6 Ways to Make the Most Out of Your Commute

The daily commute to and from work can be a drag. Given the state of the job market, some workers are commuting more than an hour a day. But let’s get this: Our ride time shouldn’t necessarily be our dead time.

6 Ways to Make Most Out of Your Commute

Despite what many think, long, dull commutes can be made interesting and productive. Here are six tips on how to increase your productivity en route and make the most of your commute to work:

1. Get an Education

Ancient Rome, nuclear physics, the history of World War II—today there’s an online lecture series to tickle every intellectual curiosity. Go to a university’s website to see what free online audio classes are offered, or download courses through iTunes. Sync up your iPod and you’re stocked with brain-bending material to maximize your ride to work.

Online course through iTunes U courses are just like regular university classes minus the credits. Professors have recorded a semester’s worth of classes that you can download. Many even have syllabi to help you follow along.

2. Learn a Language

Your iPod is a great tool for more than tunes. Take that commute time and expand your horizons with a new language. Planning a trip to Paris next spring? Download French lessons. Always wanted to be able to talk to your Chinese neighbors? Find a Mandarin course.

After you’ve mastered the grammar basics, go a step further to seek out radio broadcasts and lectures in your language—all widely available online or through iTunes. People give you a stare as you’re speaking along with your Italian lesson, but the ability to parlare italiano will be worth the odd looks on the subway.

3. Keep Up With Current Events

Though not a new innovation on how to pass commute time, people have been reading the newspaper on the morning train for decades. It’s worth a reminder. Many of us get our news in mini-snippets when we pop open our web browsers, but we’re missing out on fine journalism and nuanced reporting when we just grab the bytes.

Find the best-quality newspaper in your area and get a subscription (you often save money over buying at the newsstand) and then toss it in your briefcase. Plug in to what’s going on in the world and your community. You’ll be everyone’s favorite conversationalist at your next cocktail party.

4. Talk to Someone

Not on your cell phone—this is a major annoyance to your fellow commuters whether on the train or in traffic. Step outside the comfortable norm and strike up a conversation with your seatmate on the train. And don’t judge your fellow rider by his suit or her handbag—you never know who you might be sitting next to.

People who are personable, friendly, and outgoing make more friends and business contacts than their introverted counterparts. Chances are you see a lot of the same people each day as you all ride to work. Start by saying hello to a fellow rider or ask about a book they’re reading. “People time” is never wasted time.

5. Read

Trash the trashy romance novels and use your time to get through the best literature the world has to offer. A solid reading list like the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels is a prime place to start. If your commute is spent with you behind the wheel, then book-reading isn’t recommended, but these classics are easily found in audiobook format. Listening to books still counts as reading!

Here’s the first five from the Modern Library’s famous “Best 100” list to get you started:

[Added by Tina] Or be motivated, pick up some of my favorite books that will give you a butt-kick in taking massive action for your creative and entrepreneurial projects.

6. Work Out During Commute

Few of us are fortunate enough to be situated so closely to our places of employment that we could walk or bike there, but if your job is less than a 30 or 40 minute walk from your home, you might consider hoofing it. Many job-goers have also taken up biking as their means of getting from point A to point B.

For train and subway commuters, while it isn’t exactly a workout, try standing instead of sitting and burn up to fifty extra calories. Take the stairs to your train platform, park in the farthest corner of the parking lot, skip the elevator on the way to your office. Little fitness efforts can have a big payoff.

Your commute time doesn’t have to be dead time. What are you doing to get the most out of your ride?


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Jacki Christopher is a writer, translator and language instructor. When she's not working on an article, she's studying and writing about Mexican culture and current affairs, training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or baking. She travels as much as her budget allows, but Philadelphia is home.


  1. Geri on the 27th May

    “Talk to Someone”? Seriously? The last thing I, and I’m guessing most people, want during their commute is someone making totally useless chit chat.
    You advise people to read great literature or listen to lecture podcasts, then a couple of paragraphs later, you advise interrupting people to ask what they are reading? On top of the general annoyance at having someone in your face when you’re trying to get from a-b, you want to go ahead and contradict your own advice. :facepalm:

    • Pooja Lohana on the 29th May


      That could be one way of looking at it. But when we say “talk to someone”, we don’t mean boring, useless, unnecessary chatter (although it differs from person to person what they call useless chatter, by the way). We mean strike up a conversation about what interests you, in the hopes it’d interest them too.

      You never know you may find a great company of someone who likes to talk intelligent and useful, assuming, of course, that’s what you’re looking for.

      Thanks for reading!


    • Terry on the 6th June

      I have had some good friendships grow from starting to talk to people on the bus everyday. Great advice, you never know who you might meet.

  2. Great tips, Jacki and Tina! I’ve recently wrapped up 10 months of an 1.5 hour commute (each way), and used many of these tricks along the way. I am a big fan of focused conversation, so I’d listen to a little NPR, then start up a podcast from my favorite bloggers and sites. It’s a great way to keep your head in the game and make the most of your time. Thanks!

  3. Adam Lehman on the 27th May

    As far as podcasts, I LOVE Standford’s Entrepreneurial Though Leader podcast. http://ecorner.stanford.edu

    • ABhishek on the 28th May

      Wonderfull site

  4. Rob Hooft on the 28th May

    Regular educational podcasts (played at double speed on an iPod/iPhone) fill the parts of my (irregular) commute that I can not use for regular work.

    My favorites: http://www.manager-tools.com/ , http://www.theskepticsguide.org/ , and http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast .

  5. Craig Desmarais on the 31st May

    I find podcasts and ebooks to be a great way to make the best out of your commute especially if that commute requires you doing the driving. Another tip is get a jump on your presentations by practicing your speeches and rehearsing answer to questions you may get. This will help to improve your speaking skills as well as your critical thinking.

  6. Bart van Lieshout on the 9th April

    Would be great if we could improve on point 4. Imagine you could arrange who to talk to, like explained in this article: http://www.bartvanlieshout.eu/?p=53
    That might boost the productivity of commuting even further.

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