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11 easy ways to boost productivity on your commute to work

Make the most of your commute to work! Here are 11 fun and productive things to do when you're commuting to work.

According to a study by Eurostat in 2020, most Europeans spent about 25 minutes on their commute to work in 2019.

Like their European counterparts, Americans spend on average 27 minutes on their commute to work, according to a report by the Census Bureau from 2019.

In total, this amounts to about an hour every day. But what an awkward hour it is!

Too short to do anything truly productive, yet long enough to start getting bored. And if you’re driving or using public transport, it can be hard to find an activity to do on the go.

That’s why we’ve compiled 11 fun ideas on what to do during your commute to work! Here’s how to make your commute productive while still making sure it’s a relaxing time to recharge your batteries:

 

1. Listen to a podcast


Listening to podcasts is a great choice for commuters who are getting off and on a bunch of buses or trains. With a podcast, you can keep listening while you run to catch your next bus.


There are lots of interesting podcasts out there. True crime, politics, history, news and more. Short podcasts help you get a bite-sized amount of information – all before reaching the office.


Here are some recommended podcasts to listen to on your commute to work:

  • BBC Newshour, an hour-long podcast from the BBC World Service that is updated daily. It covers news from around the world and is a perfect way to stay up to date on news worldwide.

  • This Day in Esoteric Political History, produced by Radiotopia, hosts Jody Avirgan, Nicole Hemmer and Kellie Carter Jackson talk about an event in US political history that happened on that day – all in about 15 minutes.

  • Homeschool History is a podcast produced by BBC Radio 4 presented by host Greg Jenner and a guest historian. These are fun and super short 15-minute lessons on world history.

  • Philosophize This, a podcast produced by Stephen West, gives you small 20-minute chunks of digestible introductions to philosophers and their ideas.

  • Every Little Thing is produced by Gimlet Media and Spotify, it’s hosted by Flora Lichtman who answers the questions you’ve always wondered about but never dared to ask. Packaged in a fun 20-minute show.

Don’t forget: almost every industry has a dedicated industry-related podcast. Why not brush up on some new skills for work or new concepts arising in your industry?

 

2. Learn a language


Language learning can be a great way to spend the half hour to and from work. With an hour a day, you’ll be able to pick up the basics of a language in no time!


Most language apps or online classes also use audio classes for their teaching. Some can even be downloaded for free as a podcast (because podcasts are just that good!).


Here are some popular language learning apps and podcasts to check out on the commute to work:


  • Coffee Break by Radio Lingua (Podcast and online courses - Free podcasts, pay for extra lessons)
  • Duolingo (App and podcast – upgrade to a premium account with a monthly subscription)
  • Babbel (Online course and app – monthly subscription)

 

3. Listen to an audiobook


On the commute to work you're usually rushing around, so you’ll probably only manage to read your book a fraction of the travel time.


But with an audiobook, you can listen to your book from the moment you leave your house to the moment you reach your desk.


Here are some popular audiobook apps:


  • Audible (Available worldwide - monthly subscription for unlimited audiobooks)
  • Audiobooks.com (Available worldwide – buy audiobooks individually or get a monthly subscription for limited audiobooks)
  • Storytel (Available in 25 countries – monthly subscription for unlimited audiobooks)
  • BookBeat (Available in Europe – monthly subscription for unlimited audiobooks)
  • Kobo (Available in 39 countries – Free app, buy the audiobooks individually)
  • MP3 Audiobook Player (Available worldwide- Free app, buy and upload your audiobook)
 

4. Focus on the world around you


Mindfulness is about doing things with intention. On your commute, you can give your mind a well-needed rest by trying to push away any fears of the past, present, or future and instead turning outward to the world around you.


What type of dog is that woman walking? What is the couple behind me talking about? What shapes are the clouds making in the sky?


This might seem silly. But by walking with intention and focusing on the small details, you can help give yourself an hour every day of rest from the crushing pressure of overthinking and worrying about the future.

 

5. Get some exercise


If you drive or take transportation to work, maybe consider biking, walking or jogging instead? (If the distance is reasonable, of course). Turning your commute to work into a form of exercise is a great way to make the most of that hour. It also means you can save time later by skipping a trip to the gym.


If you choose a backpack with a shoe compartment you can easily bring along an extra pair of shoes or clothes for when you reach the office.


A water resistant backpack is great if you’re biking long distances to work and there’s a chance of rain.

 

6. Read a magazine


Of course, if you’re in the middle of a novel that’s a real page-turner, stick to that when you’re commuting to work. But it can be frustrating to start reading a book, just to get torn away from it when you arrive at your destination. In this case, magazines or newspapers are a great commuter option.


Short articles are perfect to read during a 20-minute bus ride. You’ll also cover a broad range of subjects and arrive to work with new things to share with your colleagues.

 

7. Meditate


In 2020, a study published in the scholarly journal Frontiers in Bioscience, found that people who meditate regularly over a long period of time showed changes in the area of the brain linked to anxiety and stress.


So – if you don’t need to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on a steering wheel (or handlebars!) – why not meditate for a little bit?


Meditation apps like Headspace have short, guided meditations that help you clear your head before work. Calm, another app, has guided meditations ranging from 3 to 25 minutes, and the meditation app Insight Timer lets you set a timer and meditate on your own.


Most meditation apps let you choose a meditation based on what you need: stress reduction, breathing exercises, anxiety – even gratitude.

 

8. Do a crossword (or sudoku if you’re a numbers person!)


Research into the benefits of crosswords puzzles on cognition have been going on since the 1970s. A 1977 study by Raymond Nickerson at the department of psychology at Tufts University showed that crosswords help increase your vocabulary.


Another study more recently in 2015, published in the American Academy of Neurology, found a correlation between crossword puzzling and improved cognitive functions in seniors.


But they’re also just fun to do! Puzzles like sudoku are a good choice if you’re more of a numbers person!

 

9. Browse recipe apps and plan your groceries


Why not download a recipe app and scroll through some mouth-watering recipes on the way home?


Not only can they inspire you to try out new recipes, but most recipe apps let you save all your recipes in a folder and access them any time you like. This means you’ll have all your recipes in one place, ready for your next trip to the grocery store.


Here are some recipe apps to try out:

  • Kitchen Stories (App available only in EU and UK, in English, German, Simplified Chinese, for Android and iOS)
  • HelloFresh (App available in Dutch, German, English, French, Swedish)
  • BBC Good Food (App available in English only, for Android and iOS)
  • Yummly (App available in English only, for Android and iOS)
  • Allrecipe Dinner Spinner (App available in English only, for Android and iOS)
  • BigOven Recipes & Meal Planner (App available in English and Spanish, for Android and iOS)
  • Recipe Keeper (App available in Swedish, Danish, English, Finnish, French, Simplified Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Norwegian Bokmål, Portuguese, Spanish, Traditional Chinese, and German, on Android and iOS)
  • Tasty by Buzzfeed (App available in English, on iOS and Android)

 

10. Learn a craft!


Embroidery, knitting or weaving can be fun crafts to do on a long bus or train ride. The good thing about these crafts is they don’t need lots of equipment, which would hard to bring out on the go.


Instead, you can leave your knitting or embroidery needles still attached to the piece you're working on and take everything out of your backpack all at once and get started right away.


If you get good, you can use the time you spend commuting to work on a Christmas gift for friends or family. A fun, productive way to spend an hour every day – that still gives you a break from work.

 

11. The bag you commute with is everything!


When you’re on the commute to work, it’s important to have a good backpack or briefcase that can carry everything you need for the workday and the commute. It’ll make any activity you choose to do much more efficient.


When you’re on the hunt for the perfect commuter backpack, look for easy-access pockets. If you get so absorbed in your magazine that you almost miss your stop, you’ll be thankful to have a quick-access pocket to shove the magazine into.


If you commute by bike, look for a commuter backpack that provides extra protection from the weather.


If you’re commuting to work on public transport, it could be good to have an anti-theft backpack. These bags have hidden pockets or zippers that you can tie together making it harder for strangers to open your bag.


Some anti-theft bags also have shoulder straps that can be looped around a pole or armrest, making it harder for someone to sneakily grab your bag on the bus or train.

 

Life isn’t about squeezing every inch of productivity out of every second. But with the extra hour that commuting to work gives us, it can be fun to do something engaging and learn something new.


Mix up the activities and see which fits your commute the best!

 

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