Robert Owen’s Utopian idea of the 8-hour workday has become the model for most people’s working lives. His plan was for his cotton mill employees to benefit from an equally split day: 8 hours work, 8 hours play and 8 hours rest.
This scheme has been accepted by much of the world, capitalists and communists alike, as a fair and sensible method for dividing the day. So far so good, until you realise that the average commute for a person in the UK is now an hour per day with 14% of Britons spending 2 or more hours a day commuting to work.
This travelling time eats into Robert Owen’s proposed recreation time, and if it doesn’t do away with that, then it eats into the 8 hours rest- which can pose some serious health issues down the line.
With all that in mind, here are a few ways to maximise your commute to ensure that the time you spend getting to work is at least productive, and maybe even joyful.
Read or Listen to an audiobook
Sitting on a bus or a train is the perfect time to read. Not only does it make you look mysterious and intelligent, it also doesn’t rely on flickering phone signal as you speed under tunnels and through dead zones. Your book is never going to run out of battery or experience a glitch. Books are wonderful, amazing things and they’re free when you have a library card. Alternatively, if you walk or drive to work, you could listen to an audio book. Sign up to Audible for a smorgasbord of audiobooks or alternatively, download Overdrive which is basically an online library for audiobooks. Sometimes you have to wait for certain things to be available and the selection isn’t as wide but there are some great reads (great listens??) available.
Subscribe to a podcast
While you’ve got your headphones in, why not think about listening to a podcast on your commute. There is a podcast for absolutely everyone out there. From audio problem pages (The Receipts and Dear Joan and Jericha to insightful celebrity interviews (WTF with Marc Maron and Armchair Expert ) to true crime (Dr Death and Dirty John)… Can you tell how much I love podcasts? They are such a brilliant way to learn about and engage with new stories and ideas. If you don’t have an iPhone, then you can also access podcasts on Spotify, Soundcloud and Stitcher, though some restrictions may apply to what are available across each platform.
Check in with the news
If like me you find The News terrifying and depressing but you also need to stay informed about those very same things that are going on in the world, then maybe your commute is the time that you could choose to engage with The News. By setting aside a specific part of your day to look at your news apps or read the paper, you have some control over how much the news gets to infiltrate your day. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t engage with the news when I’m at home at all because I like to feel safe and The News makes me feel anxious a lot of the time. Therefore, fifteen minutes on the train is a good opportunity to check in without letting it infiltrate the rest of your day.
Do something creative
My dad takes a sketch book with him everywhere he goes and as such, he has books filled with drawings from Egypt and Portsmouth and Dubai and Manchester. He draws in spare moments, when he’s waiting to meet someone or commuting on the train to work. Other creative pursuits that are convenient include: embroidery, knitting and crochet. These are things that can be done while listening to a podcast or music as well.
Have you got a side hustle that you need to stay on top of? Commuting on a train is a good opportunity to upload pictures to eBay or write captions for your Etsy shop. You can do the little bits of admin that add up, like replying to emails on your way to work, leaving your evening free and clear at the end of the day.
Download a couple of episodes of your favourite show on Netflix (or BBC iPlayer or Nowtv or…) and really relax on your commute. My favourite part of flying is watching downloaded reruns of Call the Midwife on my phone.
Okay, so it might be hard to really zone out on the District Line but if your commute is fairly peaceful, a few minutes to yourself is the perfect time to be quiet and reflective. Try a meditation app like Calm or Headspace or some breathing exercises if you can do it without disturbing the other passengers.
On your way to work, you can use your journal to make a plan for your day ahead and on the way back, you can reflect on how it went. Journaling can be really beneficial for feeling positive and for improving your self-confidence. By recording positive experiences and then being able to read them back, it reaffirms your self-belief and is a useful reminder of your abilities and achievements.
Learn a language
If you, like me, dream of being bilingual and completely embarrass yourself every time you go abroad by pronouncing everything wrong, then now’s your chance to become fluent (or at least passable) in another language. Here you have a tailor-made section of your day that you can dedicate to learning something new. Brush up on your high school German or learn something from scratch. Other than the traditional tapes you can listen to in the car and books you can read, there are various apps that are designed to help with learning another language, including Clozemaster, which teaches language in context and Duolingo which tests your skills with games that gradually progress in difficulty.
Make a plan for the day ahead
This isn’t the same as journaling, this is specifically about being organised and efficient with your time, rather than reflective. Not only will this make your workday go further, but it will mean you’re able to leave your job at the end of the day knowing that you’ve achieved everything you intended to. This will reduce the amount of time you need to stay late at work and you’ll need to take work home with your less often.
Can you walk instead of getting the train or cycle instead of catching the bus? Or even get off the bus a stop or two sooner? Using your commute to exercise is the ideal “two birds one stone” situation: you are getting from A to B and you won’t need to use your recreation time to hit the gym.
Instead of rushing a bowl of cereal as you simultaneously try to put your shoes on and find your keys, take a sandwich or some fruit with you to enjoy at your leisure on your commute. Invest in a portable cup and take some coffee with you on the train. Snacks make everything better, including going to work.
Leah is a literature graduate from Bristol. Likes: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, My So Called Life, Goodfellas, and Ally McBeal.