Be more productive on your commute

You can liberate an entire month of productivity during your commute

How much time do you waste on your commute?  If you are like most Americans, it is probably an overly significant portion of your life.  According to government research, it is about 25 minutes each way, or almost an hour a day.  Over the course of a year, that is basically like spending a 5 to 6 work weeks commuting.   Think how much more productive you’d be if you could work an anything you wanted for a whole month.  This is possible with the 13th month.  This month is hiding within all the other months as wasted time driving, listening to your iPod, or staring out the window while sipping your coffee.  All you need to do is liberate it with productivity.

Now a few assumptions, if you’re driving, it’s harder to be productive.  I could drive to work quicker than it takes me riding the bus, but I can be productive on my entire bus ride, and not at all while driving.  So I choose to take the bus where I can be productive and avoid other hassles.  Trains are even better and usually with a smoother ride.  Obviously it’s usually easier to work if you have a seat rather than being forced to stand.  You can even be productive even half the time by riding or driving with a co-worker on alternating days.  So if you wanted to, most likely you could find a way to be productive.  And this last point is key; you need to want to be productive.

My commuting notebook - productive during my bus ride

Writing on the bus isn't pretty, but it is productive

What type of things can you do on your commute?  Personally, I’m able to do a whole host of things.  Almost all of my blog postings are brainstormed, conceptualized, and outlined on the bus.  This lets me sit down at the computer with my outline and basically just fill in the words around the ideas that have already been developed.  I use a regular old pad of paper and pen to do this.  It’s not high tech, but it is certainly more fault tolerant than most other technologies.  Some other ideas that work when commuting to be productive include:

  • Brainstorming ideas – for posts, business opportunities, how to deal with a person at the office, anything, really.
  • Reading – Bust out your business magazine, tablet, iPhone, or good old fashioned book and get some reading done and learn something useful.
  • Outlining – the next step after brainstorming is to coalesce the ideas into something coherent so that the writing part comes easily.
  • Dictating or recording – use your mobile phone or old-school tape recorder to capture all those brilliant thoughts on your commute.  This can be a bit difficult both because of noise, and the fact that you may look like a crazy person.
  • Thinking – sometimes it’s great just to be able to sit and focus on a single idea uninterrupted for a period of time.
  • Planning – whether a website design, blog post, goal setting, errands, or the week’s meal and shopping plan, get your plan on.  **[Link plan with the end in mind]
  • To-do lists – speaking of lists, make to-do lists, check lists, or any other type of list that you need.
  • Reviewing or editing – so now that you have an outline, edit it.  Review your plans from a prior trip.  Basically take another pass at prior work to make it smaller-better-faster.

There are a host of activities that can help you be productive, even if you’re stuck on a bus, train, or carpool.  Make the effort to work hard during these otherwise idle times of commuting, and you can get an entire month of extra productivity every year.

Readers, how do you spend your commute?  What would you do with an extra month to work on just about anything you wanted?

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30 Responses to The 13th Month, how to be a whole month more productive

  1. Money Infant says:

    I guess I can’t get this extra month since I’m a self-employed stay at home dad. Any suggestions for someone like me?

    • Karl says:

      It sounds like you’re already using your extra month of productivity then! And as I’ve seen your blog, I think I know where it’s all going too!

  2. WorkSaveLive says:

    I love to brainstorm and make blogging notes when I’m driving!

    I used to travel for business a lot and would use the time in the car to talk to everybody (friends, family, etc). However, these days I work at a new place and I take the back roads to work. Well, I don’t have very good cell reception and this has really hindered my ability to talk with my friends and family.

    I’ve really felt the loss of time that commuting created. It’s so important to be able to take advantage of these minutes/hours in the car!

    • Karl says:

      Yeah I know what you mean. I could drive all the way to work and have a commute of about 15 minutes instead of 35, but then I don’t get all the thinking and working time that I do now. Plus this way I don’t have to pay for parking. Productivity and no parking, it’s a two-fer. I’ve never been very productive in the car while driving, I’m impressed that you were able to.

  3. Great suggestions! You’re almost making me miss my Metro commute to my last job! Oh wait, it was 1.5 hrs each way, nevermind. It was nice to have that time put aside, though. I usually slept (very productive!), read, or drafted emails.

    My current commute is only 20 minutes each way but it’s all driving and walking so I can’t do anything that involves writing. But now that my husband and I carpool it’s at least time spent together!

    • Karl says:

      Way to go with the reduced commute! I think that 3 hours a day is a little too much productivity. 🙂 It’s nice that now you can spend a little time with your husband on the commute, and if you were feeling like it, you could also brainstorm with him or outline on your own. Sounds like you’re much happier now too!

  4. Modest Money says:

    Back when I was taking the bus to work I would at least read a book. I didn’t do it to learn, but it at least was an enjoyable way to pass the time.

    • Karl says:

      I’ve been doing my fair share of reading too. It’s actually far easier to read than work on the bus for me, mainly because I have limited room for writing (I ride a very popular bus line which is always packed). It’s always nice to read, then pop your head up and bang, you’re at work.

  5. jefferson says:

    We were watching Phenomenon, that old movie from the 90’s, the other night and it got me thinking about something similar. The guy in that movie doesn’t ever sleep, so he has infinite time to dive into whatever projects he can dream up (solar energy kits, organic gardening, reading 3-4 books p/day)..

    I barely even have enough free time to shave these days (we have a newborn, my job has been taking 50-60 hours p/week).. but its fun to dream about how much more I could accomplish with free time.

    Then again, I would probably just spend more time reading blogs and playing hockey on the playstation 😛

    • Karl says:

      I wish that I could get by with less sleep, but I need a full 8 hours each night. If I don’t get that much sleep for a few days, then I tend to get sick. So it would be hard for me to have a newborn. My busy period during work gets me working that much too, but it’s not so bad right now. Good luck with such a busy schedule!

  6. A few years ago, my daily commute was around 75 minutes one-way (assuming no traffic jams) and I hated every minute of it. Now my commute is less than 15 minutes, and I could not be any happier.

    • Karl says:

      When you’re driving, it is very frustrating because you really don’t have any control. Traffic is essentially random, and one little problem can create a cascading system failure that adds hours. Ick. At least i don’t drive anymore, so even the traffic jams don’t bother me much any more. Except those days I do have to drive for other reasons…

  7. AverageJoe says:

    I am lucky to work from home, but there are other ways I fill time with productivity. When I’m making dinner or on my run, I’ll listen to podcasts. While eating my breakfast I’ll read a trade journal or read some of the research I’ve found online.

    When I am in the car, I’ll focus on the financial news stations to see if there are any stories I could be focused on when blogging.

    • Karl says:

      AverageJoe, that’s a great way to help the time fly by whlie exercising, with podcasts. I tried that in the car for a while, but really couldn’t listen to it well while driving. Which podcasts are your favorite?

      • AverageJoe says:

        Wow…a ton. I love films, so Filmspotting and Doug Loves Movies. For blog development and business I like Pat Flynn, Marketing Over Coffee and Harvard Biz Review. I’m a Disney fan, so Inside the Magic is good. I also play board games, so I listen to The Dice Tower.

        I usually devour my financial stuff via the web all day, so I stay away from finance podcasts to get a little downtime. BUT, I like Buckinspires short podcast AND I’ve enjoyed the few episodes of the Frugalpreneur Podcast so far.

        • I am a podcast-listening fiend in my non-readable time (in the lab, in the car, at the gym, out shopping…) but I’ve never heard of any of the ones you listed! I will check some of them out! I mostly listen to NPR/APM programs and marriage podcasts.

  8. Katherine says:

    Though I’ve worked from home for a while, back when I had a long commute I figured out that I was spending more than the equivalent of college semester on my commute. I decided to use that time to learn a language– specifically Spanish. I drove then and used my ipod to listen to podcasts and classes.

    • Karl says:

      Another great idea! I tried to work on Rosetta stone and was working through Italian, but the program didn’t really do much for me. I didn’t try language podcasts though. I may have to try that one, though I find I use a lot of my commutes brainstorming and outline posts. Just apanish or other languages too?

  9. I take the train once or twice a week. I use pen and note pad too. It’s the easiest way. I also use the time to unwind and read a book or take a little snooze if I’m tired. It’s nice to be able to do that.

    • Karl says:

      I can’t sleep on my commute. I think that I have an inborn fear that if I nod off I’ll wind up who-knows-where at the end of the line. I find the notepad much more forgiving than other forms of taking notes, and looks much less crazy than jabbering into a recording device. 🙂

  10. I have to admit I use to “waste” my commute listening to music on the train. Now I catch up on reading, jot down notes about blog posts I want to write and listen to personal finance podcasts.

  11. YFS says:

    I spend my commute reading and brainstorming ideas. I catch up on so much stuff during my commute. Thank goodness I ride the train!

  12. I don’t have that luxury of working while taking metro because for some reason, I get extremely nauseous. I would love to cut down my driving commute. That would be sweet…

    • Karl says:

      Some people just work that way. A co-worker I ride the bus with from time to time needs to be in a front-facing seat, she can’t even sit on the sideways ones without getting nauseous. Some people can sleep on the bus. But then they wake up in unexpected places… 🙂

  13. I brainstorm on my commute to and from work. My commute is only 15 minutes each way, so I don’t get too much time to brainstorm.

    I did work a job with an hour commute each way. Unfortunately I didn’t get anything accomplished because in the morning I was still half asleep and by the end of the day, I was exhausted. Luckily, that job didn’t last too long!

    • Karl says:

      Those killer commutes. I know what you mean about being exhausted at the end of the day. however, I can’t sleep on the bus. I think I’m to neurotic and worried about winding up somewhere. It happened once in college or high-school.

  14. […] liked Cult of Money’s The 13th Month: How to Be More Productive. Although I was afraid to read it, he didn’t tell me I’d get more done if I stopped watching […]

  15. […] at Cult of Money listed many suggestions for how to productively use your commute time on public transportation.  While my commute doesn’t lend itself to these types of activities, I devote my downtime […]

  16. I am lucky and have the ability to take a lightly used toll road on my commute to work. The total time in my vehicle is about 25 minutes to go roughly 17 miles. I do not envy anyone who has to do the daily grind of bumper-to-bumper traffic to get to work.

  17. I used to ride the metro every day in DC. Spending all those hours being productive was the best thing I could have done. It was so much better than spending that time in the car.

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