Very few people have truly short commutes these days. I know of only one woman who lives within 15 minutes of her office, regardless of the time of day she makes the trip — and that’s because she’s only a 15-minute walk away. The rest of us put up with anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours a day in commuting, time that often feels wasted. A few years ago, I lost my 20-minute one-way commute when I moved to a lovely house that was at least 45 minutes from the office. If I traveled during busy traffic times (not even rush hour, just busy) the drive time swelled to a minimum of an hour and twenty minutes and often longer. I was not happy.
Most of us hop in the car, listen to the radio or a CD, grind our teeth (or worse) as we try to cope with traffic, and essentially move through the commute time mindlessly. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I’ve learned some ways to use that travel time to my benefit, either personally or professionally. I’m sharing these tips now, in recognition of the increased traffic that tends to accompany the start of the school year. These tips assume that you’re driving; you have many more options if you’re able to take mass transit or to carpool, which most lawyers can’t, just because of the uncertainty of working hours.
1. Podcasts. There are tons of terrific podcasts that will enrich your life, both professionally and personally. On the professional side, check out David Maister’s work, which you can find here. These podcasts are organized by topic (the latest being on business strategy), and each is an incisive, immensely practical, and even entertaining take on topics of importance to professionals. The Wall Street Journal offers a variety of podcasts that will get you up to speed on news, financial issues, and some lifestyle trends. And NPR always has something new and interesting.
To find podcasts that interest you, visit Podcast Alley or the iTunes Podcast page. You can find podcasts about current events, religion, history, entertainment, spirituality…. You name it. Sample some and see what piques your interest. It’s amazing what you can learn that will be helpful immediately in your professional life, what you can contribute to your next cocktail party conversation, and what might inspire you.
2. Books on CD. If you don’t have time to catch up on the latest best-sellers, this might be the answer. Audio books are available at most libraries or you can buy them. My favorite solution is Simply Audiobooks, which is a Netflix-style rental-by-mail service. (And, of course, Simply Audiobooks has a podcast with book reviews, too.)
3. Thinking time: Plan (or review) your day, practice for an argument, mull over potential case strategies, etc. It’s often difficult to get time to stare out the window and just think, and yet that’s one of the most valuable things we can do. If you spend commuting time contemplating a particular legal point — what are the downfalls of the argument you’re considering, and what’s the risk/benefit analysis? — you will often find that the time is profitable. Even if it’s just mentally organizing yourself for your day or your evening, thinking time in the car will allow you to make better use of your time in the office or at home. Keep your cell phone handy (hands-free, please) so you can leave yourself a voicemail with your brilliant conclusions, or invest in a micro-cassette or digital recorder if you have an assistant who can transcribe your thoughts for future reference. Commuting time is also a good opportunity to reflect on your goals, whether what you’re doing is moving you closer to attaining them, etc.
4. Learn something. If you’re a lifelong learner, this tip might be for you. Invest in CDs of lectures on history, philosophy, business, science… Whatever tickles your fancy.
5. Relaxation time. Ok, traffic isn’t relaxing. But if you surround yourself with music you enjoy, make sure you have hot coffee or cold water, optimize your car seat for comfort, and — most importantly — optimize your attitude, it can be somewhat relaxing. Decide not to worry about getting ahead through traffic since more often than not, arriving at your destination five minutes later than you’d hoped won’t change the course of your day. (If it does, choose to decrease your stress level and leave earlier.) Drive mindfully, noticing the sights you pass, the colors of the sky, what people in cars around you are doing.
6. Vent. Especially when you’re driving home, take time during your commute to rehash the day’s events and to vent any frustration you may be carrying. Don’t bring the toxicity into your home; instead, take your private time in the car to say whatever you’d like to whomever you’d like without any negative consequences. Just don’t be surprised when folks in other cars look your way and giggle… And don’t get so wrapped up in your venting that you succumb to road rage.
7. Think about whether you should move closer to work. As you drive mindfully, notice the neighborhoods you pass. Perhaps one of them should be home for you. According to Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, every 10 minutes you add to your commute causes a 10% decrease in the amount of time you devote to your family and your community. There’s a psychic toll as well as a financial toll.
Each of these tips will help to minimize the commuting burden and to maximize the pleasure and efficiency you experience at work and at play. The key is in making conscious decisions on how to use your time.�