In the U.S., the average, one-way commute time is 26.1 minutes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means that most of us are spending over 200 hours a year in our cars or on some form of public transportation getting to and from work. That’s a lot of precious time that shouldn’t be wasted with road rage or subway fisticuffs. There is a better way that can actually transform your ride into a meaningful, and even mystical mobility.
First, don’t default to making your commute time your virtual office or dining room. This is tempting to do because we all are trying to cram as much life into every nook and cranny as we can. However, this can end up making you more stressed and it’s easier to smack down empty calories when you’re not paying attention. (Peanut covered M&M’s anyone?) I treat food as a controlled substance in the car, and think of my Ford Escape as both an idea space and a time capsule.
My daily commute is 65 minutes each way (heavily variable during Vermont winters) and I divide that time into four parts.
#1 Pure White Space: 15 minutes
Absolutely no information is allowed into the car during this sacrosanct time. I turn off my phone, no radio, or Sirius. It is purely time to let my mind go. Appreciate the view. Listen to the whir of the tires. See the turkeys or deer on the side of the road. Wave to my neighbor’s dog. Realize that my heart is beating and be mindful of what is popping into my brain. It is often the mundane mixed with the magical. And that’s the point. Let the hard drive that is your brain reboot. Stop the input. Let yourself be. Let yourself think. Let your mind wander. This is always where I come up with new ideas or a tagline or a solution or the opportunity to laugh at myself too. I look forward to this time and I protect it for the gold that it is.
#2 Gratitude & Grace: 15 minutes
This is my time to keep my life in perspective. I say out loud what I am thankful for that day, and I admit what I am afraid of, worried about and where I need grace. This is when I am completely honest with myself about whatever is happening. I find saying it out loud is important. For some people, this can also be a time do an affirmation or say a favorite prayer or poem. I regularly recite the words of Saint Teresa of Ávila: “Today let there be peace within.” Those words calm me. Do whatever brings you peace and makes you mentally ready to face the day.
#3 Find your Groove: 30 minutes
During this part of my commute, I choose between playlists or podcasts. Music soothes the soul and changes the mood instantly. I create playlists specifically designed with my commute in mind. My playlists range from Wistful Summer to Farmhouse Party. Sometimes you need to hear Aretha belt out Respect, and sometimes you need to laugh in the Purple Rain. You get to decide. If you need help, Spotify users have created and shared many playlists just for commuting.
Podcasts are a never-ending opportunity to learn something new and be transported completely from your car to a whole new world. My favorite Podcasts are: TedRadioHour, RadioLab, This American Life, and Malcom Gladwell’s Revisionist History. And there are also many great podcasts that focus on your finances. Check out Inc.’s top picks for the best money podcasts.
#4 News Appetizer: 5 minutes
I think of my news as an appetizer. I like to take in 5 minutes of the top headlines (almost always on NPR) and then I make mental notes for what I want to go deeper on. This keeps me informed, but doesn’t bring me down.
Outside of “pure white space” time, I will make phone calls, but I try to limit them. My goal is to arrive at both work and home with a sense of renewal, ready to be equally present in both places.