If you are one of the lucky few, your morning commute consists of relocating from the bedroom to your home office via the coffee machine. For most of us, however, it involves a stressful drive in peak-hour traffic, or an attempt at getting comfortable while squeezed between dozens of people on a crowded train or bus. While a necessary evil, commuting can negatively impact your emotional and physical wellbeing, your job satisfaction, and even life outside of work – but it doesn’t have to.

How much is your time worth?

A study carried out by National Geographic Society Fellow Dan Buettner found that cutting an hour-long commute each way out of your life gives people the happiness equivalent of making an extra $40,000 a year. While flexible working arrangements are top of the agenda at most large companies these days, eliminating your commute altogether is probably impossible, especially as a member of the senior executive team.

Across the globe, the average commute is 38 minutes each way, which means you can be spending more than six hours a week just trying to get to and from the office. According to City Limits – Why Australia’s cities are broken and how we can fix them, the average weekly commuting time for full-time workers in Australia’s largest cities increased by almost 20% from 2002 to 2011, to five hours and 45 minutes a week.

People in Sydney had the longest commuting times and the Northern Territory the shortest. As populations grow, and more jobs are located in major cities, it is inevitable that commuting times are only going to rise.

Attitude is everything

Do you dread your commute? Do you try to distract yourself with drive-time radio, or watching cat videos on YouTube? According to one Columbia Business School graduate, your attitude to your commute, especially in the morning, is what can set you up for success or failure during your workday.

Fast facts:
In the US, approximately 25 million workers spend more than 90 minutes each day getting to and from their jobs.

In a 2016 study, Jon M Jachimowicz and four co-authors found that those who thought of their commute as something to be distracted from, and engaged in escapist activities, were frustrated and emotionally exhausted when they arrived at work.

However, people who use their commute to strategise and mentally structure their day – what Jachimowicz calls ‘goal-directed prospection’ – displayed a level of self-control that they carried with them for the rest of the day. Their approach to commuting yields more job satisfaction and less stress. So how can you make the most of those hours between home and work?

Be counter-intuitive: lengthen your commute

Productivity coach Hillary Rettig suggests that the best thing you can do is actually lengthen your morning commute. She believes that forgoing the snooze button on your alarm and making time for a leisurely commute can make a big difference to your day.

“When people are commuting, they’re most likely rushing,” she told FastCompany.com. “Leaving early is empowering,” says Rettig. “You have more of a sense of control. For example, you can stop and pick up coffee on the way if you wish. You’ll immediately feel a sense of relief.”

5 ways to hack your commute

So you’ve woken up early and have coffee in hand. You are calm and in control, and you want to make the most
of the next 30–60 minutes. What do you do?

  1. Plan your daily schedule

    How you do this is up to you. Set yourself targets, or write a ‘to do’ list, but look ahead and map out how you want to achieve your goals for that day. If you are driving and can’t type or write, use Siri or a similar hands-free app, to create your schedule.

  2. ‘Read’ a book

    Get a subscription for Blinkist, a new app that provides the key messages from bestselling nonfiction books that you can read or listen to in just 15 minutes. With 2,200+ titles in categories such as management and leadership, and sales and marketing, you can take new ideas into your workday, or take note of books you want to download in full later.

  3. Draft those emails you keep putting off

    You may be reluctant to draft long emails on your phone, or use the (sometimes) unreliable voice-activated apps, but getting your thoughts down in draft form means you will only need a few minor tweaks to send emails off when you finally get to your desk.

  4. Memorise your next presentation

    Use written or visual cues if you are on public transport, or listen to a recording of yourself that you can listen to with earphones, or play back in the car.

  5. Arrange to carpool with a co-worker

    We have all heard of ‘walking meetings’, so why not a ‘bus meeting’ or ‘driving meeting’? Arrange to commute with a colleague to discuss an upcoming project, or a mentor from whom you can seek advice.