk in the door laughing together!
#7– Take it All In
Eyes up, hearts open! Gazing out the train window may seem like a waste of time, but it sure isn’t. Beautiful colors in the morning sky. Gorgeous skyline. Stately old trees. It’s not just the beauty, though, it’s also the grime. Sometimes I’ll stare out at the polluted river or garbage filled roadside and recommit myself to doing more to protect our precious earth. Or, as we go through some of New Jersey’s poorest and most challenged communities, I will think about how very lucky I am and contemplate how I can do more to help our neighboring communities. Being mindful doesn’t mean that you are blind or deaf to everything that’s wrong and scary about the world. It means that you notice it all. And, your willingness to be present to it puts you in a better position to have a positive influence.
#8– Make Some New Friends
I recently posted about how smiling changes everything. That has certainly been true on my commute. Friendly smiles have opened me up to new commuting friendships. I got to know one of my neighbors especially well during our commute. Her husband drove her to the train and they’d sometimes pick me up as I walked there. She was a wonderful woman — accomplished, kind, upbeat. She died recently from cancer, way too young, but I felt glad for each time that I had exchanged a pleasant word with her. The people we interact with every day leave a mark. Be alive to every interaction.
#9– Connect with Old Friends
My last tip is to use the commute to reach out to some old friends. Send them a Facebook message or a text. Or, better yet, write an email. Every once in a while, I’ll get motivated to do this and send out a series of 5 or 10 messages in a row. The next couple of weeks will return a series of delightful updates from far-flung friends who are no longer part of my day-to-day, but will always be a part of my heart and soul.
So, there you go. Commuting is a fact of life for many people. How do you make the most of it?