This summer I commuted from Baltimore to D.C. and back every day for my internship on Capitol Hill. Yup, that’s right.
(30 minute drive to the train station + 1 hour, 15 minute train ride + 15 minute walk to work) x both ways = 4 hours!!!
The first couple of days were pretty torturous. Even when I left my house feeling determined to having a productive day, my spirit was crushed during my two-hour commute. I couldn’t get myself to work that early in the morning, so I ended up listening to music and dramatically staring out the window feeling like a depressed character from the opening credits of a movie. I often had to finish my work when I got home. But over the weeks, I developed a few strategies to make my commute productive. In doing so, I improved the trajectory of my entire day.
1. Pick a side.
Let’s be realistic. No one can be productive all the time. Pick one side of your commute – the way there or the way back – during which you’re going to be productive. I chose the morning, because I wanted to free up the later part of my day. If you’re someone who can sleep on public transportation though, you could rest in the morning and work on your commute home. Either way, once you make your decision, start thinking of your working hours differently. Instead of 9 – 5:30, my work day was now 7:30 – 5:30.
2. Set a goal.
To clarify – work doesn’t just include assignments from your supervisor. It can include making phone calls, updating your resume, or accomplishing any personal goals like reading a particular book. But before you even get onto the train (or other form of transportation), pick one thing you want to accomplish during your commute and write it down in a notebook or in the notes app on your phone. The act of writing it down will hold you accountable and prevent you from zoning out. Prepare in advance by downloading or printing any documents you will need the night before.
3. Shift your mindset.
Once you commit to a productive commute, try not to get bogged down in counting your hours of travel or cursing the gods when your train is inevitably delayed. Tell yourself that you can be productive anywhere. In fact, you might be more productive on public transportation because there’s nowhere to go when you start getting bored. Think of your commute as a little vessel. From the moment you step on until the moment you step off, you are in work mode.
Public transportation can be a la-la land of distractions. It’s full of unfamiliar people, unfamiliar sounds, and some not-so-wonderful unfamiliar smells. In order to focus, you have to zone it all out. Avoid sitting next to that mysterious-looking guy or girl (save that for the train ride home) and try to find a window seat. Make a special ‘focus’ playlist and put your earbuds in. If your phone distracts you, then put it on Airplane Mode or charge it in one of the outlets usually located under the seat in front of you.
5. Reward yourself.
You deserve it! Make your commute back home (if that is your free one), a time to relax. Download your favorite Netflix show, and enjoy your ride home. When you do finally get home, you can consider yourself absolutely free. If you’re like me and need an immediate incentive, buy yourself a coffee when you get to work after your productive morning.
Hi, I’ll have a grande iced mocha latte with whipped cream.