How can you make the best out of commuting?

For many people, especially in larger cities, commuting is just a part of normal life and can be something that they spend a couple of hours doing every working day, but how can these people make the best out of it? A couple of hours a day can lead to hundreds of hours a year where a person is just going from home and work and then back again later on in the day, but using that time effectively can be a huge positive, depending on how it is used. If it isn’t used to the best of its potential, it could be a couple of hours of the day which are just boring for the person, and squandered.

The various options for commuting past times have the potential to be most things that can be done to pass any time, but generally some of the options to do when commuting are:

• Reading a book, newspaper, or magazine • Listening to music, a radio show, or a podcast • Watching a television show or a film • Knitting • Writing • Working • Playing games or doing puzzles • Practicing mindfulness

Depending on the type of commuting, not all of these options are applicable, but all of them attempt to take a person’s mind off the mundane routine of getting from A to B. I think, in their own way, they all of have benefits that can positively affect someone’s life, but some may be easier to carry out than others.

When driving

From personal experience, the thing I love the most about driving is listening to the radio and keeping up-to-date with new music. In the mornings especially you can feel part of a radio show’s family and the presenters can become friends, in a way. Having this as part of your routine can add an extra comfort and familiarity, which becomes just another part of the day. There are other types of radio shows which can be listened to as well, of course. Shows which focus on specific subjects like sport and current affairs, for example, can be listened to and allow the listener to become informed on the latest issues in these areas. Such listening can then lead to conversations being started with other people throughout the day on the topics.

When taking the train/tube/bus

When commuting via train, tube or bus, this is the time where those vacant hours can also be used for something productive and/or positive. A lot of people listen to something through their headphones, such as the radio, a podcast, or music, while others may watch something on their phone or tablet. Some people play games on these devices, and others may be reading or doing an activity such as knitting. Some activities, such as knitting, can probably only be carried out if you have a seat, but I have admired many a person on the tube holding and reading a book with one hand and holding on the nearest communal pole the steady themselves with the other – I always think that it seems so difficult to do that! Someone also told me that they practice mindfulness on the tube and I think this is an interesting example of making the most out of this time. Practicing mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the world around you and focusing on your thoughts and the way you feel. This can be done in a number of ways, but for many, using an app can be a useful method of carrying this out. I find this person practicing mindfulness on the tube interesting because it can be difficult to block out all the noise a tube train makes, but perhaps they do this then because it is a time where they can focus on something other than work or other things going on in their life. In terms of this article, it then makes a lot of sense, and gives evidence to how the time spend commuting has the potential to be used in a positive and beneficial way.

The lost time

For a while, I commuted to work on a train where I was able to get a seat. Before I realised I could download television shows onto my phone, I used to read articles for my university course, or sleep! In a way though, I was glad I didn’t realise I could download television content to watch until a while after because I was spending a lot of time studying and working at that time, and I spent probably an hour a day reading articles or doing university work on the commute. This is an hour of my time I would had to of found somewhere else in my day, or overall week, to use. Because I had the time while commuting, I could spend the time I did put by to study to put what I had read to good use in writing tasks or assignments.

Until I worked somewhere where I had to commute a distant to get to my workplace, I never thought about the time people spend doing it. When I was at school it was a time to talk to my friends, and getting from school to home never felt like a waste of time, it was just a part of my day. Perhaps it is only when you look at the hours you spend away from home and the extra time it takes between going between work and that home that you can realise the amount of potential there is to use it in a good way.

Everyone has different ways of spending their free time, even if it is commuting time, and not everyone will want to use it for an activity. Some people may be happy to just respond to their environment by looking at the people around them or reacting to what they can see. It can also be good to have some thinking time and preparing for the day ahead, or going over the day that has past. For me, I like catching up on television shows because the commuting time is extra time for me; time I can use to do something I want, and time that I would have to find elsewhere if I didn’t have it. Therefore, the lost time of commuting could actually be the valuable time that is found, but it depends on how it is used. I think to make the best out of commuting requires thinking about making the best out of a possibly dull situation, but one that could also be custom to endless possibilities.

Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach