Use This Strategy to Make Your Commute a Little Less Awful

Photo: Paul Bradbury/Getty Images/Caiaimage

According to the U.S. Census, the average American worker has a commute of roughly 25 minutes each way. Fifty-one minutes a day round-trip, 255 minutes a week — that’s a lot of time to spend keeping your nose as far as possible from a neighboring stranger’s armpit (if you use public transportation), or sitting alone with your thoughts as you inch through traffic (if you drive).

Sure, there are things you can do to make the time pass faster: listen to music, read a book, maybe even squeeze in a nap. But the real key to a pleasant commute, as a team of psychology researchers recently explained in Harvard Business Review, isn’t just finding ways to fill the time — a better strategy is changing the way you think about the time. A commute can be something you have to endure, or it can be what the researchers call a “pocket of freedom” (a term they borrowed from the great-aunt of co-author Jon Jachimowicz):

[Think] of it as an opportunity to pursue your passions. Beyond passive media consumption, you might use the time to learn a new language via audiotape or if your hands are free, take up a new hobby, such as drawing or knitting.

This advice is supported by research that shows a correlation between higher levels of autonomy and greater well-being, satisfaction, and productivity and lower levels of stress. For example, John Trougakos of the Rotman School of Management and his colleagues discovered that employees who could decide where, when, and how to spend their lunch breaks felt more replenished by them than those who had no choice.

So try to tune out the negatives of commuting and concentrate on the opportunity to express yourself and recharge.

In other words, consider your commute a daily chunk of you time: It’s an open stretch for you to do whatever you want (within the constraints of your particular mode of transportation). For the next 25 and a half minutes, on average, you are the master of your fate — and that’s something to savor, not something to endure. It almost makes you feel a little bad for all those jerks who live close enough to their jobs to walk to work.

Use This Strategy to Make Your Commute a Little Less Awful