5 Ways to Maximize Your Way-Too-Long Daily Commute

Your commute is your best kept secret for productivity and mental heath. 5 tips to use it well.

Woman in car


Allison Task
Allison Task32
June 22, 2024 at 6:36PM UTC

When I was interviewing to work for Martha Stewart in Westport, CT while living in Brooklyn, NY, people constantly asked me whether I really wanted to do that long drive, which would take one to two hours each way. 

Yes, I did.

I mean, I wasn’t fired up to spend all that time on the — but I was fired up to work for Martha. Martha! To get a full-time job working for the big M was what I wanted more than anything. Dream job. And I wasn’t going to let a long commute get in the way. Nor was I going to move; I loved my Brooklyn life. 

In order to have both things I wanted, a long commute was necessary. And so it was up to me to make it work. In order to get there in an hour (and sometimes less), I’d have to leave before 6 a.m. at the latest. I’d arrive at work by 7 a.m. and since there was a gym on site, I could work out, shower and be ready to go all before most people had their morning coffee. Plus, at least twice a week, Martha would come for a workout too. If she was in a chatting mood, we could connect in a social, informal environment. One-on-ones with Martha Stewart? Yes, please.

Afternoon commutes were for books on tape, so I became an avid “reader” as well. I put mileage on my car, but my VW Cabrio could take it — I’d just pop the convertible top and drive down some bucolic Connecticut roads. I car karaoke-d like the rock star I felt like, and no one was there to critique my singing but the squirrels and the deer. 

I made it useful, energizing and fun. And: Martha.

Here are 5 tips for how to make your commute work for you:

1. Use Your Downtime However You Choose

Too few of us enjoy downtime these days. If you’re on public transportation, take a nap. Play a game. Enjoy the solitude or be social. Read a book or watch a show. Or if you’re driving, listen to podcasts or books on tape. Although the “where” is decided, what you do with your mind is 100 percent up to you. Invest this time wisely.

2. Network / Connect with Other People

 So maybe everyone won’t have a 1:1 with Martha Stewart, but who can you connect with on your commute? Who is on the train or bus? Could you make a new friend? You’re all heading to one job or another, so this could be a good time to network. And if you’re not around other people, my guess is that you’re near your phone; phone a friend! If you commute at an ungodly hour, connect with someone in a different time zone. Or find another ungodly-hour commuter and call that person. Do you have a mom, dad, sister, brother, aunties, uncles or besties who live far away? A socially connected person is a happier person, and more likely to succeed at work.

3. Make the bus or train ride your email and social media time.

Many time-management experts have found that email and social media, used too frequently throughout the day, can be a productivity black hole. Save your emails for your commute, do social media at the top and tail of your day, where it’s less guilt and more pleasure. If you limit emailing to these times, you’ll find that lots of issues have resolved themselves by the time you check in. Also, you’ll minimize the email distraction during the day and eliminate productivity switching costs by checking email too frequently. All of these lead to a more productive you, with a greater likelihood of career success.

4. Let your commute be your hard out.

If you have a bus or a train you need to make, let that be your “gotta go” (yes, I realize that this is easier if you’re more senior, but stay with me). A hard out is the latest time that you can work. It’s inflexible. It can be hard to set clear boundaries between work and home, but if your body needs to be on public transportation at a certain time, then that’s a clear boundary. Suddenly those things that trickle into the commuting hours are forced to be resolved earlier (or from home). Clear boundary setting is key to success at work, and happiness in life.

5. Chill Out.

You know that there’s all kinds of scientific proof for meditation. Whether it’s 10 minutes a day with the Headspace app or group meditation on the regular, it has a positive impact on your brain, which ultimately translates into a better career and a better you. If you’ve got hours a day where your body has a commitment but your mind is free, commit to using a portion of that time for meditation. If you’re driving, of course I’d prefer you don’t shut your eyes, but you can practice meditation in your own way. Breathe, focus, clear your mind

More on commuting:


Allison Task is a career and life coach who helps clients move through big transitions with humor, ease, and grace. She sees global clients virtually and local clients in her Montclair, NJ office. She is a sought-after public speaker and author of the best-selling Personal (R)evolution: How to Be Happy, Change Your Life, and Do That Thing You Always Wanted to Do. 

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