Let’s face it: commuting can be a real hassle.
Before I left my 9 to 5, I commuted approximately 45 minutes each way to my job—in horrendous rush-hour traffic, no less. And though in my heart of hearts, I was grateful for my job, my home, and the opportunity to even have a commute to contend with in the first place, I sure did my share of complaining about it.
But now that my “commute” involves traipsing up a flight of stairs (wearing, of course, yoga pants, glasses, and a messy topknot of thrice dry-shampooed hair), I realize just how much my daily commute sharpened me and, yes, even made my life a bit better. And while I love working from home, wearing whatever I want instead of suits, and swapping my grooming rituals for more personal time in the mornings, I also recognize the benefits of having a structured daily routine that involves commuting. To be honest, at times, I even crave it.
That said, if you travel to work by car, train, subway, or bus, know that the benefits can, and often do, outweigh the annoyances. Here are five ways this rang true for me in my commuting days, and I hope that it encourages you to find the silver lining to your daily treks to work.
A commute creates guaranteed time to complete lingering tasks.
Using your commute to make calls, set appointments, or even respond to emails (but only if you aren’t driving yourself!) is an excellent way to reserve more of your personal time for leisure or fun. Rather than calling your eye doctor and dentist’s offices when you’d rather be cooking dinner or drinking wine on your back porch, you can knock these things out while sitting in a 5 p.m. traffic jam.
If you drive to and from work, try using your commute to tackle your reading list. Download Audible or a free library app like Overdrive to work through your list. If you’re in a book club or group with required reading, even better—your commute is the perfect time to catch up or even get ahead!
A commute forces good habits, which in turn beget more good habits.
Knowing I had a hefty commute ahead of me each morning forced me to cultivate positive habits, like heading to bed early, getting up at the same time every day, and carving out morning time for journaling, meditation, or a short walk (since I knew I wouldn’t have that time later in the day!). Knowing I had to start my day early also forced me to wind down earlier in the evenings, which impacted the rest of my day; I stopped drinking coffee past noon and made sure I stepped away from my phone and email well in advance of turning out the lights.
Planning for a commute also encourages you to more carefully organize certain facets of your life, like making sure you’ve laid out your outfit and packed your lunch the night before or gotten up early to do so. When you don’t have the option of running out the door five minutes before a meeting or conference call, you’re more inclined to find ways to prepare ahead of time—which, in turn, positions you to tackle the day confidently rather than in a frazzled, harried mess. (If you haven’t found ways of preparing for your day ahead of time, consider this your invitation to do so!)
Losing time to a commute encourages increased productivity at work.
When your workday is bookended by a long commute, you simply cannot afford to waste time. While there are inevitable late nights at any job, cutting back on random chatter or leisurely lunches will allow you to accomplish more in a compressed amount of time, thus maximizing your personal time in the evenings.
Not to mention, your commute gives you a built-in opportunity to gear up for your day—to think through your goals and task list. That way, you are ready to hit the ground running when you arrive at the office, cutting out the inevitable (and necessary!) “ramp up” to your workday.
Commuting can supply quality time with friends.
Using your commute to catch up with friends and family—especially those who don’t live near you—is a fantastic way to pass the time and connect with those you love. Making a regular 5 p.m. phone date with your mom, sister, or another commuting friend is one way to guarantee a spot for those relationships in your schedule.
However, if you drive yourself rather than using public transportation, be safe! Check your local laws to make sure it’s even permissible to talk on the phone while driving and put your phone on speaker to ensure that your hands are on the steering wheel and your eyes are on the road.
Commuting fosters a healthy separation between work and personal life.
Some integration of work life and personal life is positive, but during particularly stressful seasons at work, it is healing and lifegiving to feel that coming home is a retreat—a reprieve from the bustle of the day.
When I commuted, I had a true, physical separation between work and personal time that signaled to my brain that it was time to shut down and relax. Now, even though I don’t commute, I try to create this same separation by instituting a “work-day wind-down” that tells my body and mind it is time for leisure.
From catching up on your favorite books to encouraging a healthy ramp-up to your workday, your commute can be more than just an annoyance. It can, in many ways, serve as an opportunity to start and end your days with energy, intentionality, and peace.