Take back the commute

As the bus pulls up I can see the dismay on the line of people waiting at our stop as they see that it is standing room only. The novels that passengers have in their purses and the notes they have to cram in before school will go untouched as they stand pressed, shoulder to shoulder with a stranger and just try to keep moving to the back of the bus and keep out of everyone else’s way as much as possible

And suddenly, faces brighten as they see the near empty bus just half a block behind. Some won’t dare risk the potential few minutes delay by not taking the bus that is already further ahead. Others eagerly seize the chance, knowing that it is just as likely that their bus will have fewer unloading stops with so few passengers, and may whizz ahead of the other, to later get held up behind as they are first to reach the long line of passengers at the next stop. Despite all the hypotheses and calculations, there is really no way to know, and its a choice akin to trying to guess which checkout line in the supermarket will move the fastest. There are too many variables.

In any case, many choose the empty bus simply for the opportunity to sit and use their commute for a purpose other than just getting from a to b. The books and the e-readers and the chemistry notes and the cell phones all come out. From one perspective this may appear anti-social. But for others, this may be the best opportunity they will have all day to think outside their regular routine, to reflect, to imagine or learn something new.

But we can just as easily waste that time, use those moments to inwardly complain about each moment spent on the bus instead of catching a bit more sleep or getting a bit more done at the office. We can spend the whole time mindlessly flipping through Facebook or twitter, not for the purpose of catching up with our contacts or organizations, but as a way to kill time. Once we are killing time on our commute, we are not able to live in it and draw strength from the extra time at our disposal.

So in my years of public transit commuting, I have been trying to be purposeful with the hour-long buffer I have between home and the office, and can share a few of my favourite options to fill my time purposefully, rather than killing it.

1. Read books.
I recommend pursuing different kinds of books, as long as they are books you enjoy. For example, I like to intersperse fictional page turners with the meatier non-fiction or something of specialized interest, to make the time fly and keep the momentum going. If you are driving, take the chance to delve into to the wonderful world of audio books!

2. Write.
I know I’m not alone in feeling that a moving vehicle is one of the places where I feel most productive in writing, from fiction to blog posts. In particular, when I have a certain word count goal in mind, I can get a good few hundred words edge on my goal even if all I have is a tablet or smart phone to work with.

3. Catch up with people.
There are sometimes times in my life when all of my evenings are booked solid or I have too much work to do after hours, making it hard to find the time for a good catch up session with my parents. So I just started calling in the morning, as my mom was getting ready for work and as I was sitting on the bus. Of course there are downsides, like eavesdropping on uncomfortable conversations and your neighbour having to pretend that they didn’t just hear intimate details about your life, but at least you may have made their day more interesting!

4. Catch up with current events.
Whether it’s through picking up a paper from the news stand closest to your bus stop, tuning to the local news radio station on your headphones, or browsing your favourite news sites through your phone, this is a great time to catch up with the headlines and editorials of the day.

5. Make lists.
The “transition zone” between home and work can be a reflective time to take stock of where things stand in your tasks and your goals, and organize your thoughts more systematically. Or just make lists of your favourite books you need to catch up on.

6. Catch up with tunes.
Is there anything like the perfect sound track to put you in a good mood, whether it is energetic, or contemplative? If you don’t like taking up space on your mobile device with mp3s there are also a host of good streaming apps out there. My current favourite is Songza, with a variety of playlists even geared towards the time of day you are tuning in.

7. Learn something new.
Do you always wish you had more time to pick up a new hobby or skill? This can be a great time to read up or even try things out in your new domain, from computer programming to knitting to poetry. It may not be the best place to take up the cello, however.

8. Dream.
Some days I prefer to put aside all of the more productive pursuits and just stare out the window in the company of my own thoughts, taking the time to quiet my mind and prepare for the day ahead. Sometimes that’s the best start to a good day that I could ask for.

Whatever you do, make sure it is a space for refreshment and reflection, preparing you for a good day and giving you an extra gift of time for whatever matters to you. The whole point of to take back your commuting time; it’s yours.

What do you do to make your commute time worthwhile?