Getting the Most Out of Your Commute Time

Getting the Most Out of Your Commute Time

The average employee spends about four hours a week getting back and forth from work. Survey data shows that for most employees, this is the most dreaded part of the work week. Cari Romm at Science of Us has a suggestion for how to make it a little more bearable: take a nap during your commute:

Step one, figure out how long your train ride takes from the moment you step on till the moment you exit. Step two, use that number to calculate what time you’ll be arriving, and set a phone alarm for a few minutes before then. Step three, stick some headphones in your ears and snooze away, unburdened by worry that you’ll miss your stop. (Note: Train riders only, for obvious reasons. Drivers, you’re still stuck with a fully conscious ride to work.)

The beauty of the commuting nap is that it takes one of the most hated ways to spend time (commuting) and replaces it with one of the most beloved (sleeping). It’s difficult to overstate just how much a long commute — especially one spent entirely awake — can negatively impact a person’s quality of life: People who suffer through it each day tend to have more stress, lower well-being, and even rockier marriages; commuting beat out house cleaning and even work itself in a survey of the most happiness-draining activities.

For those of us who commute by train or bus and can manage it, taking a nap does seem like a good idea. Estimates are that 50 to 75 million people in the US are sleep deprived, and this has real consequences: It hurts performance, lowers our emotional intelligence and makes us less effective leaders.

For the millions of us who drive to work, however, the chance to nap will continue to elude us until driverless cars come along to take us to work every day. In the meantime, as Romm also mentions, the Association for Psychological Science highlights a new study suggesting another way to get the most out of our commutes:

In a field study, the researchers examined whether using a long commute as a time to think about goals could actually make a long commute less miserable. The researchers recruited a total of 154 working adults through a UK commuting benefits platform. The participants completed a survey at the beginning of the study assessing their daily commuting time, trait self-control, job satisfaction, and emotional exhaustion.

Some participants were then randomly assigned to a goal-directed group, which received a weekly morning text message prompting them to spend some time during their commute thinking about their work[.] … After 6 weeks, participants completed a second survey measuring job satisfaction and emotional exhaustion. “Prompting commuters to engage in goal-directed prospection while they commute every Monday morning for 6 weeks increased their job satisfaction and decreased their emotional exhaustion,” the researchers report.

Spending your morning commute thinking about work isn’t the most obvious way to make that time more enjoyable, but if you have to spend that time on the road (or the train) anyway, you might as well use it in a way that makes your workday easier and more pleasant. So, the next time you are stuck in a traffic jam, rather than banging your head against the steering wheel, take a moment to think about what you are going to accomplish that day.