How to Make the Most of Your Morning Commute
You can make your morning commute the best part of your day. Here’s how
“If you win the morning, you win the day.” — Tim Ferriss
It’s hard to win the morning when you start it with a dreadful morning commute.
Author Tim Ferriss’s situation is a bit different from yours and mine. For one thing, he gets to wake up in his multi-million dollar home. He has a pretty sweet home office to get in the zone.
You might move along to a bus schedule. Or, you’re slogging through rush hour and already bored to death with AM/FM radio. I used to think of commutes as dead time. I was dead wrong.
Commutes are a complete waste of time if you:
- Make small, meaningless, chatter with your friend the whole time
- Play cell phone games
- Watch TV or a movie
- Doze off (guilty)
Yet there can also be something revitalizing about morning commute time. It can be a ritual that gets you in the zone. It can also be a great, distraction-free, environment. Your brain is fresh. It hasn’t been over-stimulated by notifications, emails, and many other of the day’s interruptions.
Here are three ways you can make the most of your commute — no matter how long or short it is. These activities will add to your wealth of knowledge while also keeping you entertained:
(If you’re driving or walking, skip to the third section entitled, “Seek Inspiration”. The first two tactics need active thinking and writing.)
Know Yourself Better
Self-awareness allows people to recognize what things they do best so they can then go hard on those aspects of their life. It also helps you accept your weaknesses. — Gary Vaynerchuk
You might think you know yourself pretty well.
Yet you’re also confused when life comes at a crossroads. You don’t know what gets you going or triggers your weak points. You have no idea which opportunities to take or create. Or why you’re still at that job that you hate. Or whether you’re spending time as you’d like to be.
Hm, so maybe you could know yourself a bit more.
You can know yourself by thinking and reflecting on yourself. But finding cavities in your day-to-day life can be challenging. Your workday is overwhelming. By the time you catch the evening train, you are running on fumes.
So, during your morning commute, take out your pen and notepad and freewrite for 3–5 minutes. Just write quickly (but not rushed), and without thought or judgment. Let your subconscious guide your pen. Ideally, you’d freewrite right after you wake up — but who has the time to do that, you gotta catch the 7AM train! (Plus you’re still half-asleep, so naturally more creative.)
When you wrap up freewriting, try some of the many other journaling exercises out there. I usually just write about the previous day, and go deeper into thoughts I had or moments I liked (or didn’t). Some people start the day by listing things that they’re grateful for or looking forward to. If you’re stuck, pick one journaling exercise, and use it to guide your thinking.
There are also many advocates for meditation and mindfulness practice. I don’t do this, but I have heard many good things about it. If you’d always wanted some time to be mindful, try it during your morning commute.
Create and Refine Your Thoughts
For anyone that wants to write or be a “thought leader,” seize the morning commute. This isn’t a hypothetical. Buster Benson writes on the BART all the time (shout out #writtenonbart).
For me, I spend most of my commute on a train. If I can find a seat, I will bring my laptop out and type away. If you can’t find a place to sit or you don’t want to bring out your laptop, write in a notepad and type it up later. You could also just type your essay or article, or at least an outline, up on your phone (like Drake used to).
Because there’s no internet on my train, I find it harder to do research and find quotes. I can do it if I pre-structure everything the day before, and lay out a clear writing outline.
If you write in Google Docs, you can set up offline mode and use your morning commute to edit your writing.
If you don’t have anything to write about, you can also generate ideas on the commute. Write a list of ideas down. (The ideas will get better and the ideation process will get easier.) Or, better yet, plan and strategize on the commute. Write your plans in notebooks. Review your goals and milestones. You might have acquired new information from the previous day.
Inspiration will not find you.
No matter what job you’re in, part of your role is to find inspiration.
Inspiration comes in many forms and can produce different reactions in everyone. It can strike as you listen to someone else speak. It will whisper as you come across unexpected thoughts or contrasting perspectives. Perhaps it’s as simple as learning about how someone else did something. You realize that you could also apply that strategy or tactic to achieve your goals.
Even if you’re driving for a couple of hours, you can find inspiration during your commute.
Podcasts are a great starting point. You might already be used to having headphones in your ears. If you listen to something, listen to podcasts. There’s a podcast for everyone. The best thing about podcasts is that they’re conversations designed to make you think.
If you need recommendations, try:
- The Tim Ferriss Show
- Freakonomics Radio
- This American Life
- Artsbeat Popcast
- Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
- The James Altucher Show
- The Monocle Arts Review
Or, you can listen to classic albums from your favorite genre of music that you never got around to. Listen and maybe you’ll discover why people love them. Even if you think an album is shitty, force yourself to sit through it. You might recognize its merit or stumble upon an unexpected gem.
I love reading physical magazines on commutes. Lapham’s Quarterly is my favorite. They curate some of the best writing from history, and from different parts of the world. They do a great job of breaking my filter bubble. Best of all, they put the writing in really interesting comparative and contrasting sequences.
If you have the attention span for it in the morning, read a book. Bring a couple. In case you get sick of one you can switch to the other. You can keep learning in case you unintentionally finish one.
Start Your Day Off Right
I stopped commuting and worked from home or in coffee shops around the suburbs for few months. Despite the time I saved on commuting, I didn’t get much done. Instead I just procrastinated more.
But when I started commuting downtown to an office, I got a LOT more done in the hours I commuted, but also in the office. On a bad day, I would get at least the same amount done as a good day in the suburbs.
So remember, your commute can be a blessing if you let it be. These three activities can serve as starting points.
Make your commute productive.
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Herbert Lui works with businesses to tell compelling stories at his marketing agency, Wonder Shuttle. He was previously a staff writer for Lifehacker, and his work has appeared in TIME, The Huffington Post, and Fast Company. He writes a newsletter that explores media, information, and marketing.
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