This piece was written by freelancer Charlie Duffield
As our work culture becomes more demanding, that elusive work/life balance can prove hard to reach. Sometimes it feels as if the working day never ends, and travelling to and from work can be a mission in itself. Commuting, however, is an unavoidable part of everyday life.
According to research published in 2018, the total daily commute for British workers has increased by ten minutes over the last ten years, despite the billions of pounds invested into our road and rail network. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) reported that those travelling on Britain’s overcrowded rail network face the longest commute, and travel more than an hour each way on average. The typical daily commute in Britain took 58.4 minutes last year, compared to 53.6 minutes in 2007.
If a difficult commute is a major part of your working week, here are some ideas of how to reconfigure your travel time so your journey to work can become a source of joy.
Fall in love with reading
We live in an era where hours can be spent surfing social media, swiping left or right, and bingeing on TV box sets, but did you know reading for just 30 minutes a week can really boost your health and wellbeing? Research suggests mental stimulation from reading can help keep the brain active and safeguard against dementia; when we activate our imagination, our neural pathways are stimulated. Reading for pleasure can also improve our confidence, self-esteem, emotional intelligence, and even our sleep, as well as reducing feelings of loneliness. On your commute, there are minimal distractions, so it’s the perfect time to ditch your digital devices in favour of an old-fashioned book. Try whatever appeals to you from fiction, non-fiction, autobiography or even a comic book, and indulge in some much needed escapism before you enter the office.
Our lives are often so busy and frenetic, we sometimes don’t get a moment to check in with ourselves – and actually it’s not always an easy thing to do. Commuting time doesn’t have to be wasted if you can see it as an opportunity to assess your personal well-being and how you’re really feeling about what’s going on in your life. Try free-writing, where you write whatever comes into your mind continuously as a stream of consciousness to release hidden emotions and preoccupying thoughts. Or simply take five deep breaths to reduce anxiety and reconnect with your body. If you’re travelling home from work, reflect critically on how your day has gone, evaluate your state of mind, and take any necessary action. Consider if you’re on track to meet your goals, what makes you happy, and what parts of your life could be improved. As a bonus, if you’ve mentally unwound from the day, you’re more likely to be able to fully enjoy your evening time.
Work on your to-do list
Maximise your productivity and use your daily commute as the optimum time to get ahead.
It can be hard to think, plan and organise when you’re bogged down with emails and meetings during the working day, so instead review your priorities, both big and small, and get it all down on paper whilst it’s fresh in your mind. Writing a to-do list in itself makes you feel productive and can improve your focus. To-do lists can reduce our anxiety about the unpredictable nature of life, provide structure and a tangible plan to stick to. Whether it’s your weekly food shop or more mundane work-related tasks, being able to tick off items as you complete them is satisfying, and provides proof of your progress or achievements. Ultimately, it can be a struggle to get stuff done and complete chores, so we can take time to enjoy ourselves. To-do lists are the simplest way to stay organised and productive.
Alternately, use your commute as an opportunity to properly unwind. Steer clear of your emails and listen to music, a podcast or even a guided meditation such as Headspace or Calm to soothe your mind. Enjoy the environment around you, and be as present in the moment as you can, without worrying about what the workday ahead has in store. You could even take a 10 or 15 minute power nap – as long as you’re not driving! – to boost your energy if you’re feeling run down. Just make sure to set your alarm so you don’t miss your stop.
Commuting can be a pain, and a sometimes stressful way to start the day. But it doesn’t have to be a waste of time. If you actively put some thought into the most useful way to spend your travel time, the daily grind won’t feel like such a struggle. Ultimately, if you’re able to feel more content during your commute, you’re setting yourself up for a happier and more successful day ahead.