6 Ways to Get More From Your Commute Time

According to the United States Census Bureau survey, Americans spend more than 100 hours a year commuting to work. Australians don’t fare much better, as the average daily commute time ranges from 22 minutes up to 35 minutes. And if the infamous opening scene from Office Space is any indication, most workers don’t enjoy weaving in and out of traffic (or being crammed into a public transportation, as the case may be).

However, commuting doesn’t have to be a useless time suck, because there are plenty of productive uses for your commute time. Here are a few suggestions:


One of the few things I actually miss about commuting is the amount of reading I used to get done sitting or standing on the subway. Depending on your preferences and tech accessories, you can catch up your RSS feeds on a smartphone, read the latest bestseller on your favorite e-reader, or go old school with a paperback or magazine. Choose something light-hearted if you need escapism or further your career with a business book. I’ve even seen people skimming legal briefs or reviewing notes for a presentation on the subway.


Maybe you’re someone who drives to work (please don’t try to juggle an e-reader and the steering wheel!) or perhaps you get motion sick trying to read on a moving vehicle. Listening to an audio book or a podcast may be an even smarter use of your time! Many libraries offer audio books to patrons, or you could sign up for an expensive membership like Audible. Many podcasts are available as free downloads. Alternatively, you could listen to some nice, soothing music to drown out the sounds of honking horns or chattering commuters and start your day off right.


If you’re lucky enough to live within walking or biking distance from work, this is a great way to squeeze in a workout on nice days. Some companies even offer incentives to employees who bike to work, because it’s more eco-friendly than driving and means they don’t have to provide parking. Just make sure you bring a clean shirt or a towel so you won’t be hot and sweaty during that morning meeting! If your workplace has shower facilities, that’s even better. For those who can’t walk or bike to work, consider parking a few blocks from your office or getting off the subway or bus a few stops early so you can walk the rest of the way and explore the area around your office. You might discover a great new lunch spot or treat yourself to a cup of gourmet coffee.


If you can’t walk, bike, or ride public transportation to work, then car-pooling is your next most eco-friendly option. It also gives you a chance to catch up with coworkers, neighbors, or friends and save on gas money. Whether you’re brainstorming for your next client presentation or merely comparing notes about the previous night’s episode of The Bachelorette, car-pooling let you connect with people outside the office and feel like part of a community. Plus, you may not need to spend as much time chatting during happy hour if you’ve already spent time before work chewing the fat.


Sometimes you just need a few minutes to let your mind wander (but don’t let it wander off the road if you’re driving!). Daydreaming can help you find a fresh approach to a creative challenge or clear your head for the beginning of the day. Some find that people-watching (especially on public transportation) can keep the creative juices flowing and keep them entertained. Others prefer meditation or even the calming, repetition motions of knitting (just keep those needles to yourself).

Your turn! How do you spend your commute? Is there anything you would add to this list? Leave a comment, and let us know!

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Susan Johnston is a freelance writer/blogger who has contributed to publications including The Boston Globe, Mint.com’s blog, WomenEntrepreneur.com, and Yahoo! HotJobs. Her own blog, UrbanMuseWriter.com, covers tips on productivity, brainstorming, and more for fellow writers.


  1. dev on the 18th August

    I actually live in the city and commute by car out to the countryside, so I go the podcast route. About 75% of my podcasts are from the BBC or NPR and the rest are tangentially work-related.

    It’s a great chance to find out about things and people you otherwise wouldn’t.

  2. Thekla Richter on the 18th August

    I love the daydreaming idea… few of us get enough of that, and it can foster a beautiful sense of well-being.

  3. Carl Natale on the 18th August

    I mostly listen to podcasts during my commutes. The one big plus in having to drive is that it is time that I can dedicate to listening.

  4. Emile on the 18th August

    I’ve read about Lucid dreaming / daydreaming and how useful it can be for solving complex or unusual problems. I prefer listening to podcasts if i want to learn something or soothing music to help with the daydreaming 🙂

  5. Alison Rowan on the 18th August

    Still a high school student, my equivalent of the subway is the school bus. I like that you included daydreaming here. I spend a good deal of my bus rides this way, and I find it helps to clear my head, and often sparks a new idea or two.

    I’m also a fan of reading, because my ride is long enough to get into the book, and not have to stop after a few pages. But sometimes my favourite thing to do on the bus after I stayed up a little too late finishing a project? Sleep. I know not everyone can do it, and a school bus is certainly a safer environment for it than a subway, but the commute can be a great opportunity to catch up on rest!

  6. Chad Kettner on the 18th August

    Since when is Audible an expensive membership? It’s $15/month for an audiobook! That’s a steal!

  7. Luis on the 18th August

    Nice list. I don’t understand how Audible is “an expensive service”. Even if you listen to ONE audiobook a month (unlikely), it will still be in a decent price range compared to buying it.

  8. Ed Butler on the 19th August

    I listen to music or podcasts during my daily commute. You can actually use iTunes without owning an iPod/iPhone so it’s great to find Podcasts to subscribe to. You can also transfer Podcasts to Audio CD. Harvard Business IdeaCast, Accenture and IBM are some of the podcasts that I’ve found interesting/useful.

  9. Eric Granata on the 25th August

    I really enjoy listening to audiobooks and podcasts during my commute. My only frustration was that I did not have a way to record notes while listening so I created an iPhone app to help out. Check it out at http://www.audiofootnote.com if you get a chance.

  10. Frank Hill on the 26th August

    forgot an other possiblity…

    7. Buy an IPAD 3G 😛

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