Commuting is a painful reality of modern working life. For most of us, it sucks valuable time out of the day. Every single day. Twice.
Let’s say you travel an hour each way, five days a week. Over the course of a year, you’re spending more than three weeks just commuting. That’s 520 hours — or more than 21 days straight — sitting on the bus or train. Unbelievable.
So, we know it takes up a large chunk of your life, and it’s not much fun. But it doesn’t have to be wasted time. Put your commute to good use, and invest those hours in yourself instead. Here are six ways that you can use your commute to further your career.
One of the best ways you can use your evening commute to further your career, is to spend the time planning tomorrow. That may be as simple as a mental think-through. Or maybe you’ll take a more organized approach and actually pencil in your calendar. You can also make a list of actions for the next day, as well as cross those off that you already completed. Either way, this process will help you close down one day and be raring to go for the next.
It’s easy to get into this habit. By the time you hit home, you’re already planned and organized, with priorities set out for tomorrow. Not only will this make you more relaxed at home, you’re more organized and therefore more effective in work. You know exactly what tomorrow will bring, and have a game plan for hitting the ground running the following morning. This is a perfect way to boost your career prospects.
If you drive to work, then try a voice-to-text app to make sure your thoughts are all captured. You might feel a bit self conscious talking to yourself at first, but at least nobody will be there to hear you.
If you’re taking public transportation, then your options are wide open. Choose a notes app that works across all your devices, like Evernote (which also has voice recognition software if you prefer), or a handy organizer like todoist. If you’re more visual, then Trello might be the one for you — keep your ideas, images, web links, and plans all in one place. It’s always in your pocket for quick reference.
The commute, whatever mode of transport you use, can be the perfect place to build and maintain your network. Use the time to keep up with LinkedIn and other social media, or phone colleagues and acquaintances if you’re in the car.
In this case, we are talking about conversations and connections on a professional level (so no sharing cat photos). On LinkedIn, you can share and comment on professionally-relevant content. You can also write and publish new articles yourself, which is a great way to be noticed.
If you’re a car commuter, then use the time to talk to people on the phone (hands-free, of course). Think about your existing network, and make a list of people you would love to catch up with and reconnect. Chances are, they’ll be in the car at the same time as you, so it’s a convenient arrangement. If you’re unsure about cold calling, drop them a line in advance and say,”I’d love to catch up — how about I call you this evening?”
You can do the same with new connections, too. If you meet someone new who interests you, and have specific questions you would love to ask, ask if they can spare you twenty minutes during their commute for a quick chat.
Get up to date
If you’re looking to boost your career, then you need to be very clued in as to what’s going on in your field. Staying on top of industry current events will help you stay relevant, as well allow you to spot opportunities and challenges that others have missed. It’s very common to become totally absorbed in what your own business is doing, and miss the changes and innovations that are happening around you.
Luckily, keeping up is pretty easy. Set up a Google Alert for the key terms you’re interested in, or use an RSS tool to aggregate new content on industry webpages you like. You can then scan the article titles and decide what is worth reading, without getting sucked into the whole site.
On Twitter, you can follow relevant companies (your own business’ competitors are a great place to start), industry commentators and magazines, and ‘high fliers’ in your field of work. It’s a good way to keep up with what’s going on elsewhere in your industry, for very little input.
If you commute by car then you can download podcasts that are relevant to your industry and listen to them on your drive.
Build your skills
The commute is a perfect time to learn. If you have any professional qualification that would help further your career, then you can build study time into your day by using your commute. Even if you drive, you may find audio books, podcasts, or study materials that come with MP3s.
If you don’t need any other professional qualifications, then how about a language? A second language is a big career boost for many people, and the range of resources for self directed learning is immense. Try Babbel or Lingvist for size.
Start a side hustle
This might not sound like the most intuitive way to boost your career, but bear with me. Starting a side hustle brings a lot of unexpected benefits to your day job, including improved confidence and increased skills in areas like marketing and selling. So, even if you don’t plan on leaving the comfort of the 9 to 5, a side business might be a good idea. Plus, who wouldn’t like a few more dollars in the bank?
There are more options than you might think, if you want to start a side hustle within the bounds of your commute. If you have creative skills like knitting or graphic design, you could make and sell products somewhere like Etsy. Then, list and sell them while you’re on the train.
Learn More About Starting a Side Hustle
If you’re a bit of a wordsmith, you could try freelance writing, or bid for jobs in a marketplace like Fiverr. If you’re familiar with hiring, then you could help others write their resumes. Do you have a specialist skill? You could become a coach over at coach.me. There are even sites where you can be paid for helping out with high school homework assignments (if that doesn’t sound too much like a living nightmare).
You might not make a million, but you will at least have the opportunity to earn some cash while you commute. Plus, you’ll potentially boost your employability at the same time.
Practice the “Art of the Possible”
This might otherwise be known as daydreaming, but in a professional sense, I prefer the “art of the possible.” Your commute is the perfect time to try some broad professional thinking.
What are the really big problems facing your business, your team, or even you personally in your job? What challenges and opportunities are coming up over the horizon? Are there any aspects of the changing landscape that will make a difference (think about the legal, economic, political, social and technological factors that will bring change)?
The way to turn this from a daydream to something actionable, is to start generating ideas. Don’t get caught up in worrying about the problem or challenge you have identified. Instead, try to write a list of ten possible solutions.
Think broadly. What would you do if you had no concern about money or other resources? What would your competitor do? Can you see any parallels with other industries or elsewhere in life? How have other people solved similar problems before?
Generate as many ideas as you possibly can, and avoid self-censoring. If you do this enough, and give your mind time and space to mull your ideas over, you might just come up with a gem.
And once you have solved that big issue? Well, that’s where your career boost comes from! Invest some more time in sharing your ideas, and see where it takes you.
Time to Act
So instead of your commute being a waste of time, use it to further your own professional development. From learning a new skill to keeping up with old acquaintances, there are plenty of ways you can put the time to good use. And now, instead of having a two hour sinkhole in your day, you have won back two hours to invest in yourself. Sounds good to me.
How can your commute be better utilized? Do you already use this time to further yourself personally or professionally?