How To Take Control Of Your Daily Commute

Commutes are probably the part of the workday you look forward to the least, for obvious reasons. We’ve already established that longer commutes worsen your physical and mental health, stress levels, and possibly even your disposable income. So what do we about it? 

The logical conclusion would be to reduce your commuting time, but you’d either need to find a new job or move closer to work. Chances are, for most of us, neither of these options is possible or realistic. There has to be a better solution. 

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As dull and arduous as long commutes are, they’re here to stay, but you don’t need to stay at their mercy. Here’s how you can reclaim your commute and use your commute to your advantage. 

 

Self-control & ownership

Given the fact that commutes make people miserable because they erode personal autonomy and a sense of purpose, the solution is to take back control of how you use this time.

In other words, you need to find ways to utilise your commute productively. It isn’t necessarily about time management or getting more things done. Fundamentally, it’s about practicing good emotional intelligence and exercising your self-control skills. 

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This alone can give you a greater sense of ownership over your success at work and in life. As Yale Professor Amy Wrezsniewski pointed out in her research on job crafting, the reason why some people are happier in the same jobs than others isn’t about their circumstances. It’s about what they choose to make of it. 

 

1. Morning commutes: plan what you’re going to accomplish for the day

Having a prioritised task list set out even before you reach the office can make a huge difference. You want to hit the ground running. Knowing what you need to work on and how you need to divide your time over the course of the day is critical; using your morning commute for this purpose is key. To give yourself a structure for this, try using a Scrum approach. List out: 

  • What you accomplished the day before
  • What you need to accomplish today, especially important and urgent matters
  • What obstacles you’re facing and how you can overcome them

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2. Evening commutes: have a shutdown ritual on the commute back home

In a similar vein, you can use your evening commute to power down and turn off your work mode so that when you reach home, you’re not taking your work stress with you. In his book, “Deep Work: Focused Rules For Success In A Distracted World”, Cal Newport writes that it’s normal for people to keep thinking about work even after office hours. 

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This is due to the Ziegarnik Effect, which holds that any tasks left incomplete will dominate your thoughts as long as they remain incomplete. Fortunately, though, taking some time to engage in a shutdown ritual mitigates this effect. Here’s how: 

  • List out all your incomplete tasks
  • Make plans for how you’re going to pick up easily where you left off the next day

Using your evening commute to tie up loose ends in this way can give you a sense of security that reduces your stress levels appropriately. 

 

3. Use the time for self-improvement

Each of the two solutions above will only take 10 to 15 minutes, so you’ll still have lots of time on your hands. Use this time to engage in self-improvement. If there’s a habit you’re trying to build, you can use your commute time to do it every day, which ensures that you make a daily ritual of it. 

Spending 15 minutes to read content that’ll value-add to your performance at work, for example, will pay off in the long term. Alternatively, you could listen to intellectually stimulating podcasts, watch TED talks, or even practice simple mindfulness exercises, all of which are beneficial.

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4. Limit your smartphone games and social media usage 

So many people immediately get on Facebook or Instagram when they get in line to enter the trains, and only look up when they’ve reached their stop. Others just play games or watch Korean dramas on their phones all the way. 

The result is that you tend to see your commute time as “time to kill” instead of “extra time” you can use to learn and grow. It’s a simple mindset shift, but it can make a huge difference. Don’t short-change yourself by being passive in this way. Limit the time you spend on entertainment during your commute, and you’ll reap the benefits soon.

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