Wisdom//

3 Science-Backed Ways to Make Your Dreaded Commute Remarkably Productive

New research suggests almost half of Americans dread their morning commute to work. Here's how we can change that.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Thinking of the words “my daily commute” causes as much depression as the words “Game of Thrones finale” (which was fine in my opinion, by the way). Commutes are a well-researched, known productivity killer, amping up angst as you’re sitting in traffic versus hammering through your to-do list.

For example, the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study examined the impact of commutes on more than 34,000 employees. They found that those with commutes of 60 minutes or more lose at least a week’s worth of productivity more than those with 30-minute commutes. More alarming, the study showed that longer commutes impact mental well-being including greater likelihood of depression and work-related stress, as well as effect physical health.

So lots of reasons to not love this daily ritual. But just how much do we loathe our commute anyway?

The new Commuting in America study surveyed 940 commuters from 10 of the busiest cities in America to learn the lengths these people would go to to eliminate their daily commute. The findings are quite amusing, but also illuminate just how hated commuting really is.

It should first be noted how widespread the hatred runs: the study showed almost half of all people hated their daily commute (48.6 percent), with disdain running highest for a train/subway commute, followed by car, then bus. In Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago (the top three most dreaded commutes in order), the number ran as high as 56 percent hating their commute.

The study asked respondents, “What would you be willing to do to eliminate your daily commute?” They gave a variety of choices, and here’s some of the top responses:

  • Give up social media for a year (34.9)
  • Give up a paycheck or a raise (31.4)
  • Give up pornography for a year (31.2)
  • Give up TV for a year, including Netflix (18.4)
  • Give up an-all-expenses paid dream vacation (13.7)

You can check out the full set of responses on your own, but the study clearly indicates heavy discontent with commuting. I find it telling that a significant number of people would give up paychecks, raises, vacations, or things they enjoy (no comment on pornography) to eliminate their commute.

If you can’t eliminate your commute, here’s how to make it more productive/bearable.

1. Use commute time for role transition.

Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino’s 2018 research shows that to maximize commuting productivity, use the time to transition into your work role (instead of relaxing, listening to music, etc.). Go through your plan for the day, visualize it, set your goals and priorities, and review the three most important tasks to accomplish. This helps you efficiently hit the ground running when you finally do make it into the office.

2. Turn the commute into a learning zone.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to use drive time to listen to podcasts or audiobooks; now science gives you another reason. A 2016 study by Beth Rogowsky, an associate professor of education at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, had respondents listen to sections of the book Unbroken, read those sections, or do both simultaneously. She found no difference in comprehension across any of the methods, indicating that listening to audiobooks is as effective as reading them. 

Podcasting expert Colin Gray reminds us that we’ll listen much longer than we’ll watch or read, something I’ve experienced when keynoting. If you have great material that’s well-delivered, there’s no such thing as a talk that goes on too long. So extended spells with your favorite podcasts is another way to turn your car into a classroom.

3. Work on your case for working from home.

Another way to reduce the stress and productivity loss of a commute is to reduce the amount of times you commute — instead, increasing the number of times you’re working from home.

A robust, two-year study from Stanford University’s Nicholas Bloom showed a productivity boost of those working from home to be equivalent to a full day’s work.

To help you make the case with your boss, ask for a trial run (the study showed 2-3 days/week from home is best) and then “replicate” the study findings by nailing performance despite less in-office presence.

To further strengthen your case, share these benefits with your boss as well; the study showed employee attrition dropped 50 percent among remote workers, they took shorter breaks, were out sick less, took less time off, and created $2,000 savings a month for their company in reduced HQ space rental cost.

The bottom line is that the dreaded commute is no joking matter, even if we had a little fun with it here. If you really would give up a raise before you’d go get caught in traffic on the interstate again, it might be time to make the remote-working overture to your boss.

Originally published on INC.com

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