Ah, the ol’ commute. Everyone’s best friend. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could just teleport to work? I wish. Until that day comes, unless you have the ability to work remotely, you’re likely stuck with a commute. According to the US Census Bureau, the average US commute time is 25.4 minutes one-way. If you think about that, a working adult resident of the USA spends 50.8 minutes per day just going back and forth to work. This is nearly one hour every day, or just over 4 hours per week. That’s an insane amount of time and it can really add up. It would be a shame to not use that time productively.

So what steps can you take to ensure you’re optimizing this time and getting the most out of this “wasted” part of the day? I’ve outlined the top 6 strategies that I personally use, and feel like anyone could use, to make sure this portion of the day is spent doing something to help ensure that your actions are aligned with your long-term goals and that you’re growing each and every day. I, personally, have a 40-minute commute one-way. My time on the road is above the US average, so I make sure I’m getting the most of that time and not just idly driving back and forth.

Without any further ado, here are my top 6 things you can do to optimize your commute:

  1. Turn your car into a mobile classroom.

If you have a 30-minute commute one way, that gives you one hour per day (round trip) that can be spent learning or improving yourself in some way. Your goal is to optimize your time and the reason I love this method is that it gives you so much time every week to allocate to self-improvement. There’s nobody to talk to and no kids distracting you; it’s just you, the open road, and your imagination. So, how can you do this exactly?

  1. Audiobooks! There are so many great audiobook services that exist like audible, which I use personally. I have a subscription which gives me one credit per month that I can use to purchase any audiobook I want. I pay $14.99 per month for this service. There are others, this is just what I use. It is totally worth this small cost! I tend to focus on self-improvement books, human psychology books, or real-estate investing books. If you can’t afford an audiobook subscription service, check out your local libraries. Many libraries have audiobooks you can check out on CD. Most cars these days still have CD players. Use them!
  2. Podcasts! My goodness, there are so many podcasts available to listen to these days. There’s a podcast for just about any topic you can think of. Podcasts are a great way to learn new information you can apply to your career and personal development. Don’t overlook this awesome strategy for self-improvement. Find a few on career development or leadership skills. They’re out there. Here are some of my favorites.
  3. Learn a new language! I work for an international company, so I try to spend time every day learning a new language. I’ve traveled internationally a handful of times and every time I find myself wishing I knew a second language. There are great programs out there that allow you to learn a new language while on the go. There are programs you can download to your phone, CD’s you can purchase, and even podcasts you can listen to that will help you learn. If you want to learn a new language, or you think it could benefit you, find a way to make it happen!
  1. Make important calls.

One strategy I use sometimes is I keep a list of phone calls I need to make and I try to make them all on my way home. This is a great way to batch tasks to Increase your efficiency and ultimately make you more effective! I have a 40-minute commute one way so this is the perfect time to make a call and get deep into a discussion. As you go through your day, take notes of important, but not urgent discussions that you need to have. As soon as you get situated and hit the road, start making calls! Now, since you’ll likely be driving, I have to put out a disclaimer to do what you need to do to be safe! Use a hands-free headset or put your phone on speaker mode so you can keep your eyes focused on the road and your hands on the steering wheel. It’s even easier if you’re taking public transit, like a subway, train, or bus. So what types of calls are good to make?

  1. Business calls – call co-workers that may still be at the office, or on their commutes, and use this time for an ad hoc meeting. Have a topic in mind and talk it through with them to get their input. This can be a great opportunity to solve problems and, in my experience, talking about work “after work hours” can be a good bonding experience. The real side of people tends to come out at the end of the day after work is “over.”
  2. Personal calls – use this time to make calls to your bank, credit card, or insurance bureaus. Make calls to the contractor you’re working with or your utility company to settle a billing dispute. We all have things going on in our personal lives. Why not use your commute to settle these matters so when you get home you can engage with your family? Knock these little tasks out while you’re alone and you’re doing something that you had to do anyway (commuting).
  3. Call family that you haven’t talked to in a while. Why not dedicate one day a week to calling your mom, dad, brother, or sister? We all get so busy in our own lives it’s easy to forget to call your family and just say hi and see how they’re doing. I actually have a quarterly call set up with my brother. We talk life, careers, and investing. This is great bonding time, plus I usually learn something from him. He’s older, more successful, and has a wealth of knowledge to share. Don’t overlook this opportunity to build relationships with your family. They’re important, don’t forget them.
  1. Call into meetings.

In my company, we’re spread out all over the globe. As a result, we have a lot of conference calls across any time zone you can think of. A commute can be a great time to jump into a conference call if the times line up. Just be careful with this. If it’s the type of call where someone is sharing their screen and you need to look at it, it would be safer to stay home and take the call remotely or get into work early enough that you can take the call from your desk. The great thing about this method is that if you have an early meeting it can keep you from having to go into the office early. The only caveat is you need to ensure that you can do it safely! Don’t call into a conference call and try to focus on someone’s shared screen while you’re driving. You’re no good to the company (or yourself) if you’re dead or in prison because you hit someone while you were driving. Use extreme caution with this method, but definitely consider it.

  1. Check email.

If you’re not driving, use this time as your dedicated time every day to check email to check email! If you’re taking the train or the bus, get out your laptop or smartphone on the way to and from work to check emails. Remember, email is never urgent, so this is a great time to catch up on what’s going on and get back to people that have requested your help. Not only that, but one thing I actually do is keep a list of people I need to reach out to throughout the day. If you’re good about not habitually pulling up your inbox, you can use this time to reach out to all of the people you’ve been meaning to contact throughout the day.

  1. Listen to music with intention.

If you’ve had a rough day and need to clear your mind, by all means put on some tunes. Your mental health is important and so is your home life. You don’t want to get home and be in a sour mood. Do everything you can to eliminate this. Find a pop song that you secretly love and sing at the top of your lungs. Get all the frustration out. Singing along with music can be a wonderfully cathartic experience. I do this from time to time if I’ve had a hard day and I’ve got to say, it can be totally awesome! I always try to listen to audiobooks and podcasts, but some days I just feel like I need to get something out and singing at the top of my lungs help immensely. I’ve had numerous days where I leave the office in a horrible mood and by the time I get home I’m happy almost to the point of dancing (some days there may be dancing). The key here is to make sure you have intention. Have a good reason for listening to music. Try to avoid just idly putting on the radio because you have nothing else to listen to. This is an important habit to set for optimizing your commute.

  1. Listen to nothing and work through thoughts or ideas.

This one’s a little more out there, but here me out. There are times when I’ve got something deep on my mind and I’ll get in the car and start driving home and completely forget to put on something to listen to. I’ve gotten half-way home before and realized I was listening to the road. Just listening to the sounds of traveling can do a lot to help put your mind into a trance-like state so you can work through problems without having something jolt you out of your thoughts. It’s amazing, and if you had a situation arise at work that you need to mentally work though, I highly recommend allowing yourself to just think and not listen to anything except the white noise of the road (or train, bus, etc…). Don’t overlook the value of this tactic. Just remember, as with all things in life, choose this with intention.

In summary:

You are an effective person who gets things done! As such, you should try to minimize your idle time, or at least control it. There’s not much self-improvement that can be made from idly listening to the same songs play over and over again on the radio for an hour every day. Don’t be the person who just idly turns on the radio because it’s better than silence. This is an hour of your time every day and you want to have something to show for it. Use every last drop of time you can get. Our time on this Earth is finite. Waste as little as possible. The key takeaway here is that you should use this time with intention. Choose to do something that will help you grow a little each day.

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